As kids, how many of us looked forward all year to Halloween, that sanctioned sugar-saturation fest? Isn't October really just a countdown to candy corn and bite-sized Butter Fingers? And no matter how vigilant our parents might have been about the "one piece a day" rule, dear reader, do confess: didn't you ever sneak mini Kit Kats or whatever your own personal favorite was under your pillow to eat late at night? (My secret: I horded NECCO wafers, those appalling chalky discs that raise glucose welts on the tongue.)
Fast forward thirty years: what does one do as a parent? Anecdotal evidence from friends suggests that no matter how much delicious food we prepare with our kids, it's almost impossible to avoid advertising that equates falling leaves with crinkling Mars Bar wrappers. One friend recently called me in exasperation. She'd taken her two boys grocery shopping for ingredients to make pumpkin soup... and found she'd led them into a labyrinth of trick-or-treat candy. Sure, it's a useful object lesson in teaching our kids about being savvy consumers and avoiding the pressures of seasonal advertising. But really, do we need a month or more of this every year?
How happy I was then to be reminded that this October marks a more healthful seasonal event as well: the inauguration of Food Day. October 24th has been named the annual date for this celebration of wholesome, affordable, sustainable food. The day honors six principals that those of us who worry about the food legacy we're passing on to our kids will easily relate to. Reducing illness by promoting healthy food choices is a top priority. Supporting sustainable agriculture, alleviating hunger, reforming environment-damaging factory farms, and supporting fair conditions for farm workers are all key issues. And one principle -- curbing junk food marketing to kids -- really resonates with me this month!
Food Day is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the nonprofit group that has fought for food labeling and safer foods since the early 1970s. The organizers hope that everyone -- from school kids to teachers to chefs -- will participate. Food Day gala events are being planned across country. A clickable map allows you to see if there's an event near you. If not, why not see about sponsoring one with your school, community center, church, temple, or mosque? I'm planning to take my kids to one of the Chicago Food Day events as a bit of pre-Halloween distraction. We'll see how well that works.
Of course, Food Day's inauguration is seasonally appropriate: it reminds us that October is harvest time. And if we need more reminders, the cornucopia of farmers' markets around the country is a delicious prompt. Some of my happiest memories with my kids involve taking them to various farmers' markets in Chicago. This year we've been playing a game they call "Funky Food." It involves finding the oddest specimen in a number of categories: strangest squash, stinkiest cheese, most unusual looking jar of jam. ("What's a quince?" they asked. "What's a paw-paw?") Part of the pleasure, of course, is sampling the foods! That funny-looking squash became part of a toothsome sage risotto; the quince jam is delicious on the bread we also bought. The stinky cheese? Well, rinded ripe cheese may take an adult palate; we'll get there eventually and I was so happy the kids were game about trying a new taste. The USDA hosts a great finder tool that let's you locate the farmers' market nearest you.
One wholly positive trend I've noticed is the increasing number of market venders who accept WIC. WIC is the federal Special Supplement Program for Women, Infants and Children. The program provides no-cost supplemental foods and nutrition education to low-income women and their children up to five years old. The Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), established two decades ago, allows WIC recipients to use FMNP coupons to purchase from registered market farmers. According to the US Department of Agriculture, last year over 6,000 farmers' markets and roadside stands were authorized to accept FMNP coupons. Over two million people receiving WIC used the coupons, and the coupons redeemed through FMNP earned over $15.7 million dollars for the farmers. While some people may have the perception that farmers' market produce is too expensive for families on a budget, the FMNP Program is making fresh local food available to many of the needy.
With so much abundance, I have just one request: could someone please please please invent a wholesome bite-sized candy in an orange wrapper that I can give out to trick-or-treaters?