The Food Plate

The food pyramid is now the food plate. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Every year, I’d go into my kids’ classrooms and teach the kids about the food pyramid. I’d bring in posters I’d ordered free from mypyramid.gov. I had a whole spiel, talking with them about good eating habits.

The year they added the stairs to the side of the pyramid, I understood and ageed with the rationale — yes, of course, we should exercise — but felt the message was confusing. Does chasing a ball really have to do with eating healthy foods? (Maybe it does.) But the food pyramid, I thought, should be about eating the right foods.

There were and maybe still are very little discussions about how to eat healthily in public school classrooms — even though it’s something we do several times a day and kids enjoy sharing practical ideas about eating.

While the food pyramid required interpretation, the food plate is pretty obvious. Make your plate look like the one in the picture. Kids get that. I like that.

But even better than showing kids what to eat was letting them try it. I’d set up little plates for each kid with samples of each category of food — a spoonful of yogurt, broccoli, garbanzo beans, grapes, and popcorn. Kids loved it.

I’d also do some exercises on media literacy and food. I’d ask the kids, “What commercials have you seen for food lately?”

“Fruit gushers.”  “Big Macs.”  “Reese’s Puff cereal.”

“Right,” I said. “What about broccoli? Or grapes? Or chickpeas? Let’s make up our own commercials about vegetables, fruits, and beans.”

I assigned small groups to create commercials that included 1) some music 2) some tag line 3) some movement 4) some conflict. (Because, you know, conflict is the essence of drama. And we wanted the commercials to be dramatic.)

The commercials were very funny.

Invariably, one of the kids would ask, “Is it all right to eat candy?” “Yes,” I would say, “A tiny little bit is okay. Just not too much.”

One of the teachers suggested that I take my curriculum on the road to talk to more public school kids about healthy eating. I’d like to, but Michelle Obama seems to have that job. And she’s doing a pretty good job of it too.

Writing Childhood Memories

Loved teaching “Food and Faith” at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s last Sunday.

I love that childhood memories are treasure troves, little magical boxes full of light. Memories point our way. Remembering where I come from reminds me of where I am going and who I am.

One exercise in my workshop was to write about a childhood memory of food that brought you closer to your family. I wrote about my Norwegian grandmother’s Christmas lunches. The open-faced sandwiches. The mutton, head cheese, slim-sliced hard-boiled eggs. The meatballs. The herring. It was the one day a year we all sat down to eat on Grandma’s enclosed porch together.

In the workshop, Barbara wrote about her father teaching her to count by planting seeds in the garden. Memories are like shoots of green. The memories are the parts of the plant that are still showing. The memories lead to an ancestry that lies buried deep in the soil, connecting us to relatives who are long gone.

Writing down the memories of family meals or family gardens takes you back and takes you deep — into the heat of a summer garden in Pennsylvania or the  bright light of Christmas in Chicago.

Writing down your memories reminds you of where you come from, who you are. Writing takes you home.

Sacred Chow

At lunch time, the author and pastor Donna Schaper spoke about creating community and communion through food. She was awesome.

The discussion reminded me of last summer when I taught the the adult spiritual study, “Food & Faith” in the schools of mission at Western Connecticut State University and at Dillard University in New Orleans. I loved hearing people’s rich stories of food memories.

One older woman remembered being on the farm, sitting at a picnic table with relatives of many ages after a barn raising. Food was definitely both a fueling and a feasting. Donna wrote about this kind of communion in her book, “Sacred Chow.”

Food has the capacity to bring us together. But there is also, as Donna mentioned, a divisiveness or a righteousness when we discuss food. We’re right about the way we eat and others aren’t.

There are small, good, spiritual things we can do with food, including writing about food, teaching about food and faith, saying grace, opting out of corporate food manufacturers’ offerings, choosing farmstand foods. We can also remember our childhood dinner tables.

When I was a kid, we took the phone off the hook. All seven of us ate dinner together in the dining room every night. We argued, we discussed the day, we ate. I’m going home to get that party started right now.

Donna Schaper spoke as part of Raising Women’s Voices, workshops on women and health offered by the Interchurch Center. Interesting that the event came on the heels of the healthcare legislation.

Schools of Christian Mission are dynamic adult learning opportunities offered in thousands of venues usually in the summer for United Methodist Women and their friends.