Redefining our Normal
This summer I was walking with my son by the nearby elementary school that was having their field day. I watched as a woman got out of her car with a bags of those thin rectangular freeze pops that I remember having as a kid. I thought to myself how that was accepted as normal in my elementary school in the late 80’s, but is that really still considered normal now, especially in an educational institution? Don’t we know better than to give our kids artificially flavored ice pops, especially when there are those with real fruit available?
I came home and vented to my wife. This is a school. They are teachers. They are teaching these kids that this is food. I thought to myself how I wish we could do better, especially in schools, to inspire new, impactful conversations around food, but I also realized that to this teacher and or school, and perhaps the community around it, that this was part of a greater norm.
I often discuss this idea of normalcy when it comes to food. It’s interesting how our idea of normal is constantly evolving and shifting. It’s also amazing how depending on one's experiences, one's community, and one's culture one's concept of normal is completely unique to another’s. One thing that is shared now in 2018 is that what has become normal for many of us is different then it used to be, and for far too many it represents a real lack of healthy and sustainable balance. In an increasingly globalized world, where large food companies are jockeying for new markets and ever greater profits, the health problems and chronic disease once unique to the west are spreading like wild fire.
Years ago, I was hired to open a restaurant in Sanya, on Hainan Island in China. It was an amazing three months. I was blown away by the diversity of food. There was everything. The markets were bursting with vibrant fresh vegetables, meats, and sea creatures. It was a feast for the senses. The daily market run felt so inspiring. One day, early on in my stay, the staff and I went to have lunch at an open air food market down an alley of sorts. There were 20 vendors selling an amazing array of dishes. I loved this place and I ate incredibly there many times. As I left, belly full with amazing local delicacies, I remember wondering why this place wasn’t more packed. Then I walked out at the end of the market and there it was in all its glory, a three level KFC literally filled with a line out the door. I looked at families and kids eating their KFC, many of whom were overweight and I felt so sad because I knew what this was to mean for the general health of the population. In fact, as of 2017, China was 4th among countries with highest number of children and adolescents with Type I diabetes. (The US has the highest rate, followed by India, and then Brazil.) We don't need to look too far to know what our fast food culture has done to the health of the U.S. population. I also feared for what this KFC would mean for the amazing food, and people that made it, right next door.
Now, I don’t have the energy to gripe about these companies, nor would that be very productive. I’d much rather spend my days working to inspire people to want real food, and to see it as essential to live one's best life.
It is amazing to look at the world today and start to see how increasingly interconnected we all are. I cringe at the kids with artificially colored blue lips from a freeze pop just as I cringe at the little kid looking spent from eating at KFC that day in Sanya. In both of those scenarios I see myself as a very overweight kid in the 80’s that struggled mightily to find his way out of that state into a more balanced one that I still strive for today.
So how do we get to a better place, where that freeze pop isn’t considered food, fast food is more and more ignored as an option, and kids like me grow up in families with an intuitive sense of balance around food?
We need to rethink and rediscover our idea of what is and what should be normal to eat.
Perhaps you’ve had similar struggles and perhaps you and your family find yourselves in a place with food that you know isn’t normal and you’d like to change. I want you to know that I am here to help, and so is the community that I am building at Noah’s Table. Together I want us to engage and support one another as we strive everyday to find that sacred balance with food. I don’t want you or your kids to feel the way that I did as a kid, self conscious, embarrassed and angry at myself for not having the “will power” to lose weight. I know we can do better, feel better and live better, without feeling like we have to will it every day. To sustain change we must build towards an intuitive sense of balance and re-examine our normal.
I’d like to ask you a few questions to ponder.
Would you consider the way that you eat now to be normal?
Would you consider it to be healthful?
Do you think your grandparents or great grandparents would have considered it normal?
I’d really like to know from you what the climate is like in the school where your child attends. What are the cafeterias like? What foods do they serve? What kinds of fruits and veggies? Do you wish they served different food? What do the conversations around food look like among parents, or are they happening at all?