Nurturing & Respect: Ingredients in a Healthy Food Culture

May 09, 2007

Today we have a guest entry by Amanda Archibald, RD, Founder, Field to Plate and host of
2007 International Exchange Forum.

Building on Jean’s notes about her observations in France, I’d like to share more reflections on some of the food experiences in France, as we observed during the Spring 2007 International Exchange Forum.

Underlying the food experience and food choice culture in France is the notion that food and dining deserve respect. Respect is observed by taking time to eat and enjoy eating, separate from any other activity. One of the principles governing the school meal program in Vertou (close to Nantes, and visited by the group on Friday) is that meal time provides an opportunity for children to relax, to enjoy, and simply “to be.” They are not distracted by anything other than themselves and a nurturing environment.

In addition to the idea of respect, the French also associate food (and wine) with pleasure. Indeed, during a wine tasting, the wine steward actually asked us what we associated with a bottle of wine. While many adjectives and ideas were suggested, none of us suggested “pleasure.” Indeed, upon reflection, we agreed that wine should be associated with pleasure.

Beyond these ideas, at the Vertou school district, we observed that children would eat lunch in an environment that nourished not only their bodies, but also their senses.

The idea that school lunch should be eaten in a room that is devoid of visual inspiration was foreign to our French counterparts. The dining room was attractively decorated and furnished. Children sat on chairs that could be adjusted to their age and height. The ceilings were fitted with acoustic tiles to reduce noise. Walls and other surfaces were decorated with attractive artwork. Napkins reflected children’s artwork. Support staff engaged in encouraging children to try new foods. Their role: to nurture children during the meal.

Time after time, we witnessed this intersection of respect for food, respect for each other, the pleasure of the food we were eating, and the pleasure of the company of those with whom we shared the meal. Meal times are an occasion to share, to nurture, to enjoy each other, and to indeed celebrate what food producers, artisans and culinary professionals can bring to the table.

I am a strong believer, as are so many other food professionals, that successful food and nutrition education programs should foster these same ideas of nurturing.

I also believe that inspirational food and dining environments, and a respect for those who grow, produce and prepare foods, are critical to the food and education experience.

When we respect the producer, the environments that we eat in and the people with whom we eat, we will surely begin to associate food, food choice and dining with the equal respect and pleasure that it deserves.