Guest blog: In defense of the childhood treat

Liz Snyder is a food activist, farm-starter, and Mom. She has a Masters’ in nutritional anthropology from Oxford University. In 2007, she co-founded Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale, CA and more recently, helped start a CSA program for 150 low-income families with FIRST 5 Santa Clara County.

Right now, Liz is working on starting Little Bee Pops, a small sustainable food business in Mountain View, CA. Using fresh produce and honey – all sourced from within 150 miles – the handmade, healthy popsicles will be sold at local parks and farmers’ markets.

She is currently crowdfunding her new venture via Kickstarter. You can learn more about Little Bee Pops by clicking here:

It can be painful sometimes, being that “mean mom.” The one saying “no” to the snack foods aisle of the grocery store, the ice cream cart at the park, or the snack bar at the pool.

If you’re a parent reading this blog, you can probably relate. Because unfortunately, the way we feed our kids at school is just the tip of the iceberg. It seems to me that, in every corner of the world inhabited by kids, there is a company or institution pedaling junk food laden with corn- and soy-based chemical byproducts. I don’t blame my daughter for wanting it all – her brain is wired to seek extra sugar, fat, and calories. But by consistently and vehemently saying no, I am always worried that I am turning junk food into forbidden fruit, something to be coveted and snuck and eaten in secrecy. As a nutritional anthropologist who’s studied the deep connections between food choices and emotions, I realize this is the exact opposite of what I want for my child.

Back in 2007, I set out on a mission to change one school district’s food supply – and to change a neighborhood’s relationship with food. Together with a small group of committed community activists, I co-founded Full Circle Farm, an 11-acre organic, educational farm on school district land. The idea was to grow fruits and vegetables to supply both the neighborhood and the school cafeterias with fresh, organic, affordable produce.

At the time, my daughter was only a preschooler – but that farm became her playground, her school, and her grocery store. It was not unusual to find her traipsing through the fields gnawing on a tomato the size of her head, or in the educational garden, grazing row after row of tender DeCiccio broccoli shoots. Her natural instinct to seek food, to graze, and to go after the sweetest stuff she could find was completely healthy in this context. I never said no to sun-ripened strawberries, tender pea shoots, or purple string beans she liked to snag straight from the plant.

When I left the farm in 2010, it was a tough transition for our whole family. But I think Helen especially struggled with the lack of space in her new school, the lack of natural features in our urban neighborhood, and the lack of access to food not served or prepared by anyone but Mother Nature. That’s when the begging and whining for sweet snacks really began.

It took me a good long while to put two and two together, but I realized that kids have a profound need for gathering and eating food of their own choosing. And in the context of hunter-gatherer or agricultural societies, this instinct meant survivial. Today, it means Type II diabetes and a lifetime of struggle with junk food.

I am not a fan of the so-called “war on obesity”. I think it blames kids for being kids, and targets some kids over others – when in reality, the thin child on a junk food diet won’t be a healthy adult, any more than a chubby kid who eats the same way. Instead, we need a “war” on our kids’ food environment and the corporations that perpetuate the tidal wave of junk food marketed to kids. We need healthy treats in every park, working farms in every school, and spaces for kids to be in the sunshine and dirt, moving their bodies without shame or prodding.

It’s not our kids’ desire for food that is the problem. It is the quality and content of the food available that is the problem. My latest endeavor is to change that food environment, at least in my little corner of the world. My daughter and I, together with my best friend Lilia, are starting Little Bee Pops. We’re going to make popsicles out of nothing but farm-fresh produce and local honey, and sell them at our local parks and farmers’ markets. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s going to provide an alternative to the corn syrup-laden treats that my daughter begs me for. For all us “mean moms”, it’s an opportunity to say YES and celebrate the joys of healthy food, simply prepared. And we are hoping to go beyond that – to become a kitchen incubator for other small, sustainable food businesses here in Silicon Valley.

When neighborhood farms are the norm, small healthy food companies abound, and school gardens are commonplace, food can become something to celebrate instead of fear. Because in a healthy food environment, there’s no reason to restrict or bargain or bribe. Food can and should be a joyful, normal part of childhood. I hope I see the day where us parents will be able to relax, sit back, and enjoy the broccoli.

