“In the long view, no nation is any healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers.” -President Harry Truman
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. Childhood obesity comes with an estimated price tag of $19,000 per child when comparing lifetime medical costs to those of a normal weight child, according to an analysis led by researchers at the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore. With roughly 1 in 5 of the 75 million Students in the US classified as obese, childhood obesity has a staggering $282 billion health care price tag over their lifetime.
A CDC study found the average annual medical expense for youths with diabetes is $9,061. The American Diabetes Association released research estimating the total costs of diagnosed diabetes in the US in 2012 to be approximately $245 billion.
There is a problem here, a lot of problems if we’re being honest.
With barely 1% of all obesity cases linked to genetics, 99% are a result of social and physical environmental factors. Kids are eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods. And we can’t blame the children for their poor decisions, it is us, the adults, who have limited their options and given in to the convenience of providing them with processed products (TEDTalk: Jamie Oliver: Teach Every Kid About Food).
The eating habits of these Students is a direct result of decisions the adults around them make, choices the community makes, choices the food industry has made and the predatory marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrition food product producers.
So how do we change that? How do we offer these kids real choices? How do we give them a fighting chance at living healthy lives?
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
What we at Modern Steader are working toward isn’t just food education. It isn’t a gardening program. It isn’t a nutrition program. This is about food awareness and an exploration of the process to cultivate, harvest, and transform real food as ingredients into a healthy diet and lifestyle. Our Edible Learning Lab program provides an immersive environment where Students can develop a connection to food on a personal level. It is a place where they will learn to understand and care about real food, nutrition, biodiversity, ecology, resource management, the environment, and how it’s all connected. They learn the value of asking the important questions about food:
What am I eating? How will it affect me? Where is it grown? Who’s growing it? How is it getting to me? How does this affect flavor, nutrition, price? What’s this all about?
“To a great extent, we are a displaced people for whom our immediate places are no longer sources of food, water, livelihood, energy, materials, friends, recreation, or sacred inspiration.” — David Orr
As an adult, how much do you know about where your food comes from? When was the last time you cooked a meal from scratch? When was the last time you talked to a farmer? A butcher? We have deliberately broken our natural and cultural association with sustenance. Urban environments, especially, have evolved to separate and insulate us from the means and methods of acquiring our food (TEDTalk: Carolyn Steel: How Food Shapes Our Cities). Out of sight, out of mind.
Food author Michael Pollan reflected in a recent interview that when he began writing about food, he realized that most people weren’t sure where their food came from, “which is quite remarkable in the history of our species,” he says. “We’ve always known where our food comes from. We were directly involved in growing it, or hunting it, or gathering it. Then we moved into a world where it was just a shrink-wrapped package in the supermarket.”
“I think we’ve been, as a culture, undergoing this re-education about the food system,” Pollan says. “It’s really an effort to recover food not just as an end product at the supermarket but a whole chain of relationships between you and the farmer, you and the land, you and these other species.”
The way we choose to eat and prepare food is a reflection of who we are and how we live our lives. If we can teach Students to be mindful of what food we consume, how it’s prepared, where it comes from, how it nourishes our bodies and take responsibility for how the entire process affects the planet then we will see them start to practice that same mindfulness in other parts of their lives.
“It is important to know where your food comes from because the means of production has enormous effects on the healthfulness of food, the environmental impact and the welfare of the animals involved.” -Christine Champagne, Fast Company Interview with Michael Pollan
Our means of food production should really be about mimicking the processes that create abundance in nature. Natural processes are highly complex, connected, cyclical and regenerative. When we work to support or restore natural food production systems not only do we see an environmental benefit, but also a production benefit and a huge improvement in quality. Food produced using methods closer to nature delivers healthier, more nutritious, more delicious end products (TEDTalk: Dan Barber: How I Fell In Love With A Fish).
Conventional agriculture and our current commercial food economy are linear and destructive in nature. It’s an industrial mindset that is a wholly consumptive process, employing a scorched-earth policy that makes it nearly impossible to remotely consider it “sustainable”. We’ve seen the results of these destructive practices in contaminated water supplies, ruined ecosystems and unhealthy plant and animal food products relying on more and more artificial inputs.
And because we cannot afford linear thinking in food economies, we have to ask some important big-picture questions related to how we consume:
How do we use the planet? What are our responsibilities to our neighbors? What is our responsibility to the future? How are we connected to everything else?
It’s this idea of connection, of knowing, that we’ve lost touch with. We have forgotten that we are part of a larger system on this planet, that we have a place in the natural order of things. We are a people out of place.
What if the big secret to finding our place in the world again is through food?
We can’t expect Students to care about where their food comes from and make healthy eating choices if they’ve never been exposed to fresh, nutritious, seasonal, natural produce. But if we provide them with an environment where they can have a positive experience learning about food and connecting with the process, then we can guide them along a path to respect, and ultimately care about, the role real food plays in a healthy lifestyle.
That path to a healthy lifestyle starts with our Students caring about themselves, it’s a mindset shift where they feel informed, confident and empowered to make positive choices. The ripple effect of this shift will be seen as their choices influence their own health, actions, and decisions outside of the Lab. We encourage parent and family participation in an effort to strengthen and reinforce the lessons we teach and ensure that they extend to the home. We work to foster involvement from local citizens, organizations, businesses, and government to extend the influence of this program into the larger community.
In our Edible Learning Lab programs we encourage teachers to give their students ownership of their Lab, let them be proud of the work they’re doing and things they’re learning. We give them space to have ideas and be creative with their new awareness. We encourage them to share their new knowledge with the community in various ways. Never underestimate the power and influence of impassioned youth in the community.
It’s important to recognize that before long these young minds will grow to be voters, policy makers, business owners and community leaders. In a few short years, they will be the decision makers that shape the future of our world. It is then that we will see the larger impact of the lessons we teach them today.
Interested in learning more about Edible Education, its value, and how it’s changing lives of children everywhere then check out our free download, “Why Every School Needs Edible Education and 9 Ways to Make It Happen Where You Are Now”.