September 23, 2009

Teaching Children About the Circle of Life

Occasionally I get to be the parent that my parents were at their best. The parent that all parents want to be. That time happened recently around one of my favorite and most heart-felt subjects... food and where it comes from.

Children are natural foragers. Their curiosity and sense of adventure allow an ability to taste, smell, see and feel things in ways that are already ruined for us adults. Life sometimes jades us into beliefs, especially about food….and often our tastes and preferences become our child’s, because they are such apt little mimics. But what happens when we are aware (brief gifts from above for moments at a time) of standing in our child’s (and our own) way? They are allowed to come to their own decisions about what they like and don’t like, about what is good and not, about whether they are okay with something.

My daughter Lucia, is an old soul. She is a spitfire and emotional, fun to be around, a trial when she is overwhelmed and tired and bossy. In fact, she is a lot like her mother. I have made a conscious effort to expose her to much, especially around food, which my life seems to revolve deliciously around.

We have planted three years of backyard gardens together. We have tasted our way through the farmer’s market every Saturday of her little life. By and large, I don’t make “kid food”…I make real food. She puts it best when she sees a fast food commercial, “Mama! They are lying when they say THAT food is good! It is fast food! It is BAD for you! People shouldn’t eat fast food!  They should eat SLOW FOOD”. Not bad for my little disciple…but even then, I have tried to show her why I make the choices for our family (and my work family) that I do, and let her come to her own ideas and ideals. So far so good.

So when it comes to letting kids know where their food comes from it is pretty simple isn’t it? We have planted gardens, know the farmers at the farmers markets better than most….easy to see and tell where our fruits and vegetables come from. Especially easy for a mother and a kid who both are animal people because trees and shrubs don’t scream when you pick their fruit.

Recently, I have had something in the back of my mind that was troubling me. How could I tell this kid who kisses chickens and cows when she meets them and gives a hug to the merry go round horses after they let her ride, that we kill animals for food? I know about this sensitivity because I have always been an animal person. Shoot, I even cried when my parents cut down real trees for Christmas and I watched them die a slow death in our living room! My daughter is me times twenty, and though I am slowly getting over my own squeamishness on the subject….I desperately wanted to make it easier for her to understand.

This past summer gave me my opportunity. Lucia and I volunteered at Slow Food Berkeley’s pig roast. Surrounded by like minded folks, we arrived when the pig was already buried in the Caja China box over slow coals….and would be there most of the day.

While we waited, along with about fifty other hungry folks, I talked to my daughter about how sometimes animals give their lives so that we can live to be strong and healthy. She listened intently, and she nodded, seeming to get it with little fan fare or drama. If you know my daughter at all, you know that this is rare!

We talked about how plants are living too and that they do the same for us, give us the fruit that they grown to feed us and make us strong. I told her about how her Papa, that she never knew, took me fishing when I was her age. How we baited the flies that Papa made especially and caught fish to eat. We likened that to the wonderful fish mongers at Monterey Fish, who take at least thirty minutes out each time we visit to show Lucia the lobsters or crabs or big mouthed fish in ice in the window…they answer her questions focusing only on her (never mind that they have other customers and a business to run!), they let her touch them and she is happy as a clam each time we visit.

When it came time for the piggy to be taken out of the box, we talked again about how “this piggy gave his life so that we all could share him and be healthy and strong”. That, “yes, the piggy is cooked and yes, again, we are going to eat him with all our friends”. I must admit, as the Slow Food people parted so that my little girl could watch as the man who roasted the pig could bring him up from the coals, face and all, I had knots in my stomach. Was my animal loving little girl really going to be okay with this?

For a moment, after the pig was on the carving table, LuLu turned to look back at me, I was nervous. I must have hid it well though, because I smiled at her questioning little face….and then a miracle happened! She smiled easily back. It was going to be okay. She “got” it. The circle of life made sense and she got it!

She watched him cut up the pig, as he gave away the ears and feet. Still no drama. No problem. We waited in line to get our share of fresh roasted pork on our favorite Acme rolls with homemade salsas and a bounty of potluck items that everyone had brought from home.

I still almost cry when I think back on this amazing day. It was a day when I am certain that my own dear parents were smiling down on me.  The day I "got it". It was the day that I was a good mother, the one that I am meant to be.

1 comment:


She is truly her mamas daughter!
Lisa & Alfie