Boosting Youth Agricultural Literacy at the Thanksgiving Table
If you’ve ever been confronted with what feels like 1,000 options when trying to buy a dozen eggs at the grocery store, you might have wished you had a little help in making your decision. There are labels that make claims about environmental impacts, animal rights concerns, and nutritional value. Some eggs have pictures of farm fields and barns while others come in plain Styrofoam. Then there’s price to consider. You can buy a dozen eggs for about $2 or you can get up into the double digits. Are the pricier eggs worth it? Should you buy eggs from vegetarian chickens or from a producer in your state? Should you even eat eggs? They provide cheap protein but are also a source of cholesterol. There’s a lot to consider.
It can sometimes feel overwhelming to make decisions about what food to feed yourself and your family when there are so many choices to sort through. The skillset that helps you navigate this kind of situation is called agricultural literacy. Someone who is agriculturally literate can make informed choices about what food they want to consume to help support their health, environmental sustainability, local farm economies, and socially responsible agricultural practices. It’s an essential and highly functional form of knowledge!
Unfortunately, as fewer and fewer Americans are directly involved in agriculture as a form of employment, knowledge about where food comes from and how to navigate modern food systems in also diminishing. Today, only 2% of the U.S. population works in production agriculture and a 2018 study found that a shocking number of American adults think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Not surprisingly, agricultural illiteracy is as much a problem among kids as it is among adults. In order to reverse the current wave of misinformation regarding food, we need to start working with new generations at an early age. There are all kinds of great program out there dedicated to this cause that center youth in their missions to improve food access and boost community health, like the Food Literacy Project in Louisville, Kentucky.
But solving the agricultural literacy crisis can also happen (at least in part) at home with family, and Thanksgiving is a great place to start! Planning family meals together and involving kids in cooking are both important ways to get young people thinking about where food comes from and all the work it takes to get a meal onto their plate. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, this week is the perfect moment to talk about food. Including an ag literacy boost in your holiday plans doesn’t even require big changes - there are lots of small ways to include kids in everything from trimming green beans to setting the table. The American Farm Bureau has even published a guide to kid-friendly videos, fun facts, and reading recommendations related to all the Thanksgiving classics like turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
Food is an important aspect of our lives every single day, but it takes center stage at Thanksgiving. Like so much of 2020, the holidays will be a little different this year and it could be a good time to start new food traditions. Slightly different family practices might help the kids in your life build skills that will help them make healthy and environmentally-responsible decisions for years to come, even if those changes are as simple as letting some smaller hands help mash the potatoes and stir the gravy.