Joshua Hanau, NMYC MS4 Student Rotation January 2019. The following is his reflection piece following our school session on Food Safety and Nutrition in Dows Lane Elementary School, Grades K-3, January 25 2019. The thing that struck me most about my day spent at Irvington elementary school was how intensely curious and impressionable the students were. Healthy foods are always going to be a tougher sell to young children than the processed foods which are engineered to appeal to our fat and sugar cravings. Yet, after analyzing several encounters we had with the students, I am more optimistic about the fact that as a society, we might be able to make some progress introducing the importance of eating natural and healthy foods at a young age. The encounter that stands out most involved a child who participated in the final session we led on Friday.  He initially declined cucumber samples, but upon seeing how enthusiastically his peers were reacting to the cucumber samples, he agreed to taste them. I later returned to his desk and noticed that he had eaten all his samples. When I asked if he liked them, he responded immediately that he “loved them.” He proceeded to admit that he had never tasted cucumbers before and did not realize they could be so good. To me the experience represented the fact that all people, whether adults or children, are heavily influenced by the culture and the people around them. I was shocked at how many of the students we worked with were intimately familiar with vegetarian diets and plant-based protein sources like tofu. Similarly, I never expected sushi to be the most commonly mentioned favorite food over perennial favorites like hamburgers and pizza. I recognize that students at other New York area public schools may not be as familiar with plant-based diets or sushi. However, I have little doubt about the fact that children in those other schools are equally curious to learn about alternative, healthier ways of eating. The reason I have little doubt that children everywhere are equally curious to learn about alternative ways of eating is because my experiences working with children have led me to believe that children, in general, are extremely curious about the world around them. Throughout the day many children asked me what I was wearing on my head when they noticed my yarmulke. Something that was new and different to them was exciting and interesting. They wanted to learn more.  There are many challenges that stand in the way of reforming the way that our society eats. The population of the planet is exploding, and factory farming and processed foods have been very successful at providing abundant food at a low cost. Healthy food is often far more expensive, placing it out of reach for many working-class Americans, who have little choice but to raise their children on cheaper food items which are more processed and less nutritious. The only way this could change is if as a culture we prioritize eating nutritious sustainable foods, to the point where market demands begin to affect the types are foods being grown and produced. The best chance we have of changing our culture’s relationship with food is to reach the next generation when they are still children, with open ears and minds. I was struck by many encounters that I had with the students on Friday. They were heavily influenced by their peers, eager to share seemingly mundane aspects of their lives, and excited to show off the healthy dinner plates they had put together. But what surprised me most, and made me most optimistic about the next generation, was how excited they were about eating something as simple as a cucumber.

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