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14 thoughts on “Guest blog: In defense of the childhood treat

  1. That brought tears to my eyes. I can’t wait to be the mom that says YES at the farmer’s market! I already submitted my contribution toward Little Bee Pops, and I look forward to buying them soon!

  2. Liz ~ what a FABULOUS idea! I can’t wait until your Little Bee Pops make it to my neck of the woods! Thank you for your wonderful work. 🙂

  3. Awesome guest blog post, Mrs. Q! My “hope in humanity” is always raised when reading about the few, here and there, who are willing to implement changes in children’s food. Slowly but surely…:)

  4. I don’t have kids yet but this is one of my biggest fears. I don’t want to be the parent that always has to say no, but I don’t want to feed them the crap that is so pervasive. It’s so sad that we’ve forgotten how to eat. My grandmother likes to tell me the story of when she was a kid she had to take crummy home made jam and homemade bread sandwiches to school when the other kids got the super cool store bought jelly and store bought bread.

    I agree with KrisfromParis!, it’s heartening to see people that are making a difference and little by little correcting a wrong in the world.

  5. It is also nice to see someone who isn’t blaming the kid who looks different (i.e. larger) just because that’s the way their body is made. Good food and healthy activities for all, not just those that “look” like they are unhealthy.

    Remember, you can only tell 2 things about a person by looking at them – 1) what their body looks like and 2) your prejudices about people with that type of body. You CANNOT tell how healthy someone is by looking at them.

    The “war on obesity” is offensive because it blames people for not looking how we want them to look. I totally agree that it should, rather, be a war on body shaming and a war on the unhealthy food corporations. Positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors (not “healthy looking”) is a much better way to get everyone to want to take care of themselves.

    1. DC, this is exactly what I have struggled with in my line of work. From grant writing to curriculum development, the entire “good food” movement is shrouded in “anti-obesity” talk. To me, this is little more than body hate and shaming. To prioritize weight loss over a healthy relationship with food is devastating long-term, especially for kids. We have a national eating disorder, one that tells us that it’s the shape of our bodies, not their ability to nourish us or carry us, that matters.

      About a year ago, I decided to stop pandering to the “war on obesity” and to focus on health at any size (HAES). I read the research of Dr. Linda Bacon and started applying it to my work with kids of all sizes. I realized that feeling good in your body, eating joyfully and without shame, and enjoying your body NOW is truly the only way to life long health – and that the “good food movement” was pretty much providing the exact opposite to fat kids (and to all size kids, through a healthy dose of fat phobia for all).

      I have had some really challenging interactions with colleagues since taking this stance. Many see nothing wrong with villifying fatness. Some see nothing wrong with publicly popping kids on a scale at the farmers’ market! Getting to a place where we celebrate good food with kids, families, and adults of ALL sizes is going to be one long, uphill battle – but I’m happy to be making the small changes I have been able to make in my own small circles!

  6. Yipee! Love this post. I’m certainly a mean mom. But my children seem somewhat resigned at this point. My rules and outlook are changing all the time. But I try to comfort myself with the fact that there’s relatively little junk at home.

    When I grow up, I want to be a Nutritional Anthropologist. So cool! Have you read Dina Rose’s blog It’s Not About Nutrition? I think she’s a Food Sociologist are something cool like that and she’s saved my life.

  7. Great post. As a mom and a person concerned about food, food systems, and increasing access to healthy and locally sourced food, this truly resonates with me.

  8. I Love This Post!!! What a great image of your daughter on the farm. I love the way you describe the problem with the “War on Obesity.” It should absolutely be a war on big food corporations who are only after profits and getting lifetime customers as soon as possible.

  9. Dear Liz Snyder,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your guest blog post. Living in Lexington, KY I find that there is abundant land and opportunities that can allow neighborhood farms to produce healthy food companies and healthy resources for the schools. The mindsets of those across the country have shifted so much regarding the relationships that people have with food and that too ultimately influences their children’s relationship with food. Having healthier food companies serve the schools of the community will alleviate controversal issues with the school lunch.
    Also, relating to the topic of food and the relationship with food, I recommend reading two books that I found very interesting and helpful. They are: The World is Fat and Mindful Eating. Great books!

    Take care and good luck with everything!
    The Little Bee Pops sound delighfully delicious too!

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