So exactly when did we start to demonise food? When did food become the common enemy?
When did food become such an easy stick to beat parents – and their children – with?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for trying to help children eat good diets, consisting of freshly made food. For years now, I have been a vocal advocate of doing all we can to try to ensure children have a healthy relationship around food – and I believe this begins right from the days of weaning them as babies.
But surely the pendulum is starting to swing too far the other way? If we are not careful, the messages we are sending out to our children of some food being *bad* and some food being *good* risks condemning a generation of children to an unhealthy relationship around food – exactly the opposite to what we are trying to achieve today.
How must the children feel? Suddenly there is a sense of shame around their lunch boxes, and it’s a public shame at that. And shame is not a good feeling around food. In the wrong, vulnerable minds, surely such outright control around food cannot be healthy? When control itself is at the heart of many eating disorders (at both ends of the spectrum, for both anorexia and bulimia), do we really want to be introducing such control around food for young minds?
What is wrong with taking a balanced, middle ground? The “it’s all good” approach… I am a dad who cooks, an experienced food writer – and yet I’m more than happy to serve takeaway pizza at home, fish and chips or a ready meal. My kids have crisps, they have cakes, they have chocolate biscuits.
They are growing up and I want them to feel that food is good, food is fun. Food is not about browbeating, admonishment and shame.
Granted, they also equally love fruit, or a home-made casserole, or pancakes for breakfast or vegetable muffins for lunch. I trust them, deep down, to regulate themselves and their diet and maintain balance.
I do not want them getting ideas into their heads about good food and bad food. Do I want them to be told that pizza is bad for you? Of course I don’t. I want them to develop choice, an understanding of flavour, a respect for good food.
And I want them to know that they can eat some so-called “rubbish” too.
Look, I know there are extremes. There are parents who send their children to school with a packed lunch of crisps, coke and chocolate. But by using childhood food as a stick to beat parents with, my fear is we are not engaging them in a positive way. How can we hope to educate, give parents confidence around food, if they have a constant nagging concern of being judged and shamed?
How can we teach children to have healthy relationships around food if we are constantly telling them “that’s good”, “that’s not good”, “eat that”, “don’t eat this”?
I am by no means certain that my diet was any better when I was at school in the 70s and 80s. I remember a lot of cake, a lot of custard, a lot of chips. And yet seemingly we had less problems with childhood obesity.
The reality is, we were much more active as a society, kids played more, they ran around more.
If you want to tackle the question of obesity and general health and wellbeing in children, how about we start with what’s changed in the last 35 years?
Things such as technology, Facebook, the internet, electronic games, iPads, fear of letting your children play in the street, school playgrounds and playing fields being cut back, reduced PE classes in school are all modern phenomenons.
Why don’t we look at improving the environment in which our children should naturally be burning the calories associated with growing up – BEFORE we demonise food and create a generation of children brought up with messages of control around food.
Messages which, at best, many will rebel against (because that’s just what young people do) and which, at worst, risk creating even more unhealthy relationships around food than children are perceived to have today…