Friday, December 13, 2013

Food is Parenting

the other day, while walking down the street, my 5 year old son, henry saw a child eating a neon blue frosted cupcake. as we strolled passed the child I watched his eyes narrow and focus on the glowing cake.  my 8 year old daughter, sylvia saw it too.  as we walked away sylvia said to me, "that was disgusting. have you ever seen blue like that in nature?" I smiled and said "nope."  then henry quickly chimed in, "I want a cupcake like that. how come we never get cupcakes like that?" to which sylvia immediately responded, "oh henry! have some self-respect!"  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.  henry is at that age when laughing makes him feel a bit self conscious because he feels as if he is being laughed at.  so, in order to protect my little man's pride, i smiled ear to ear, put one arm around my sylvia tenderly, and walked on feeling very proud, knowing that my parenting choices were making a real impact and that my children were hearing me loud and clear.   i feed my family the way i do and teach my children proper nutrition because i want them to love themselves, to value themselves and to be able to be of value to others. 

when i became a professional cook, feeding my customers was all about freshness and flavor.  as a parent feeding children, my focus is more on freshness, flavor and nutritional value.  my desire to feed them the cleanest, freshest, most delicious local foods, chock full of vitamins, minerals, live enzymes, love and proper nourishment became my quest from the time they were born.   looking back, i realize that should have been my goal throughout life and that eating the way we all eat now, since the kids have come along, is the way to eat before and especially during pregnancy since that is when we actually start feeding our babies.  creativity is also a key factor and will always remain high on my list since chicken will always be chicken and a potato will always be a potato. it's what we are able to do with those ingredients and the creativity we bring to them that takes them to the next level of excitement by allowing them to express their innate flavor and maximum nutrient values while we ask them to also perform exquisitely in our manipulation, preparation or "theater" of taste.  when we retain this creativity in our cooking, we remain engaged with cooking as an art or a craft. this challenges us or pushes us as the "servantless" cooks that we are in order to find the opportunity in every meal. the privilege in every act of culinary expression we put out on the table.  to please ourselves, our friends and our families with the most sensual act of giving that we can perform on a daily basis - in public.  as you can tell from just this last sentence, i consider cooking, prepping, eating and sourcing clean ingredients to be major, super-important, life giving, life sustaining, life changing, comforting, creative, playful, meditative, healing and more. simply put,  food is parenting.

when i became a parent, nothing became more apparent than the importance of feeding and nourishing. as a breast feeding mum i was reminded, every two hours, how essential this was (my son fed every two hours around the clock for 18 months!).   when you are the primary food source you are enlightened to the primal instincts involved in the growing of a healthy child's body and mind.  the physical and emotional attachment to nourishment is an equal opportunity for both parties to witness the miracle of life and growth as nature intended. following the path of Fresh, Local, Organic and Whole beyond the breast is always best.  my kids know the rule of thumb in our house when it comes to what we eat.  if people have been eating it for 200 years...go ahead, it's all good!  parenting (the verb), comes in many different forms.  we might then ask ourselves what it means to parent. in my eyes, to parent is to nurture, to nourish, to feed, to teach, to lead, to inspire, to cultivate, to raise, to look after, to bring up, to rear, to take care of, to love, to cook, to kiss, to play, to wash, to mend, to shlep, to read, to heal, to be get me?

i have waged major wars with my own parents regarding "treats" that they felt compelled to give to my children that are just not allowed in our family.  they claimed that i was depriving my kids of "kid food" and that it was their birth right to have these things just like i did when i was a kid.  my reply to them is "nope. we don't eat that."  i don't apologize and i rarely give in.  some even say  "but it's just junk food! everybody gets to eat junk food once in a while."  to which i respond, "there is junk. and there is food. we eat food."  as the mother of my children, their birth right is to be healthy, happy, safe and loved.  my job is to make sure they have all that and a bit more.  no where does refined biotech sugar, potentially cancer causing genetically modified corn, cottonseed, canola and soy, antibiotics and hormones from factory farmed meat, eggs and milk ever enter the picture.  the health & behavioral problems that go along with cheap, fast, junk are no child's birthright and every parent's worst nightmare.  as a parent it is our job to protect our children from this stuff.  and it is everywhere.

as a parent i feel there is no greater opportunity to teach our children than through the blessings of food, a medium that always conveys a good old-fashioned, farm raised lesson.  we can teach them how to read by taking them to market, we can teach them math by having them help pay the shop keeper or the farmer for the food and then follow recipes with us. we can teach them agriculture, farming and other aspects of the sciences when we take them to buy food from farmers and then teach them about how our body digests and utilizes the nutrients in our good food.  we engage their social skills at the dinner table whether we are home or at a restaurant and we certainly teach them self respect and self esteem when we teach them how to prepare, cook and eat well via proper nutrition.  we teach them that good food will build a strong mind and body. one that will be able to run, jump, play, think and create.  when sylvia commented about the neon blue cupcake being disrespectful to our bodies, i felt vindicated in my "food as parenting" style and how it is helping my children form their healthy sense of self in this often confusing and toxic world.  

think about it, what we put in our mouths and into our bodies is the most intimate relationship we have with another organism from the day we are born.  The food we introduce into our inner ecosystems becomes us. our cells, our fuel, our microbiome, our internal and external self.   what we put in the tank will determine our health, wellness and behavior.  and yet most  people do not even know who's growing their food.  most people don't even know what is in their food!  This brings up the very important concept of priorities.  Everyone has their own set or list in their appropriate order.  in my opinion, especially because of the times we are living in - GMOs, rampant allergies, autism, environmental toxicity, Fukushima (anyone talking about this, hello?) - making solid food choices is more important than ever and therefore sits at the very top of our family's list of priorities. as a matter of fact when we travel, i always search out where the cleanest food sources will be when we get there.  we always travel with our own food and this is also a huge lesson for our children. 

