September 4, 2009
Whenever anyone asks why I became a vegetarian, I simply tell them that, “I read a book in 5th grade that I shouldn’t have.” In 5th grade we were told to pick an independent reading book. I always jumped to the non-fiction bookshelf and it was there that I found not only a children’s biography of Rachel Carson, but also a book that persuaded me (and my best friend at the time) to become a vegetarian. I do not remember the title of the book, but I do remember creating images in my mind of pent up chickens unable to open their wings.
A recent article by Alice Waters in the Huffington Post made me question if the book I read really was a book I should have read, rather than one that I shouldn’t have. The article is part of a series of articles on food politics. In the article, Ms. Waters argues that school lunch reforms are missing an important component: “the opportunity to use food to teach values that are central to democracy,” referred to as “edible education.” She argues that edible education-which includes teaching children about where food comes from and how it is produced, giving children responsibilities in the school garden and kitchen, and preparing school lunches-into the school curriculum. The ultimate goal of this edible education is to teach values are that are “central to democracy.”
Although connecting school lunches to democracy may seem like a stretch at first, Ms. Waters cites testimonials from students who have participated in edible education programs in their own communities. From these quotes, it becomes clear that students do learn about sharing, collaboration, responsibility, and stewardship. Ms. Waters believes that these are all important values of citizenship that guide “our democracy.”
This article has already received numerous comments from parents and educators. They believe that this connection to democracy isn’t exactly correct: “Kids want fried, salty, and sweet. And in a democracy, that’s exactly what they’d vote for. So, while I applaud your efforts to get kids to eat better and healthier food, I’d drop the part about teaching democracy.”
I will admit as a college student, that college students tend to still vote for fried, salty and sweet food. However, after reading this article, I am beginning to believe that my informal edible education in the 5th grade persuaded me to make a food choice that has lasted for over half of my life. And our classroom garden that year instilled on me a love for gardening. Perhaps it is best if children learn at a young age-while their minds are still sponges-where everything from their fruits to their meat comes from.
– Jessica Kraus