I’m not counting this as a full entry in the “Teaching Social Norms” series primarily because it will function more of a bleg than an expository piece. The question is:
Do food norms matter? If so, should they be taught in schools?
At my school, we provide all the food for the students. The students eat family style, with a daily hot entree complimented with salad and deli bars and homemade soup. In my classroom, I teach and emphasize healthy eating habits, discussing the ways different foods help the children’s bodies to grow and develop and encouraging balanced meals. Older students have considerable more autonomy over their food choices, though school-wide we seek to balance our role in ensuring healthy eating habits with the children’s control over their own bodies.
Left to their own devices, children come up with innumerable combinations of food that most adults find off-putting. Given the 20+ choices available to them each and every day (not including the bevy of condiments), I’m confident nearly every permutation and combination of ingredients has been tried. Peanut butter and cheese? Check. Carrot sandwiches? A favorite among some. Bologna over pasta? More please. On and on it goes.
Some teachers bristle at this, insisting that there are proper food combinations. As a food snob myself, I can appreciate their perspective (there are few, if any, things bologna should be over). However, I also know that some of the most amazing food experiences I’ve had have been with combinations outside my comfort zone, those that have indulged either a different set of food norms or which have openly flouted them.
So, again, I ask… is there a value to teaching the more common food norms of our society? Is there a cost imposed upon people who eat uncommonly? Or is food simply a matter of taste and personal preference that should be respected?
(Note: I realize there is a fine line between experimentation and play for children when it comes to food. I do prohibit the children from indulging in wasteful play with their food. This question speaks to more genuine exploration aimed at arriving at something tasty.)