With a little extra time on my hands, I am revisiting my experiences in Reggio Emilia from October. Although we have a wonderful collection of books published by Reggio Children in our school library, I couldn't help but purchase a few for my own collection. I just read The Languages of Food : Recipes, Experiences, Thoughts, and it has me thinking about children and their relationship to food; and what that means to us as adults.
The book talks about nutrition in terms of what we should be giving our bodies more of. The recipes, from the kitchens in Reggio schools, show a commitment to eating seasonally, eating grains, and promoting proteins besides chicken and beef. I find the recipes in the book exciting because they reflect my own diet and food interests, and I'm eager to try a few out.
I was talking to my husband (a chef) about sustainable eating and vegetarianism on our train back from Austria the other day. He is not a vegetarian, whereas I am, and have been for about ten years. He had just finished Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and felt there was a lot of information that would be making him think about the impact eating meat has on the environment and one's body. I thought about my beliefs and preferences, and how I might be influencing the children I teach with my ideas about food, even if I am not saying them aloud. We only cook vegetarian food in the classroom, even when children suggest meat toppings for pizza. The children always see vegetarian food in my lunchbox, and when they ask me what I am having for lunch, I tell them honestly, "quinoa and vegetables" or "vegetable soup and bread" - whatever I brought from home.
My parents eat meat - we grew up eating a lot of red meat, pork, and chicken. My grandparents eat meat - and it is very difficult to speak to people who lived through government rationing during the second world war about vegetarianism. Meat and milk are health to that generation. But my personal views on sustainability are about a plant based diet, and I am passing those values on to my students through my actions. But, perhaps, because my grandparents don't understand at all, and my parents find vegetarianism a little inconvenient but they accept it, and most of my friends and colleagues are very open to eating vegetarian when they come over for dinner...doesn't that mean that people are becoming more conscious eaters, and the children I teach will be part of a generation that takes more of a stand about what goes into their body?
Despite this post, I am not a preachy vegetarian. Everyone else at the table can order a steak and I don't worry about it - my decisions are my decisions. But with young children, what is my responsibility? I teach them about being kind, respectful, and fair. Where do eating and nutrition fall into that?