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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Potato or Tomato?

This past weekend, Food Empowerment Project and SCCAA (Santa Clara County Activists for Animals) had tables at the Green Kids Conference in Mountain View, CA. This first-annual conference was organized by kids for kids. In fact, the founder is an eleven-year-old boy --inspiring in and of itself.

In addition to having literature, stickers and other materials out for kids and specific information about how eating animals impacts the environment, we decided to have a game that kids could learn from.

After seeing videos and reading about children not being able to identify various fruits and vegetables, I decided to make a game in which the kids had to identify various foods. Of course, I cheated a bit as I went to Whole Foods Market and had them teach me about a variety of different veggies and fruits.

As the South Bay is a very culturally diverse area, I chose some unusual fruits and vegetables so that if the kids did not know what they were, it would be a great opportunity for them to learn about foods from other cultures. I tried to throw some easy ones in there, too.

I chose beet, bok choy, chayote, eggplant, dino kale, ginger, jalapeno pepper, lychee, mango, potato and tomatillos. I wrote a brief description of each item, including where they came from and other tidbits. I felt it was important for the children in attendance to see the link between their heritage and the food they probably eat every week.

We had a sign that read “Win a Prize: What Am I?”

The prizes? Stickers, coloring books and buttons (“I Don’t Eat My Friends”).

Of course, things don’t ever go as planned. Since most of the kids coming by the table at the beginning of the event were very young, they needed their parents’ help. From then on, everyone received their choice of a button or coloring book.

Over the course of the day, we would eventually hear parents say, “Oh, this is the game we heard about!” or, after having one of their children play, they would come back with an older or younger sibling to play again.

It was fun to watch the parents get excited when their children got it right and embarrassed when their kids couldn’t even guess. It ended up being a great learning experience for all, especially since we were able to tell them how healthy the various foods were.

We could truly see that the lesson was learned: one parent told her son that he was going to have to go grocery shopping with her as he couldn’t identify half of the items (and identified a potato as a tomato), and other parents talked about having the kids start cooking with them. One woman explained that the counters were too high for her daughter to see as she was chopping – but maybe she should lower the cutting surface so her daughter could watch and learn.

It was wonderful to hear the parents remind their kids how they ate these foods regularly – bok choy in stir fry, kale in the pasta, as well as the people telling us the different names of the foods in their native language – Chinese or a certain dialect from India, for example.

Overall, the day was a success, and it was exciting to have kids and their parents crowd around tables that addressed veganism and the treatment of animals while learning an important lesson about how detached most people are to foods these days.

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