I grew up in New Jersey, home to many chemical companies. I remember one day in my fifth grade science class when some food scientists from one of those companies came to visit, and impress us with what magic they could do with chemistry. One demonstration was giving us a glass of clear green fluid to drink. We tasted it, agreed it was delicious, but could not place the exact flavor. It tasted familiar, but not like the lime we expected. The scientists then revealed the mystery: it was root beer flavored! We all went, “Oh yeah,” and talked about flavor and color and presentation and expectations.
Food scientists have been working then and the decades since to perfect making processed foods delicious. They use chemicals and processes with such artfulness that now a cake made from a box tastes better than scratch-baked. However, in their processing in great taste and texture and color, they have processed out something more important: nutrition. How can green beans compete with potato chips that science has designed to tickle our senses and brains to the max?
Nutritionists, pediatricians, and other child advocates have been fighting a losing battle against the food industry. We say, “eat more fruits and vegetables and wheat fiber, they are better for you.” However, if people listened and ate only what was good for them, then all the manufacturers of soda, candy, chips, boxed cereal, boxed processed food, juice drinks, powdered drinks, instant dinners, frozen dinners, fast food, and snack food would be out of business.
We have to get smarter than saying “eat healthy” and then forcing McDonald’s to put some apple slices in the Happy Meal. The only way to make green vegetables able to compete with manufactured foods is to make them as delicious. We have to saute them in garlic and olive oil, serve them with hummus and other healthy dips, marinate and roast them on the grill, simmer them into home-made soup. And then we have to encourage our kids to try them. It takes something like 14 tries for a kid to learn to like something, so we can’t quit after 13 tries. Then, when a kid begins to like vegetables and other healthy foods, we begin to win the war on obesity and stomach aches.
A much fonder memory of my childhood in New Jersey was when my mom would make home-made vegetable soup on cold winter days, delicious and warming after a morning playing in the snow. That is a better green memory than clear green root beer, and the kind of memory we need to leave our kids to help them stay fit and healthy.