I've been thinking a lot lately about food and children. Bear with me. Of course, I've always had a relationship with food, but people who know me reasonably well, know I have a fairly intense relationship with food. I love to cooking and eating. Mostly eating. Also, my wife and I have an eight-month-old son which adds a whole other dimension (that's him on the left, contemplating steamed broccoli).
Anyway, last winter, my wife and I decided that having a baby wasn't enough change. Shortly before Henry was born, we joined our local food coop and completely changed the way we shop for food. We weren't living on TV dinners by any means before, but we did shop at conventional grocery stores and shopped mainly for what we liked based on price. Now, we're much more sensitive to fair trade practices, organic farming practices, origin, etc. I'm not trying to making an argument for what we did; I'm just saying that it was quite a shift and it wasn't easy to change our thinking--and we're still relatively young and unfettered. I am amazed by how my brain can despise the very idea of the individually wrapped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that daily and magically appear in the break room while my mouth and my gut lust for them. The struggle would be amusing if it weren't my own. On the other hand, I watch how Henry eats and what he eats, and I'm grateful that he'll at least start off thinking about food.
To some extent our concerns are reflected in the broader culture.* Look at how Chinese-made food, the obesity epidemic, and corn for food or fuel debates have become a permanent fixture in the news cycle. Look at the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year for 2007. Look at Michael Pollan's bestselling books, most recently In Defense of Food. Look at one of the books on PW's Best Children's Nonfiction of 2008: What the World Eats, an adaptation for children of photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio's book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (which was featured in Time, if you want to get the gist).
It's this last one that excites me the most, because I think it's the interesting and exciting direction. Now comes the unabashed opinion mongering. We are going to become more aware of food in much the same way we've become more aware of security of all kinds, and I think "we" includes--and should include--children. If changing food consumption habits is hard for a food-centered thirty-year-old with a decent income, then we're going to struggle as a culture if this isn't an all-ages issue.
For writers, this can mean a lot of different kinds of books. Nonfiction is obvious, but there's so much more potential. Take a look at Cory Doctorow's Little Brother for one approach. Have you noticed how much of that book is about how important cryptography is, to say nothing of the personal privacy issues it's obsessed with? Has the word "Linux" appeared as much in all previous children's books combined as it does in that book? The book is a near-future thriller full of unapologetically wonkish current-events details. Love it or hate it, it found an audience--a sizeable one--to embrace its geekishness and passion for issues. I love niche computer operating systems as much as the next guy, but I'm willing to bet there's more material for stories in food. Think about it. Ronald Reagan didn't try to make ketchup a vegetable for adults. He tried to make it a veggie for kids.
So, there's my rant for the day. Now bring me books.
*It's not all good news and mounting awareness. Want to know one of the only bright spots in October financial reporting? McDonald's showed 8 percent sales growth.