When I teach my cooking classes to parents I like to begin the session by asking a few questions to set the stage.  "how many parents spent a lot of time finding your family pediatrician?"  everyone's hand goes up quickly. then i go on to ask, "how many parents spent a lot of time and did a lot of research on a super safe family car, car seat and stroller?" again, everyone's hand flies up proudly and quickly. they all beam, actually. smiles all over the room.  then i slip this one in...."how many parents devoted all of those hours to finding your family farmer?"  at this point the room gets really quiet and they look quite confused.  not one hand (maybe one or two if i am lucky) goes up and i say..."really...i'm so surprised. you're all such amazing, dedicated, hands-on loving parents and you don't know the people who are growing the food you feed your children.  the person or people who plant, grow, harvest, kindly nurture and then humanely kill and healthfully process the beautiful food you and your family eat at least three times a day."  the crazy fact is that to most, this person is a total stranger!  

think for a minute about those people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on high performance vehicles.  i bet you would never catch them putting junk in that tank. it would ruin the machine. and yet, millions allow junk to go into their children's tanks at every meal.  children have never been sicker, more learning disabled and developmentally delayed and depressed than they are today.  why?  because they are malnourished from disrespecting their bodies with junk and calling it food.  this is why i teach cooking. this is why i help parents learn how to feed their families properly.  i used to think that i was a chef and a cooking instructor. now i realize that i also teach lifestyle and self love.  i parent my students who then parent their children via food and proper nutrition.  we must parent those who, perhaps, were not parented properly with food when they grew up.  parenting is also teaching, yes? food is all about the teachable moment. use it.  every meal you cook.  every meal you eat. every time you sit down with your family is another opportunity to be an effective parent. wow. how lucky we are.

by giving children a solid foundation in proper nutrition and modeling good nutritional habits we are teaching them to love and respect themselves. we are raising little people with big confidence. my 8 year old understands that!  my 5 year old will too, i have no doubt.  i also know that as my children grow older they will use this foundation to make good decisions when it comes to situations that might harm them.  i hope that by teaching my children the importance of good food and nutrition they will respect themselves enough not to sucomb to peer pressure that might harm them in the future.  food is parenting in all the best ways -  food is communication. food is nourishment. food is health. food is happiness. food is love. food is community. food is tradition and so much more.  unfortunately traditions are being lost and food is becoming less important.  families don't always eat together anymore. we spend less of our annual budgets on good, real food, and cooking is becoming a lost art.  all the best parties wind up in the kitchen. why?  that is where the hearth is. the soul of a home beats strongest and truest from the kitchen.  hippocrates said let food be thy medicine.  i say that our best hope to heal is through our children. therefore, in my equation, parenting is my soul food and food is parenting.

there is an old expression that refers to something (an idea, a value, a concept, etc) being "in the water" meaning that it is pervasive, everywhere.  parenting, in my opinion, is "in the food."  to raise children well we must feed them well and teach them to feed themselves, with love and respect.  love and respect for self, love and respect for nature, love and respect for others and love and respect for life.  in doing this we will be raising generations of people who honor the natural cycle of life and consider their bodies sacred and worth caring for.  when we really think about what we put into our bodies we realize that what goes in is what we get back. teaching children why we eat fresh, local, organic, whole foods as nature intended and not genetically engineered science experiments will not only grow stronger healthier children but also produce generations of environmental activists, sustainable farmers and gentle souls who care about the planet they live on and the life that inhabits it.  they are smart people who deserve to know that eating well has a huge impact on the world and why. in august i asked sylvia what she wanted to be when she grew up.  without any hesitation she said, "a farmer's wife." i asked her why and replied "farmers are heros. they work hard to grow our food. i want to marry a hero." smart girl.

i treasure the Family2Table moments in my little home.  we say a prayer of thanks, appreciate each other and then talk about our days.  they are the sweetest moments when i feel most alive. sometimes they can also be the moments when i feel the most vulnerable too, because thank goodness, we are human.  in the end i know that communication, nourishment, health, happiness, community, love and tradition - in other words, real food, will heal whatever ails me.  our children and our planet are our greatest natural resources. love, respect and enjoy them! xx


  1. Hi Emily,

    Great post, but don't be discouraged if your kids stray from your good nourishment lessons for a time during the adolescent years. It is part of our human nature to seek to belong to our 'continuum' and for young people in this culture, that amounts to their peer group.

    Having raised four boys to manhood, I can promise you that the seeds you're planting now will indeed take root. After their teenaged forays into fast/junk food, all four of my sons are now pursuing their own unique 'real food' imperatives outside of the nest. There is nothing like experiencing a deviation from good health to inform them at a gut level.

    Bless you for your dedication to education!

    Annie Dru

  2. Parenting is the thing that the children's need the most.
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