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FOOD LITERACY: Connecting Good Eats and Good Reads

Understanding what and how we eat affects children's health and ability to learn.

In 2008, I was producing a radio program for KBCS on youth obesity when a guest, Dr. Ben Danielson of Seattle Children’s Hospital, said, "You can't teach an unhealthy child, and you can't keep an uneducated child healthy." Another guest, a nutritionist, pointed out that the “achievement gap” does not reflect a learning problem among children, but a public health problem with obesity, hunger and cheap foods.

I had been a children’s book publisher for nearly 20 years but never made the connection between learning and eating until then. How can children learn if they’re on a sugar rush from breakfast or hungry from skipping it? A key problem is that many children and families lack a basic knowledge about what and how we eat. In other words, they don’t have food literacy.

Many children don’t know where our food comes from or how it looks like outside its packaging. Families are eating on the run, with 19% of all meals consumed in the car and 45% of all eating taking place alone. This is why my wife and I started READERS to EATERS in 2009 to promote a better understanding of our food culture by connecting good eats and good reads.

READERS to EATERS started as a popup bookstore, selling books about food at farmers markets, educational conferences, and community food & sustainability events. We also partnered with the King County Library System to create educational programs and community food events such as One-City Read program in Auburn.

This year, we launched our own publishing program with Our School Garden!, written by Seattle school librarian Rick Swann, about a boy who experiences the garden across different seasons and curriculum. This week marks the publication of our second book, Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players, Parents and Coaches by Cynthia Lair, assistant professor in the Nutrition and Exercise Science Department at Bastyr University. In October, we’ll follow with Sylvia’s Spinach, a picture book about a picky eater and how growing food at school changes what she eats, written by Katherine Pryor, program manager of the Washington Healthy Food in Health Care Initiative. These books allow children to understand and experience food in ways that are fun and relevant to their everyday lives.

More and more, public institutions such as libraries, schools and parks are taking a greater role in growing a food community by creating gardens, partnering with food banks and farmers markets. Public libraries in San Francisco and Oakland lend out seeds and gardening tools. Many libraries are pickup spots for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). One school in Tucson, Arizona, uses aquaponics to raise fish in its library. The Baltimore Reads Literacy Garden addresses the needs of “food desert” as well as “literacy desert” by offering free books AND fresh seasonal produce and herbs.

The harvest season is coming up! September is Food Literacy Month and October is National Farm to School Month. October 24th is Food Day. It’s a perfect time to have a conversation about what good food means and where it comes from. The READERS to EATERS bookstore will be at the Bellevue Farmers Market this Thursday and Cynthia Lair will speak on Feeding the Young Athlete at 5:30 pm. It's a great opportunity to discuss good eats and good reads during the back-to-school season. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Johnston September 17, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Another way to deal with what I hear now called "nature deficit disorder" is to take your kids outside! Show them how things grow, what the birds eat and why certain plants grow in certain places. Take then to the beach at minus tide and to the streams when the salmon run! A healthy attitude about food begins with an understanding of the earth, IMO.
Philip Lee September 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Kids are so disconnected to where food comes from and how it's made. It must have been a real treat for them to have fresh whipped cream. It'd be fun for them to see how it can be whipped into form. I think the new school food requirement to include fruits and vegetables is a good step. However, there may be some waste in the beginning as kids who are not regular eaters may just leave them on their trays. But in time the exposure will make a difference. One thing I learn from school nutritionists is that there's a social component to changing eats habits. If kids see other kids eating fruits & vegetables, they're more likely to try it too.
Philip Lee September 17, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Agree! It's so important to connect our food with the natural world and understand the ecology of our food system. Kids often think bugs are bad but I like to point out bees and worms are nature's workhorse.
Greg Johnston September 17, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Welcome to Patch Philip!
Philip Lee September 18, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Thanks. Greatly appreciate the conversation.

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