Commentary: 'Mom, grass-fed beef? Is this really necessary? And what is organic?'
WISHEK, N.D.—During a recent visit to California for my sister-in-law's wedding, a friend recommended we eat at The Slanted Door, a top-rated restaurant in San Francisco. We checked into our hotel and made our way to the restaurant after making a reservation using the Open Table app. Outside we waited for our table to be ready. Our daughter Elizabeth looked at the menu posted on a wall and asked, "Mom, grass-fed beef only? Is this really necessary?"
I laughed. But then I noticed a few others waiting for their table turn and look at her, native Californians I assume, not country kids from North Dakota.
It was a parenting win for me. Elizabeth is aware of her food choices and how food is grown and raised. Rather than pit one production method of beef against another, grass-fed versus grain-finished, I took it as an opportunity to ask her more questions and then share what I knew about California agriculture.
I said, "What do you know about cows eating grass?" She said, "Well, most do!"
She's right. A growing number of people want to know about where their food comes from so more labels are being put on food about production methods. I told her the most important thing to know about California agriculture has nothing to do with grass-fed beef; instead, the important thing to know is how diverse and extensive the variety of food grown in the state is. When I previously worked in and around California agriculture, I was often told if California were a nation it would be the fifth largest agriculture-producing nation in the world.
Rather than dwell on one method of beef production, we discussed California rice, tree-nuts, fruit, vegetables, dairy and more while waiting for our table.
Since then, Elizabeth has been studying food labels.
"What is organic, Mom?" she asked while looking at a box of Reese's Puffs cereal. I again laughed and said, "Well, not that cereal!"
Anika, age eight, said, "I think organic is like a different flavor? I think my favorite crackers, Cheez-Its come in an organic kind ... like cheddar."
Not correct. We have some farm and food education opportunities with her.
I explained the GMO ingredients in Elizabeth's cereal, such as corn, sugar and canola oil and how they were not organically grown but still are safe for her to eat.
The next evening, she and her sister were eating a snack-sized bag of popcorn. Again, I saw Elizabeth studying the bag. She asked, "Mom, what's non-GMO, and why is my popcorn non-GMO but my cereal is GMO. Is non-GMO the same as organic?"
Do all 10-year-olds ask their moms tough questions?
Her older brother never asked me questions about food other than, "When is supper? What's for supper?" Then he ate enough for three people and always cleaned his plate (as long as olives weren't involved). He never asked food questions.
Is the information listed on food labels or restaurant menus confusing our kids (and certainly adults, too) more than providing clarity? I think so. But I'm also encouraged to have a daughter genuinely interested in knowing and understanding where food comes from, how food is raised and how different production methods increase food choices.
I hope she continues to put me to the test and pepper me with questions so she can be empowered to share her food production awareness and knowledge with others.