Sunday, December 15, 2019

Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World by Bettina Elias Siegel

Bettina Elias Siegel was a senior in-house marketing attorney for Unilever before essentially going rogue and becoming an activist and advocate for healthier eating for children. Towards the end of the book, when she talks about food activism and how to get involved, she cites some of her own accomplishments, which include helping to nip in the bud the blatant attempt of a fast food company to spread propaganda about its own products in schools.

Whenever I am offered a book about healthy eating, diet, or processed food, I always try to grab it because I am passionate about food activism and healthy eating. I have a food "sensitivity" to GMO corn, specifically. "Sensitivity" sounds pretty wishy-washy, I know, but if I eat corn, I throw up or experience diarrhea or both, and the problem with corn is that it's in everything (and masquerades under names like modified foodstarch or just "starch") and can even be omitted from the label of a food product entirely if the amount is small enough (for example, unless organic, cornstarch is usually added as an anti-caking agent to shredded cheese, powdered sugar, and baking powder).

For many years, I would get severe stomach cramps or digestive problems, especially after eating. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I learned what was wrong. I haven't eaten fast food or most heavily processed food in about fifteen years, and always have to ask restaurants what is in their food before I can eat there. We make a lot of our own food from scratch at home. I often choose to abstain from the food offered at work and social functions. People often say to me, "I wish I had your self-control," not knowing that the reason I no longer crave junk food is because I've developed a powerful taste aversion to it. If you throw up every time you eat something, you're not going to crave it at all.

Over the last five years especially, I've noticed a shift in the food industry. There are more options available to me now than there used to be ten years ago. Companies and restaurants are starting to realize how important it is that they know where their food comes from, and what their ingredients are. There is still a glut of unhealthy food in our economy, though, and even as we slowly begin to move in a healthier direction, eating well is still an activity that is rife with privilege, costs a lot more than it should, and is especially difficult for children, who are marketed to aggressively and don't know any better. That is the crux of this book: it talks about the history of "kids' meals," the importance of kid nutrition, the aggressive and unethical-seeming practices of the food industry in how they target kids, and the way that our government policies about nutrition leave them in the dust.

KID FOOD is such an amazing read. I knew a lot of the information in here already through my own experience (several people in my family have the same food allergy, so we are all very well read about food and food ingredients), but I think a lot of it will be fresh and new to people who don't check their labels. It urges the importance of disregarding misleading claims on packaged food items, which may purport to be healthier than they are, and gives tips on how to encourage and foster healthy eating in kids. I liked how the author gave some of the biological reasons for child pickiness, and the ways that parents could try to prevent that when their babies are young. I also like how she acknowledged that some parents, with older kids, might feel frustrated that they were "too late," and also gave advice on how to work with older kids, too. She really tried to come at the issue from all sides, and I especially liked her focus on children from vulnerable demographics, and the way that communities can engage with low-income families-- especially families of color, who are apparently marketed to most aggressively of all by junk food companies-- to help them get access to good food.

Healthy eating is sometimes made into a partisan issue, and I have seen conservatives champion the bake sale and the greasy diner as hallmarks of the American way. But... should that be the case? Pushing unhealthy food in schools isn't good for kids and it excludes people with food allergies and sensitivities who can't participate, while also overriding the will of the parents who might not want their kids eating those things even if not physically present to stop them. I feel like we, as a country, need to undergo a radical shift in not just how we view food, but also how we go about regulating it-- the standards, the way it's advertised (to kids especially), and especially what nutritional claims, if any, a product is allowed to advertise on its box if it is, holistically, not all that healthy to eat.

This would be a great book for parents but honestly, I think it's a great book to read if you don't have kids, too. Everyone should have more transparent insights into what is in their foods-- and I think not knowing might truly be making some people sick, as it did with me. I often wonder myself how many people who think they've gotten food poisoning at a restaurant might actually have a food sensitivity like I do, as I usually get sick 30 minutes after I eat and it lasts about two hours. But even if you're not getting sick, knowing your food will empower you to make better eating choices for you and your families. Having these conversations about food ethics and nutrition also opens the door to fantastic conversations about health and activism and eating well, which are all exceedingly important.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!      

4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars

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