This is Luke, my son, aged 5. This was him on Sunday at yet another children's birthday party; it must be our fifth in about a month, such is the social life of a child in school where the class totals 30 : )
I've been fighting the urge for ages, but enough really is enough when you watch a whole room of children diving into junk foods for the umpteenth time. I keep hoping it will get better as general "food awareness" increases, but alas I am not seeing much evidence of it!
Read on, if you are ready for a "real world" mini-rant!
To set the scene: I consider myself a very patient, compassionate kind of person. Having started my days eating the worst kind of junk myself, I am no stranger to the "delights" of chocolate fingers, white cheese sandwiches and copious glasses of orange and blackcurrant cordial, but my goodness... now in this age of semi-awakeness, surely there has to be a better way to feed a horde of children (i.e. beautiful little beings who are slowly being denatured from the inside out) than the run-of-the-mill sandwiches, crisps, sausage rolls, dried-up cucumber chunks and piles of sweet desserts, sweets and cake? (And let's not even go there about what's in the take-home party bag...)
It is very rare for me to rant publicly, but it is also very hard for me to literally stand by and watch parents and children eat the worst kind of food all in the name of "fun" not to mention feel decidedly odd standing on the sidelines treading the fine line of allowing Luke to join in, while making sure that he has the best of the worst, despite the fact that he too wants the same squash drinks (packed with either aspartame or sugar), the chocolate cake (don't even ask!) and the deathly-looking slabs of pizza (where you can't even tell what the toppings are) that the others kids are gleefully imbibing without limitation.
I know, I know. Opinions will be divided on this one, depending on who's reading. My parents, for example, think I am "extreme" that Luke has been raised simply vegetarian. Others still cannot understand why I wouldn't raise him 100% raw? (That's for another time!). For my own part all I can say is "Can't we at least UPGRADE??". When Luke had his fifth birthday party back in September, I created a huge spread of delicious food - half cooked/ half raw, all of which was veggie and most of which was organic. Even the birthday cake was a raw chocolate cake thanks to Russell (James). I made fizzy drinks from fruit juice and sparkling water, only wholemeal bread crossed the threshold and the filling foods were things I had cooked such as cous-cous and organic baby potatoes with various dips and dressings. There was also a ton of fruit and salad-y items, and some parents even thanked me for making it healthy for a change! Yes, it can be done, and it was definitely just as fun : )
But, this Sunday, something inside me just flipped. I watched the children putting into their mouths the most deficient lifeless food, scanned around at the parents and saw history repeating itself in front of my very eyes and my heart wanted to scream out - nooooo! Not for the first time I felt myself in a surreal world of utter madness. Sometimes I feel that trying to "be in the world but not of it" is still one foot too many inside "normalcy". I asked myself "what can I do?", but short of appearing like a neurotic mother: "Not this one Luke, have this... We'll stick with water, thanks..." and so on, I didn't even know where to begin without causing offence and being seen as "that annoying healthy woman".
There's a big wide world out there. I know as much as anyone that big changes start small, and I had an opportunity to change lives right there if I had said something (constructive!), but I also know that advice given when it's not requested is not generally appreciated, especially when you are more-or-less insinuating that someone is harming their own child (not to mention everyone else's). This is all aside, of course, from the fact, that most if not all of the parents present probably have never come across the concept of raw food and the stats for veggie kids are also incredibly low. (NB: And if they had heard of raw food, or even Luke eating veggie, they would potentially think it was ME doing the harm, not "allowing" my son all these "wonderful treats". I can see all you mums out there nodding, and sighing, in complete "real world" understanding!) Being a Libran as well as a former junk food addict who has been there, eaten that I can easily sympathise with both sides of the fence -
The fact remains: Junk food is simply not good for anyone - today or any day. Period!
I also know and fully acknowledge that food is just one part of a very large picture as far as kids (and adults) are concerned. Every day I bear witness to how parent's increasingly busy and stressful lives are impacting on their patience, time and energy, and thus the quality parenting they can give to their child. Love is the most potent form of nourishment for all of us, and yet when parents don't have time to take care of themselves in the way we all should be able to, how much love do they have left to give...? There are problems all around in the way society is evolving (ahem!) and food is just one symptom of many.
So... What is the answer?
"Be the change", I believe.
As both a parent and a professional I see the way forward as figuring it out even more for myself and then making it easy for others to follow. I am not sure that ranting out loud at a birthday party is necessarily the best foot forward, as much as the temptation was and remains nigh-on overwhelming!! It is always best to put energy in the most efficient place and that is where the energy will be USED - ideally in a place that has a massive impact in the shortest amount of time. (Jamie's School Dinners, for example - a great start, but goodness there's room for much much MORE.)
For this reason, one of my next areas of contribution is in the arena of children. I am not aiming to get kids onto all-raw or even high-raw necessarily, but am giving parents the tools to make healthy food fun, "yummy" and cool enough for kids to actually want to eat it. It seems like there is no time to waste. Every party makes me cringe more than the last, and yet I don't want Luke to miss out on parties because I feel it's important for him to feel included and develop friendships. (Of course, there are much bigger issues still, such as "Is this the right school for him? Shall I home school instead?" - this has been on my mind since the day he was born and is on my mind almost constantly right now. But this is for another day!).
It's a big challenge; bigger than I ever realised before I had Luke. Even with the ethics Luke has been raised with, he is still pulled in by the bright packaging and gimmicky shapes that show up in the supermarket aisles calling "Buy me, buy me! I'm fun! I'm tasty!". Even his new school which prides itself on promoting healthy eating delivers a shockingly unappetising and overcooked plate of food at lunchtime - Luke and I trialled it together a few weeks ago, and apart from the fact that the main dish was a 5/10 in terms of taste and quality, the part which really made me inwardly throw my arms up in despair was when Luke chose an orange over a large (and conventionally very appealing looking) sticky bun for his pudding and the cook promptly took the orange behind the counter, cut it in half and gave one piece to him while the other was saved for the next child! Why on earth would most children choose half an orange over a bun the size of their fist? Talk about making it difficult!
Right, I need to rein myself in now : ) Like I said, it's rare for me to rant, but this just does it for me. I see the sparkle in a child's eye, the softness of their skin, the silkiness of their hair and the innocence that they so wonderfully embody and then... party by party, dinner by dinner watch their radiance dull until ... well, put it this way, on my 5th birthday I was waking up in hospital covered in blood having just had my adenoids removed due to an undiagnosed dairy intolerance. I'll say no more...
Any thoughts, comments, stories? This is a subject I would like to gather genuine momentum over, for myself and also on behalf of all the women who have emailed me asking for help or contacts in this topic. I am looking for information and ideas that are both "conventional/mainstream" as well as more "alternative". I want to see how these two worlds can merge slowly but surely so there is none of this great divide where some kids get to be healthy and others don't. All schools should be seriously upgraded in food terms, as well as homes and dinner tables. I know it doesn't have to be difficult so long as it's "common-sense-radical" and not just perceived as "radical". I feel like a dog after a bone now! This craziness has to stop!
For those of you who have kids and/or want to learn more/ share the journey, newly trained Raw Food Coach Christine Horner has within 48 hours of finishing the Raw Coach Training started a blog - Raw Rabble. Aimed at supporting parents with kids who want to go more raw, this is going to be one to watch! Visit Raw Rabble here.