We're very pleased to bring you this guest post from Ali, as we've long been fans of her blog. Ali says she was once a nugget-snarfing, soda-guzzling, TV dinner kind of gal. Since then she has come to her senses, and is doing her best to raise healthy kids in a Froot Snack world. When she's not at her local farm or co-op, cooking in her kitchen, or trying to convince her daughters not to swing from the light fixtures, she's a freelance writer. You can find her at the Cleaner Plate Club.
My 6-year-old learned her first curse word recently: crap. I’d take more pride in the fact that she lasted six years without learning the word if it weren’t for this: I’m the one who taught it to her.
We'd been discussing what she likes to eat. She and I had a few good years, foodwise — years in which strawberries were the tastiest treat imaginable, and she did not know the meaning of the words Froot Snacks or Cheetos. It all came to a shattering halt at about age two and a half. I trace it to the moment when I caught a friend’s husband slipping her some M&Ms and whispering, “Your mommy doesn’t want you to have these. But they’re really, really good.”
Since then, it’s been a rapid downward slide.
We’ve done all the recommended things. We don’t get TV reception; right there, we’ve cut her exposure to junk food marketing by about 11,000 commercials a year. She doesn’t use the computer yet, so we’ve managed to dodge adver-gaming as well. We also send her to a school that does not have a cafeteria, one where the closest thing they have to a school anthem is the Compost Song (oh we compost, so we make the most, of our gar-den, yeah, the plants will sing…).
But this is 21st-century America, and crap food is everywhere. It is being handed to my kids by well-intentioned gas station attendants and bank tellers. It is at the local pool, skating rink, and pharmacy. It is in airports, movie theaters, video stores, and barbershops. It’s what’s on the menu at most restaurants, and it’s what’s in the cabinets of most of our neighbors. It is quite literally 77% of the food we pass in supermarket aisles. Even at her broad-minded school, she sees classmates pull puddin’ cups and Disney Princess snacks from their own lunchboxes. At a recent birthday party — in honor of the 5-year old child of two physicians, mind you — sugar soda was the only available drink.
But I haven’t given up hope. Not yet. While it’s true that she won’t voluntarily reach for Brussels sprouts over anything with the image of Sponge Bob Square Pants, this child has also danced to fiddle music at farmers markets. She has picked green beans from the vine at our local CSA. She has filled her belly with berries fresh from the bush. She has grown her own carrots, and she has watched her mother happily haul canvas bags filled with dirt-crusted vegetables.
And she sometimes even forgets to be skeptical of the green stuff that lands on her dinner plate.
If nothing else, I can say this: I have showed her what real food is. Someday, sooner than I want, it will be up to her whether she chooses real food, or some kind of imitation of it. Even if she chooses the imitation — the cheez-products in aerosol cans, the nuggets, the Slurpees and the Frostys — she will at least understand the difference between these items and the real thing.
Which is what brings us to the word in question. It had been a long day — one that had included a trip to the mall (nothing good there), a birthday party (copious amounts of birthday cake and ice cream plus goodie bag chock full of candy), and a visit with friends whose hearts are far purer than their pantries. As she asked for a cookie, which by my calculations would have made her 10,987th treat of the day, I exploded. "No!" — explaining she’d been eating “nothing but crap all day long.”
Long pause. Then: “What’s 'crap,' Mommy?” The word sounds so wrong coming out of a kindergartener’s mouth.
“Oh…it’s a bad word, honey. I shouldn’t have said it.”
“But what does it mean?”
“Well, in this context, it means, like, potato chips. And cake, and cookies, and jelly beans and stuff. Food that doesn’t have anything good for your body. Food that doesn’t make you healthy. Empty food.”
“Ah,” she replies, nodding sagely. “I understand.”
Then she pauses. “Mommy?”
“I really love crap.”
And she does. For now. But maybe not forever.