According to the paperwork, Rosario was three years old when the authorities delivered her to the orphanage gates late one night. Her frail little body did not seem old enough to be three. She was so malnourished, her feet fit into newborn baby shoes.
Rosario’s big, black eyes were the only thing that betrayed her age. They were not innocent like baby eyes. Those eyes had seen too much.
Immediately, we went to the kitchen to find food for Rosie. The older children gathered around, delighted to be able to watch this starving little girl eat, delighted to be able to help fill her stomach for the first time in her life.
Rosario’s empty black eyes stared blankly at the plate. She did not know what to do with it. She flinched at the spoon when I tried to feed her.
I had been to the shanty town where Rosario had been found. I had seen the makeshift structures next to the railroad tracks where whole families tried to survive. I had seen the children crawling on the garbage heaps, barefoot, bleeding, and hungry. Most of their waking hours were spent in the pursuit of food.
We learned that often, Rosario’s family had absolutely nothing to eat. They mixed sugar water and fed it to the little girl to keep her from screaming with hunger.
When I came back to the States, I experienced a bit of culture shock, not because things were so very different, but because they were so much the same. We are suffering from malnutrition, from chronic exposure to poor and insufficient food choices, and our children are bearing the consequences.
The only difference is, we do it willingly.
Most people know that food impacts human health and behavior. That’s why most women improve their diets as soon as they find out they’re pregnant. They give up coffee, eat more protein, drink more water, and consume large amounts of prenatal vitamins. Why do they do that? Because they know they only get one chance to grow that baby, and most women want to do it right.
But babies don’t stop growing once they come out of the womb. That little body will continue to grow and develop for years. Even as an adult, that child will need proper nutrition to perform optimally, avoid illness, and feel her best. Yet most parents do not remain as fastidious about their child’s nutrition as they were in the first nine months of life even though they know that children are impacted by what they eat.
The problem is, we are unwilling to use our great knowledge, incredible wealth, and unprecedented access to healthy food to make different choices for ourselves or our children. We line up our minivans in the McDonald’s drive thru to purchase “food” that is counter- nutritional because it is convenient to us and has the benefit of making our kids feel full with the least amount of work or drama.
We willingly give them their daily dose of sugar water.
We see the results in the way our children behave. When my children eat poorly, they act poorly. Their bodies simply cannot handle a rush of sugar, preservatives, or artificial, processed garbage that is in most of the food targeted at children. Their systems are overwhelmed and they act accordingly.
When I feed them garbage because it is convenient for me, and then expect them to behave as if they have been nourished properly, I am not loving them. I am exasperating them.
I am being too harsh, surely. Perhaps I do not understand how hard it is to cook every day or work or take care of children. Perhaps I do not understand how much it costs to purchase unprocessed or fresh foods. Perhaps I do not understand that children would much prefer to eat a French fry than a baked sweet potato.
I understand the struggle. I am in the struggle. But I also know this:
Americans spend nearly five hours a day watching TV and less than half-an-hour a day preparing food.
Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food, the lowest percentage in the entire world. However, we spend about 5.6% of our total income on fast food, the highest percentage in the world.
Over the past 40 years, Americans have increased their caloric intake by over 500 calories a day. Only 13 of those extra calories came from fruits and vegetables.
25% of the vegetable calories most American children consume come from French fries or potato chips.
Americans spend over $110 billion dollars annually on fast food.
I just can’t accept the fact that we, privileged Americans, can’t do any better than that. I think we can. My conviction is this: we should use our resources to purchase and prepare the best food we can afford for our families. It is one of the great privileges and obligations of living with enough.
By “best,” I do not mean the most expensive. Eating well does not mean living richly. It means making deliberate, often simplified choices so your money buys more nutrition. It means refusing to trade your health for the sake of convenience. It means making the choice to feed your kids in a way that continues to build their bodies and sets them up for long-term health. It means guarding your energy by eating things that make you more alive, and refusing to eat the things that will cause you to crash an hour down the road.
I know it is overwhelming. Start small. Start with yourself. Cut out the foods that impact you negatively so that you can have the energy you need to enjoy your children. Start with the white stuff: sugar, white flour, white rice, etc. You may not even realize how these empty calories rob you of energy until you let them go. Start today.
Then, become educated. We have resources and options that other countries simply do not have. Use them.
It has taken me ten years to acquire the knowledge and resources I now have to make good food choices for my family. We have had a very limited budget and very little time, but by the grace of God, the best I can do today is better than the best I could do ten years ago.
And I am still learning. I read books, watch videos, scour websites. I search craigslist for the equipment I need to make fresh foods. I beg friends for the extra produce from their gardens and orchards so we can eat better. I grow fruits and vegetables in my small yard so the kids have the pleasure of eating the things we planted. There is a way!
Feed your children deeply. Nourish yourself richly. You will find that you enjoy your family more because of it.
Join us tomorrow for Day 21
1) Colossians 3:21 encourages us not to exasperate our children. How does this passage relate to the way we provide them with the resources (including food) to feel and act their best?
2) Take some time to educate yourself on the food problem in America. Check out the movies Food, Inc., Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, and Fast Food Nation. Exolore websites such as 100 Days of Real Food, Cheeseslave, and many more. Purchase and read the book Nourishing Traditions. Check out Azure Standard for economical sources of real food. Leave your best real food sources in the comments below so we can all learn and grow together.
3) Make a commitment to change one food habit in your home for the better. What can you do today to nourish your family more deeply?