First, a joke:
Mum: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Kid: What’s a chicken?
Laugh? No, me neither. Sadly, some children really don’t understand what chickens are.
Organix, the babyfood brand, has just published a new study on the future of children’s food. One of the most shocking findings was that many of the youngsters interviewed (along with their parents) didn’t know a chicken had bones. Others couldn’t believe apples had cores or that tomatoes came in more varieties than just cherry.
The reason for this frankly alarming gap in the knowledge of kids of 10 years old and younger, says Organix, is down to the ‘zone of artifice’ in processed foods, the sort that doesn’t include artificial additives but delivers “instant and dynamic tastes” while being “an easy eat that requires little effort”.
Whose fault is that? The research points the finger at disingenuous labelling: products boast of being ‘all natural’, so busy parents snap them up, unaware they don’t provide the experience of, say, eating vegetables that have the consistency and variety of, well, vegetables. As a result, children are losing the ability to judge real food – and fewer and fewer are prepared to devote the energy required to eat it, the report warns.
In light of the childhood obesity crisis, this is clearly cause for concern. But who is to blame for this sorry state of affairs?
It’s easy to blame suppliers and expect them to sort it out: if they can take the axe to fat, sugar, gluten and the rest at consumers’ behest, surely they can make carrots look and taste like carrots (and stop adding them to strawberry yoghurt, as per one parent’s complaint).
Actually, it’s too easy to blame the makers of ‘engineered’ food. Mums and dads need to take responsibility, too. I don’t want to come across like that pyjama-loathing headteacher in Darlington here. I think it’s perfectly understandable that just as busy, stressed-out parents might not find time to get properly dressed before the school run, they might want to grab time-saving food off the shelves. That’s especially true if such foods carry feelgood messages about containing no artificial ingredients.
But parents ultimately have to be the ones taking responsibility for what they feed their offspring; food-makers can’t do all the wet-nursing, not least because there are huge challenges elsewhere. Personally, I’d rather they concentrated on dealing with the needless and massive waste in their supply chains (an area where consumers have little to no influence), leaving ma and pa to spend a few minutes reading lists of ingredients, or steaming broccoli.