Food Literacy and Other Lessons for Children and Adults


Food literacy is about comprehending and appreciating the impact of food choices on our health, environment, and community— a multitude of complexities centered around eating food.

One might be raised with this knowledge, or awareness of food literacy might be something that is learned later in life. The point is, that it often takes an education to get to where we are open to eating new (and healthier things). Thought leaders like Alice Waters (through her Edible Schoolyard Project), and Douglas Gayeton and Laura Howard-Gayeton, (through their incredible Lexicon of Sustainability project, and his new book, "Local"), have helped to create a rich new foundation for the language, concepts, and tools of food literacy. Examples of food literacy education for adults and children erupt daily in our news feeds and social media channels. Just we need to eat food to survive, so too do we to feed the inspiration and understand the real-world context about what means to eat food that is healthy and sustainably sourced.

Mary Beth Albright describes her personal experience teaching food literacy when she and Pam Hess, Executive Director of Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, attempted to build food literacy in 6-year-olds in this week’s The Plate from National Geographic. In a twist to the ideology described above, despite the harvesting, preparing and cooking they did with these kids, many of them still would not eat, or even try everything on their plates! Albright was not discouraged though, explaining that these such experiences are the groundwork that can lead to better choices later on in life.

The wonder of picking and preparing food, of pouring cream into a jar and shaking it into a ball of butter, of picking tomatoes and peppers and putting them in a blender and having fresh sauce, of gathering chickens’ eggs and whisking bright orange yolks into frittata was not lost. It germinates.”

The benefits of planting the seed of appreciation for whole and healthy foods in our children go beyond an expanded palette, in some cases, as Pamela Weintraub explains in this month’s issue of Experience Life Magazine, good nutrition can mean fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Weintraub walks us through the timeline of research and experiments that have shown how eliminating artificial food coloring and preservatives, wheat and gluten, dairy and a few other key triggers from a child’s diet can yield positive results. In fact, she explains that in some cases the whole condition of ADD and ADHD may be food related. Quoting Dr. Lity Pessler:

We think that dietary intervention should be considered [for] all children with ADHD, provided parents are willing to follow a diagnostic restricted-elimination diet for a five-week period, and provided expert supervision is available,” Pelsser says. “Children who react favorably to this diet should be diagnosed with food-induced ADHD.”

That is not to say that all cases of ADD and ADHD might be treated through diet, but the research shows that it is a treatment showing promise for a lot of people.

Promoting food literacy can help us realize the power of good nutrition and the effect it can have over our brains and our bodies However, it may also be necessary to educate our children and ourselves why we might be so compelled to make unhealthy choices in the first place. Dara Moskowtiz Grumdahl explains that one such reason is Big Food advertisements and the profit margins that allow them to launch their ludacris campaigns. Grumdahl feels that talking to her children about the influence that corporate dollars have over our food system is a powerful step in nurturing that seed which Mary Beth Albright talked about above:

So, what will knowing about profit margins on food do for my sweet little kids? I hope it will give them the insights they need to navigate the next stage of life, when they’re big kids. I hope it will help them understand that just as babies don’t come from storks or cabbage patches, the food choices surrounding them have their own complex and honest stories to tell.”

It may be the case that if you are hoping to create a food-literate household, you, yourself might benefit from learning more and taking a step beyond being "food literate" and becoming "food system literate." Last year, through a collaboration with The Edible Schoolyard, Michael Pollan and Raj Patel held a class called Edible Education at UC Berkeley. The entirety of the course (about 22 hours!) is now available online from Learn Out Loud. Take a look or listen to one or all of the courses and you are bound to learn something new. 


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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