Guest post written by: Kathryn Kos, NTP
I am a child of the late 70’s and 80’s. I’m from generation at the forefront of a major detachment from our food sources, and food quality. We were the children that were finding prizes in cereal boxes, and being rewarded with toys at McDonalds. One might argue this was the beginning of our children becoming detached from real food sources and food quality, and more attached to product marketing than ever before. My children and I recently watched some YouTube reruns of commercials from the 1980’s, and one thing I noticed was that most of them were for cereal, and corn products. Like this one with a creepy scarecrow jumping through the child’s window and introducing corn bran as a “healthy” breakfast. There was also that infamous “he likes it! hey Mikey!”, for Life cereal.
The town I grew up in had several farms. Farms as I remember them, were full of cows out in the pastures most of the day. One particular farm had a farm stand with icecream. The cream came from the cows in their fields of grass. It was a grass-fed cream, but no mention of that was necessary. It was just how it was. As years went on the farms in my hometown slowly disappeared, and the fields were replaced with houses. Dairy farms as we knew them are now rare. What are children being taught about farms and farming practices? What is being instilled in our children as the norm for farming? Sadly, it is no longer “the big red barn in the great green field.”
A few years ago I went on a field trip to a local dairy farm with my preschoolers class. As we approached the farm, there was an unbearable stench. It was nothing like the sweet manure smell I remembered growing up, when the winds would pick up. This was a horrendous unbearable stench. When we arrived, there were no cows to be seen. There was dirt everywhere, and buildings. Inside the buildings were cows, tied in stalls. The cows were fed a grain mix with corn and soy. The farmer talked about how this was the best diet for the cow to grow big and produce good milk. The cows stood in their feces, and never saw sunlight. Every so often water would wash down through the building, running the waste out of the building. The CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) way of farming was introduced to my child and all the other preschoolers as a farm. This left a heavy feeling in my heart, I came to the realization that this was now the norm.
This year I chaperoned a trip with my kindergartener’s class to a local farm. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but was hoping for a good experience. When we arrived the children were first taken to a pumpkin patch. They were going to plant pumpkin seeds in the dirt. I thought “great, they will learn some gardening!” When the farmer started handing each child a seed, I was shocked to see that the seeds were a metallic blue/green color. This is what the children were being taught was a real pumpkin seed! Granted my children have seen and eaten pumpkin seeds. However, many of the children did not even question why it was blue. My guess is that the seeds were treated with some sort of fertilizer, but I found it sad that this was many of the children’s first introduction to gardening. Blue pumpkin seeds are being introduced to young children as the norm.
Next stop was a talk on corn. The farmer had a stand set up with boxes of cereal, ketchup, maple syrup, pop tarts, toothpaste, corn syrup, orange cheese crackers, popcorn, pancake syrup, shampoo, corn chips, corn starch, twizzlers, jelly beans, cake mix, cake frosting, and various other packaged foods. She had the children sit down and asked them to guess if “which of their favorite products” had corn in them. After the children were done guessing, she stated proudly that everything had corn in it! She then went on to tell them that “75% of the products they use and eat contain corn, and that corn was very important.” It was difficult for me to watch this, and see the children take it all in as if it were a good thing.
The last stop was a tour of the chickens. The chickens were inside a building, in cages. The farmer asked the children “what do you think the chickens love to eat?” One child said “hay!” The farmer said, “ No, corn! Chickens love to eat corn, and corn gives them good eggs.” At that point, I felt like I was in the final phase of a giant brainwashing. Sadly, this IS the norm now. This generation needs to have a voice.
Children are being almost fully removed and detached from quality food and quality food sourcing. The lunch trays at their school have not changed at all since I was a child. Children are still drinking fat free chocolate milk, canned fruit in corn syrup, and pizza with that ketchup-like sauce. They are being taught in public school the government food paradigm as the best way to eat.
What can we as parents and teachers do to stop this detachment and educate our children about good farming practices and real food? How can we get our children to understand the importance of pasture raising, natural diets for animals, and non-chemical based farming? It is our responsibility to teach our children to understand food sourcing, and the differences among farming practices. Children need to learn the impact factory based farming has on their health and the health of the environment. Our children may be the only voice of their generation.
The best way to explain these concepts to children is to keep things simple and relatable. Children want to know why! However, too much information can overwhelm them and may lead to unnecessary worry.
Some examples of related information:
“Happy cow’s like to eat grass and get sunshine.”
“Chickens are descendants of dinosaurs, and like to eat bugs and grass, not corn.” and
“Real food does not have TV commercials, bright boxes, or prizes.”
Another thing I like to do is read food labels with my children, that have long lists of ingredients. We talk about how some of the ingredients are not real, and can hurt their body. When my children were younger, they loved the concept of green light, yellow light, and red light foods. Green light foods are things they can have all the time. These are foods that are local, fresh, organic, and nourish their body. Yellow light foods are foods that we have sometimes, but they are not the best for their body. These include things like icecream, eating dinner out, and having snacks at their friend’s house. Red light foods are foods they should try to avoid, because these foods can really hurt their body. These are things like soda, cotton candy, and corn syrup. My children really understood this concept and had fun asking about different foods.
We talk quite frequently about the concept of marketing, and how companies want to make their products look really good and healthy, because that is how they make their money. After that farm visit, we talked about what they did or didn’t like about the farm. We also found and visited a farm that pasture raises their animals, and talked about the differences. They liked to see the cows out eating grass. Children can easily relate to compassion for other being’s happiness. It is important to talk to children about food quality early and often. I knew I was getting through to my child when he asked me “mama, Is this carrot grass-fed?”
Farms as we knew them do still exist. However, we are at a point in time where we need to fight more than ever for their existence to continue. It is imperative that we get our children involved in this battle, and give them a voice! Supporting the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a non profit organization that supports local farms, and helps to ensure we have access to real food. The FTCLDF protects the rights of farmers and consumers to engage in direct commerce. It protects the rights of farmers to sell the products of the farm and the rights of consumers to access the foods of their choice from the source of their choice. This organization is imperative in the fight for keeping real food on our table!
What are some ways to get our children involved?
If possible, take your children to visit farms. Talk to them about different farming practices. Support local farms whenever possible, by buying their local pasture raised meats and organic produce. Remember, we vote with our dollars. Where you spend your money on food does matter. Get your children involved with gardening and planting. Visit farmer’s markets. Talk to them about the difference between real food and genetically modified foods. Remember, our children are the voice of the change.