In this blog series, Sharon Discorfano, Esq.,a Government Relations Intern at the ASPCA, will discuss her experiences with helping her nephew make food choices for better health and animal welfare. For more information about Sharon’s animal-related projects, please visit sharondiscorfano.com or follow her on Twitter @shadisco. Read the first post in this ASPCA Parents blog series.
Learning About Labels
While shopping with my five-year-old nephew, Nicky, I was thoroughly entertained as I watched him pick up packages, look at the labels and sniff the produce as he tried to decide if a “new” fruit or vegetable might be something he would like. Together, we were learning more about Nicky’s preferences and dislikes. Occasionally I would make suggestions, though I always let him make the final decision. Watermelon, asparagus and celery (to smear with peanut butter and dot with raisins) are just a few “new” items that are now regulars in Nicky’s shopping cart. Equally interesting to me was the day in the car when Nicky, out of the blue, asked me if all vegetarian food items were organic. Clearly, this little shopper was paying attention as well as listening intently to adult conversations around him.
From the time he was walking and talking, Nicky and I have had conversations about animals, including farm animals. (Come to think of it, bouncing him on my lap and singing endless verses of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” was one of our earliest shared pastimes). Early on, I wanted Nicky to understand some of the basics about factory farming in an age-appropriate way. I believe that even toddlers have a right to know where their food comes from.
One of the first little scripts we worked out, to the amusement of other family members, went like this: “Nicky, what do we say to the farmer who squeezes (accompanied by animated pushing motion) his chickens into cages?” Nicky: “Oh NOOOOOOO! We won’t buy your eggs!”
That’s how Nicky was first introduced to the idea of food labels, including “cage-free” and “grass-fed.” Since then, we’ve been able to talk about how only a few labels have government oversight to make sure they are legitimate, and what each of those labels ensures.
As Nicky began to ask questions, he was adding to his own food consumer vocabulary. He now understands in very simple terms the difference between “vegan” and “vegetarian.” He has also learned that while animals on “organic” farms may be better off than animals in factory farms, the term doesn’t necessarily mean the animals are treated as well as we would like. He is learning how animal products show up in things we might never expect, such as pork enzymes in Doritos. Nicky asks questions that range from whether Brussels sprouts will help him build strong bones and muscles, to whether a particular brand of chicken fingers came from a place where chickens were afraid or sick and weren’t allowed to see a doctor. All of these great questions will help him become a conscious consumer throughout his life.
Check back next week for part three of this blog series.