Sunday, April 5, 2009
With a holiday party on the horizon this week, I am reminded of my last episode as a bringer of refreshments to my 7-year-old son's school holiday party back on Valentine's Day. Always eager to seize an opportunity to bring healthy foods to such an occasion, I signed up to bring fruit when the party "needs" list was posted. On V-day I arrived at the school to sign in as a visitor, laden with a serving tray piled with tangerines and a bag full of strawberries and grapes.
Always on the lookout for any transgressions of school regulations, the secretary cast an accusing glare at my tray. "You aren't planning to bring those into the school are you?!" she frowned.
"Why yes," I replied enthusiastically. "I'm going to Mrs. Dew's class party," I said, obediently pasting a "Visitor" sticker to my shirt.
"Well, I'm going to have to check the rules. I don't know if fruit is allowed in the classroom. Did you buy it in a store?"
"Actually, my husband's parents gave these tangerines to us, and I believe they picked them at an orchard in Mesa last week," I said proudly. Hey, these days "locally grown" is a badge of honor for produce, isn't it? Our conversation was clipped short as hordes of other food-bearing moms flocked through the lobby, and I whisked out the side door with my questionable fruit.
The irony here is that, in our era of fear, we have become so paranoid of food poisoning that school districts require any food brought into the classroom, whether for a birthday celebration or other special event, to be purchased from a certified facility. No home-baked goods, no garden grown produce. Technically, freshly harvested fruit from the back yard is forbidden. From the other side of the food wars, the likes of Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food; The Omnivore's Dilemma), Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) and Jane Gussow (This Organic Life) are urging us to re-think our eating habits and choices towards non-processed, regionally grown "real" food. The high fructose syrup that is laced in everything from peanut butter to "juice" to Oreo's is contributing to a second generation of obese and ADHD prone kids. Fresh produce has been replaced by fruit leather, pre-packaged jello, and lathed carrots. And our ability to provide for ourselves is being severely compromised in a culture where food is delivered by boat, train and truck, rather than bought directly from farmer's and ranchers.
Being the rule-bender that I am, I placed my tray heaped with fresh fruit on the table among bags of Cheetos, cupcakes piled with frosting and sprinkles, heart-shaped pretzels and boxed juices. The story has a happy ending here. The children devoured the fruit, leaving piles of strawberry leaves, tangerine rinds and grape stems all over their desks. It seems that they instinctively know what is good for them, despite the best efforts of adults to "protect" them. Or do they just like to bend the rules too?
Don't tell anyone, but I'm planning to bring deviled eggs to the Easter party this week. They will be made from hen fruit I buy directly from my friend Merrily, who hosts a flock of layers in her back yard,