I’ve never forgotten an observation I read years ago in a memorable book. Sugar Blues, authored by William Dufty and released in 1975, became well-known as a warning on the dangers of too much of the sweet stuff in our food. What I’ve never forgotten was Mr. Dufty’s recollection of his childhood when niether he, nor any child he knew, ever made food decisions for themselves. The adults in their lives laid out basic meals for them three times a day. No child had money to buy extra snacks or meals. No child told their parents what to make for dinner. While there may have been occasional afternoon cookies, adults made the rules.
Today we have different expectations. Certainly kids expect latitude. And most of us would agree that some freedom is welcome. But kids are now making so many food decisions for themselves, that we’ve got a problem.
Human beings come into the world with a genetically-based propensity to choose foods that are sweet, fatty and salty. It’s built in. Our attraction to high-calorie sweetness and fats are evolutionary insurance policies to encourage our survival when food is in short supply. And our attraction to salt is a biological nudge to take in sodium, which is essential to bodily functions right down to the brain signals that allow us to walk, talk and think.
Kids are a little like cave-people, following their ancient brains to high-calorie foods. If faced with a choice between candy and veggies, most young people won’t choose the healthy option.
I thought about this when I heard a pre-meal blessing from Walter Bonaise. He’s a Cree elder who had been asked to say a few words before a mid-day meal at the Food Secure Canada annual conference in Edmonton early in November. What he said rang true.
We adults are doing a disservice to children by giving them too little guidance about food, he said. We fail to ensure that they eat well, and that they understand the importance and the sacredness of healthy and natural foods, he said. Mr. Bonaise has strong memories of childhood meals where he grew up in northern Manitoba. His grandmother led the meals, always reminding the family of the importance of good food, then blessing it.
He suggests we consider doing the same.
If you’d like to hear more from Walter Bonaise, he is the author of the 2011 book: Listening to Elders, Telling Stories, Sitting in a Circle: an oral history.