We're not going to feed our children organic food because "We don't want our kids to be snobs." That's the response of parents to a teacher who was encouraging them to use organic foods in their children’s diet, from a recent Huffington Post article.
Why is organic food still associated with being a snobbish elitist? As the author mentioned in the article, people with children and those making an annual income of less than $30,000 buy more organic food than those who make more money. Buying organic can have little to do with income bracket.
So I have been pondering that question. It seems extreme to make important decisions on our children’s diet based on a perceived ideas of snobbishness. For this group of parents in the article, it was an important, game-changing issue. (Either that, or they were using it as an excuse!)
With that in mind, I’d like to talk about how to feed your children organic food without turning them (or yourselves) into food snobs. I assure you, it can be done.
Don’t tell them you are feeding them organic food
Here is a simple principle: just don’t tell them you are feeding them organic food. They can’t be snobbish about something they don’t know. They will still get the benefits of lower amounts of pesticides (and studies demonstrate that children excrete dramatically fewer pesticides in their urine when they switched to an organic diet), and you won’t have to worry about making them organic elitists.
Dinners at home can be rich with organic vegetables, meats, and grains, and your kids can blissfully eat them unaware. Lunches can be packed with care, but without a word about the organic ingredients you are using, your children can unknowingly chow down on organic bread, peanut butter, jelly and carrot sticks. Lucky them.
Don’t be a snob about it yourself
But for those parents who want to teach their children the basics of healthy eating, including the importance of eating organic food, the above point is ineffective. Can you talk to your children about the "whys" of what you buy without turning them into snobs? I think so. The most important thing is not to be a snob yourself. First, let’s think about the definition of “snob,” since we are using the word so much. According to dictionary.com, a snob is “a person who believes himself or herself an expert or connoisseur in a given field and is condescending toward or disdainful of those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field.”
Basically a snob is someone who thinks they are better than everyone else. I don’t think your children will think they are better then everyone else simply because they eat organically unless the parents have passed on that attitude or the child is already a snob.
When my 6-year-old daughter notices any dietary differences between her and a friend, I try to make clear that we just eat a little differently, and that it's not that big of a deal. I don’t think it has even entered her mind to think herself superior because her food is organic.
I hope that this is partly because I have not demonstrated a prideful attitude towards others. I have friends who eat and/or feed their family a wide variety of diets. Some eat very typically while others strictly adhere to organic “healthy” foods. However, the only child I met who was a true snob about how the family ate was someone who first struggled with being a snob in a variety of ways. Plus, this child had a parent who made it clear that the diet they were eating was superior to everyone else’s and had a “can you believe what people feed their kids?” type attitude. Because this parent was so vocal about the superiority of the family's diet, this child made that attitude his own and made some unfortunate remarks to others about inferior food choices.
Being snobby and trying to make yourself superior to others is, unfortunately, a human trait that all of us can display to varying degrees. If you see that kind of attitude come out of your child's mouth, it’s really not about the food choices you make, but rather a heart attitude that needs to be corrected. (And you should first take a good look at yourself because your child might be mimicking you.)
Being a snob is not the same as eating organically, but rather an attitude that can wrap itself around whatever your personal preferences and beliefs are. In fact, I have personally seen some of the opposite snobbishness. I’ll call them “anti-health food” snobs. These are people who truly think that they are acting superior by not eating organic food. I have been verbally attacked by a few of them who discovered my online writing about food. While I had personally never discussed with them how I feed my family or shared my personal beliefs about a healthy diet, I had to sit through a long, one-way “discussion” about why they don’t buy organic foods and why this was a better choice for them — including how this allowed them to be better hosts and friends to others, etc., etc. In other words, how their choices were better then mine. This has happened several times, and it has made me become cautious about telling “real life” friends about my writing.
I was offended and hurt the first time this happened, but I quickly realized that being a snob (whether it is about eating organic food or not eating organic food) is really about insecurity. We want to think that we are better or superior to others because we are insecure in our choices. Once they found out that I wrote about making healthy food choices, these women became insecure and rushed to make sure that I knew that they were making wise choices themselves — even if they were the opposite ones I was making.
This leads me to my third point.
Help your children learn to be secure and kind
Snobbishness in children is much more likely to come from issues that don't involve food. Their looks, talents, opportunities, good grades, sport skills and possessions can all be a source of pride. Since snobbishness often happens when we are feeling insecure (so we rush to make others feel inferior to help bolster our own self-esteem), I think that raising children who are secure is important. The child I mentioned above who made snobby remarks about others' food choices? That child was also very insecure because of relational difficulties at home. I am no expert about how to make children secure, but I think that it's an important aspect of raising non-snobby children.
Being kind is the other important issue. Snobbishness and kindness are mutually incompatible. I hope that I can help my children become kind to others, even as I continue to work on learning how to be more kind and loving myself. It is a life-long journey. If I can help instill kindness, then I don’t have to worry about them being snobby about the food they eat. There is always something that we can turn around and make ourselves superior about, including not eating organic food. Part of being kind is allowing friends and others to make decisions that differ from yours, without berating them or lauding your own decisions as superior.
If you want to raise non-snobby children, help them be secure and kind — and don’t be a snob yourself.
MNN tease photo of child eating watermelon: Shutterstock