Children need real food, not food products. They need to be taught how to eat properly from a young age. That is the indisputable responsibility of parents, except that many parents listen instead to the insidious whispers of food corporations, telling them what’s appropriate for kids to eat. Parents then buy the processed food products sold by these companies, with their grandiose promises of nutrition, and end up causing long-term damage that extends well beyond the ten seconds it takes for a kid to wolf down a plastic-wrapped snack.
Author Jeannie Marshall believes we are facing a serious nutritional and social crisis the world over. In her excellent new book, “Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products,” she explores the numerous effects that processed food has on individuals and society. From her vantage point in Rome, where she has lived for the past twelve years, Marshall is disturbed by the growing presence of food corporations that, despite what they may claim, are incapable of having the public’s best interest at heart because of what they sell. Three issues stood out the most for me while reading the book:
The widespread sale of processed foods leads to the loss of regional “food culture.” Even in a place like Italy, where foreigners assume the food traditions are secure forever, the food culture is slowly eroding as a generation grows up that doesn’t know how to prepare the basic foods that have defined Italian cuisine for centuries. Instead, they eat the processed shortcuts made by corporations that sell the exact same products in supermarkets all around the planet. That results in a tragic homogenization of taste.
Processed food has terrible nutritional value. No wonder we face a global health crisis. Corporations use science to advertise their products’ integrity, convincing parents that these modified, enriched foods are superior to the traditional foods that previous generations have eaten. (Consider baby formula, which was originally developed to stave off infant death, but is now called “pediatric fast food.”) And yet, a diet comprised of fresh, local foods that’s prepared at home and contains many colourful vegetables is all that’s needed.
When children become accustomed to food products, they’re unable to enjoy the delicious taste of real food. It’s a misconception that children will only eat vegetables that are masked in sweet, greasy, and salty tastes. Rather, they will eat what they’ve been taught to eat, and that’s up to parents. That training is as essential as brushing one’s teeth and taking showers.
Marshall believes the future lies in home cooking. People need to realize that the corporations have been feeding us lies all along, saying we don’t have time to cook. Healthy, delicious meals are absolutely possible to whip up quickly. It simply requires a priority shift – realizing that we must find time to cook if we take parenting seriously – and reclaimed knowledge from our lost food traditions. "Outside the Box" is an inspiring and accessible read. Read it, and know that we can reverse this awful trend and regain control over nutrition by banishing corporations from our kitchens.
NOTE: This book is called "The Lost Art of Feeding Kids: What Italy Taught Me about Why Children Need Real Food" in the United States. "Outside the Box" is the Canadian title.