Friday, March 4, 2011

Did dirt make your lunch?

In this week’s Garden Science classes we turned our gaze from the insects that make plant life possible, to one of the most important (and delicious) reasons we garden—to grow food!
Together we began to explore the all-important question of where our food comes from. We started off by breaking down a common and favorite meal, a cheeseburger, into its five basic ingredients: bun, tomato, lettuce, meat and cheese. Then we traced each of these ingredients back to its earliest beginnings. The pattern? All of these ingredients could be tracked back to the soil.

By contrast we considered the case of the Stawberry Pop-Tarts—purportedly “Baked with Real Fruit!” How many ingredients in a Pop Tart? Our third and fourth graders tried to guess:
“Nope….Forty-seven ingredients!”

The clincher: “Do you think all of these 47 ingredients came from the soil?”
“Do you think R­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­iboflavin or Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate came from the soil?"

Our digestible message about nutrition: If you can’t trace back your food to the soil, it’s probably not that healthy. Pretty pictures of strawberries on the front of a shiny box do not mean there will be healthy strawberries inside. (Dried strawberries can be found in the “two percent or less” category, right after salt.)

To bring our lesson to life, we equipped each young chef with a plastic knife, cutting board and apple slice so they could help the class make a pot of fresh applesauce. Unlike the grocery store apple sauce that might have upwards of thirty-two ingredients, homemade applesauce can be made with only five or six.

While the applesauce simmered into sweet, cinnamony goodness (with the help of some volunteer elbow grease), each student drew a picture of their favorite foods and practiced tracing each ingredient back to the soil. In some classes our students had remarkably sophisticated taste—drawing pictures of lentil burgers and sushi. In other classes students were still putting together the idea that chicken (the food) came from chicken (the animal) and that eggs come from inside the bodies of the aforementioned creature.

Regardless of their prior food exposure, young applesauce enthusiasts in all of our schools requested the recipe (before we had a chance to pass it out) and told us they planned to make this tasty treat at home.

Perhaps our most transcendent comment of the week came on Tuesday afternoon at Mary Becloud Bethune Elementary. From across the room a rambunctious third grader declared, “This tastes so good I feel like God is speaking to me!”

I think we can all agree that no lecture or lesson plan will ever compare to the transformation that happens during moments of sheer pleasure that only real foods know how deliver.

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