What are we teaching our kids about food?

Johnson County Ag Fest is the sort of event held, on various scales, hundreds of times each year here in flyover country. Animals to pet. Banks giving away prizes. The county’s meat producers offering stickers. Kids running around with balloon hats or painted faces, or ice cream. Or all three.

The main thrust of this event and similar ones is a place to wear the kids out on Saturday morning; at least that’s why we go. But what’s the take-home message from these things?

  • Pygmy goats and alpacas have soft fur
  • Ducklings, chicks and baby turkeys are cute
  • There is an inextricable link between farming and banks
  • We produce a lot of corn (or pork, or whatever)

All of these are, of course, true. But we’re missing a big opportunity here to teach kids about where their food comes from. (I’m not just relying on agriculture celebrations to teach my kid about food.)

I’m not suggesting that we have live slaughtering demonstrations. But at today’s event, for example, there weren’t even the tools to talk about this with kids. There wasn’t a living version and an edible version of anything. No corn plants to pair with the feed corn. Or pigs to pair with the bratwurst.

Showing off pygmy goats and alpacas doesn’t make that connection or even give parents the chance to really talk about it. Instead we’re left with beef recipes for kids and coloring pages about the millions of tons of corn that is grown in Iowa every year.

We get a triumph-of-agribusiness message that reinforces the all-too-prevalent notion in this state that quantity of product is more important than the quality of it. If we as a state decided to, we could produce some of the greatest food in the world. Instead we produce a huge amount of the world’s cheap calories. Or at least a huge amount of our food’s cheap calories (most of our grain is livestock feed). But the producers still want us to believe it’s about quality. How else can you explain the “pure pork pleasure” sticker the Johnson County Pork Producers gave my daughter? (But that’s a debate for another day.)

We have made a choice to be ignorant, so I suppose we’ll suffer the consequences. Whatever those might be.

2 thoughts on “What are we teaching our kids about food?”

  1. Right on. The pervasiveness of agribusiness disinformation is daunting, though I’ve heard authors like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan note a major upswing in public awareness of where their food actually comes from, which I guess is a start.

    Our CSA runs a great annual open house, but that’s largely preaching to the choir.

  2. I think one of the problems is that we get too much of this from Bittman and Pollan (I’m sick of hearing from the latter in particular) and not enough from others.

    But education is the most important component because, as my (closet libertarian) brother was quick to point out to me when I was talking to him yesterday, we can’t simply ban crappy food. (Though we can make sure it reflects the true cost.)

    It’s going to take an admittedly large cultural shift, but I have faith that people can come around. It may just take a few more food scares.

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