I’ve been watching our kids grow up and it’s crazy how they soak up every little thing their parents do and say!  It’s reminded me that we have a real responsibility to be a role model for our kids; it’s inspired Mrs. Bee and me to be much healthier about our food choices, for example.

But eating healthy food is just half of the equation.  We also feel a responsibility to teach our kids to have a healthy relationship with food and alcohol. This isn’t always easy to achieve! After seeing so many of my friends struggle with eating disorders and binge drinking, I was pretty sure that the default American values around food and alcohol were less than ideal. That led me down a path of exploring whether or not other cultures had a different (and perhaps healthier?) approach to food and drink.

 Charlie demonstrating the values he’s learned from his father!

That’s when I found a book by Clotaire Rapaille called, “The Culture Code: an ingenious way to understand why people around the world live and buy the way they do.” In the book, he talks about how kids absorb values from the culture in which they are raised. In America, for example, a kid might associate peanut butter with the PBJ sandwiches made lovingly by mom.  But peanut butter isn’t a staple food in France, so kids just aren’t emotionally imprinted on it in the same way. Clotaire didn’t eat peanut butter until adulthood, for example, and when he did he was promptly unmoved.

After reading the book, it became clear that our kids absorb strong emotional imprints about food in their childhood. This raises the stakes for us as parents!   If we wait til adolescence to teach our kids this stuff, it may be too late!  Clotaire talks about alcohol as an example:

In France, people drink champagne, as they do all wine, for its taste, not its alcohol content.  The purpose of drinking wine in France is almost never to get drunk, but to enjoy the flavor of the wine and the way it enhances food.

French children get their first taste of champagne at a very early age. They dip sugar cubes and cookies into it and in doing so learn about its flavor and distinctive qualities. [My son] Dorian would often have a taste of champagne with us in France; thus he learned to appreciate it and to associate it with celebration, since in France, we most often drink champagne when we are celebrating something. …

Most Americans receive their first real imprint of alcohol when they are teenagers.  This is a very different window in time from which the French learn about alcohol, and therefore the connection made is very different.  For most Americans, alcohol serves a function: it makes you drunk. … Many of [my son's friends] respond to alcohol the same way I responded to peanut butter – they find the taste unappealing – but they forge ahead anyway because they know doing so will [give them a buzz.]

This really stunned me, because it’s exactly how I thought about alcohol for years.  I don’t think of that attitude towards alcohol as healthy at all, and I’m lucky that it didn’t backfire on me worse in college and beyond.

Food is similarly emotionally imprinted on us as kids. 

Hellobee member Squid reminded me of this Ratatouille scene in the comments! Love it…

In America, we like our food “fast” and sometimes eat in the car. We talk about “filling up” and have all-you-can-eat buffets where you can efficiently and cheaply consume large quantities of grub (we even call it, “grub”!). When we finish a meal, we say, “I’m full.” We think of food as fuel.

According to Clotaire, the French don’t see food as a means to an end; the process of eating food itself is to be enjoyed.

Olive enjoys a meal while chillin’ at her Oba-chan’s house.

 The French don’t say “I’m full” when they’re finished with a meal; they say, “that was delicious.”  They focus on the pleasure that comes from tasting the food, and are more likely to eat longer meals.  The French tend to think of food as pleasure, not fuel.  The American subculture of “foodies” also thinks along these lines, and may change the default American perspective in a few generations.

(Please note that the book was written by a Frenchman and as such, it’s filled with examples of how French people are awesome and American people are less awesome.  Why am I not surprised?  But at least when it comes to food and alcohol, I have to give it to Clotaire that us Americans don’t always have a healthy relationship.)

How does all this affect us as parents?

  • I’m going to try and focus our kids on the experience of eating, rather than just something to rush through in order to fuel up.  We’ll talk about the food and ingredients and taste, and try to get the kids to enjoy the experience of eating.
  • Mrs. Bee has transitioned the kids to less processed foods and more pastured meats and organic veggies and fruits, which should hopefully get the kids to really taste their food (as opposed to just getting high on sugar and processed carbs, which I used to do alllll the time).
  • I’m going to try and stop urging the kids to “finish your plate.”  Ugh, this fuel-centric perspective and language is so dominant in my thinking!  I’m going to have to work hard to change how I think and talk about food.
  • We’ve been having Charlie help make his breakfast omelet every morning. We’ll continue doing this, and also have him experiment with different omelet fillings and talk about the taste. This past weekend he baked blueberry muffins with Mrs. Bee! Maybe he can help with lunch and dinner on weekends too?
  • Maybe we’ll consider letting the kids sip small amounts of champagne and wine with meals now and then?  Not now when they’re so young, but a little later in life.

I feel like we have a long road ahead of us, and am not entirely sure where that journey will take us. But I’m excited that at long last, we have some ideas on how to proactively instill some positive values about food and alcohol in our kids.

Did you have a healthy relationship with food and alcohol growing up? How has that relationship changed over time?