Why the Concern?
Most parents are concerned with getting their children to eat what's good for them and aware of the impact that food consumed today can have on their children's health down the road. Now that the market for certified organic food is well established, with an annual US growth rate of more than 20 percent, the next big trend may be going local. "If price and appearance are the same, we found that consumers prefer to buy food that's locally grown," says Rich Pirog, coauthor of a 2003 study at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. "People want to know where their food comes from," Pirog adds. This knowledge can promote safer (and smarter) food choices.
The main appeal of local food to consumers lies in its freshness, Pirog notes, explaining that local produce is picked at peak ripeness, rather than prematurely. Some produce that is shipped long-distance is treated with fungicides, he adds. "Watch a crate of Chilean grapes being unpacked and you'll notice that the boxes contain sulfur-dioxide pads." And, unlike food that's transported long distances, local food doesn't squander fossil fuels."
There are now "Farm to School" lunch programs in over 400 school districts and 22 states, including one starting up in Madison, Wisconsin, where three pilot elementary schools are serving locally-grown produce on special days. Farming can also provide an ideal vehicle for hands-on, experiential learning Take the Edible Schoolyard program, for instance. Started by restaurateur Alice Waters in Berkeley, California, the program involves students at a local school who learn to grow and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables in an organic garden and cooking classroom.
Although these efforts start small, the need for them is great. Pound for pound, children not only consume more food and water than adults, but if they're hit with toxicants during critical windows of development, diseases can occur later in life. But feeding kids healthy food can be difficult when you can't always find or afford organic and are up against a food industry spending billions of dollars annually to convince kids that products low in nutrition and high in sugars and fats are "cool." Since the 1970s, when the US adopted a farm policy resulting in cheap corn and corn-syrup sweeteners, Americans have been eating about 200 extra calories a day, Michael Pollan writes in The New York Times Magazine. No wonder 64 percent of us are overweight.
Still, you can improve the odds for your children each time you shop for and prepare a meal. Here are seven small ways that add up to big change.