Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mommy Said Share the Salad

This past weekend, my little Mayhem discovered blue cheese dressing.  In the last three days, he has eaten almost an entire bag of carrots by himself and is steadily gazing at the celery.  Yesterday afternoon, he came home from school to discover that his brother had eaten the last pear, and went into total meltdown mode.  Last night at dinner, I ended up in the role of arbiter, because both boys wanted to finish the salad on our dinner table.  The unhusband was made to promise that he would buy another bag of carrots and a few more pears.  Until the pears are replaced, they will divide up the apples between themselves and I will be lucky to get one.

My children have a privilege they don't even recognize - seven days a week they can be sure that there are always fresh fruit and vegetables in the house. A vegetable is offered every night at supper, and they will eat several pieces of fruit throughout the day.  They know that their food choices are healthy and are well aware when snack time comes that a fruit of or some yogurt is always a better option than cookies.

I have mentioned that I spend approximately 230 dollars a week at the grocery store every week and then probably another 50 dollars on incidentals like milk, or whatever else we run out of.  When I was growing up, my parents provided the exact same options for myself and my two younger brothers.  My mother would always push us to eat healthy, and we would do our best to avoid it.  As a child, I very much took these healthy options for granted. Now that I am paying the bills, I realize that healthy options cost money.  My children are able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, because their father and I can afford it, and believe that a healthy diet is important.

As part of teaching our children about their class privilege, food stands as a good conversation starter.  My kids have never gone to school on an empty stomach, and they have no real idea what it is to be hungry. When they go through our fruit bowl, I remind them that fruit is something that a lot of poor families cannot afford, especially when the fruit is out of season.  When we look through the paper to see where the sales are, pointing out that items like cheap bananas means that someone did not get paid a living wage so that they can get their share of potassium is something we have begun to do. Pointing out their ability to eat certain items, is a sign of privilege, and that it is often based in impoverishing someone else, helps them to see class imbalance.

I think that it is particularly important to talk about the relationship between class and food because it is a connection that is so often avoided in the recent fight to end childhood obesity. In a world of such abundance, it is a crime that so many are hungry.  Malnutrition is something we associate with third world citizens, and yet it is quite possible to have malnutrition in our communities, because of an inability to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.  Simply because someone is able to fill up on cheap processed food, does not mean they are getting the nutrition that they need.

Hunger is also extremely invisible.  Our neighbours could be going hungry and we would never know. 
When someone is struggling, one of the first things people cut back on is food.  Unfortunately, this has very negative consequences, because we need food to fuel our bodies.  People that are hungry do not learn as well in school, and they are not productive workers.  Though hunger is most keenly felt by the individual, as a society we all suffer. 

I live very close to a park and as soon as the weather gets warm, my house becomes the snack shop for many of the neighbourhood kids.  They are well aware that I will never turn anyone away hungry.  Every summer my grocery bill shoots up, but I will never begrudge people food while I can afford to buy a little extra.  The need really became clear to me a few years ago, when I learned that two of my sons friends, had to go to the soup kitchen everyday to get lunch.  That is precisely when I saw first hand the invisible hunger in our community. Last night as I watched the children bicker over who would get to finish the salad, I was once again reminded, that this battle could only occur because we have privilege. 

I thought that we could use the post to talk about how we see food and how it reflects our various classes.  I think it would also be great look at the way we teach children how to think about food.  Right now there is a lot of talk about childhood obesity, without much connection to class, how do you think we can change that, and do you believe it is necessary to teach children of privilege, the link between food and class?