A New Fascination with Mothers and Food

wic3Several quotes I’ve read in the past day have focused my attention to the importance of Women and Infant Children (WIC) in truly nourishing health throughout an individual’s lifetime.  They are simple quotes.  But they are potent.

“The family, not suprisingly, exerts the most influence over an individual’s health; it is the first social group to which an individual belongs, and it is usually the group to which he or she belongs for the longest period of life.”

“Preferences or likings for certain tastes and foods appear to develop quite early in humans.  Not surprisingly, parents and their children tend to have similar food preferences.”

(Boyle, Holben 2010)

I think about how profound these statement are, how they really aren’t surprising, and how  I absolutely identify with them in my own life.

Basically the only deviation I’ve made in my life, diet-wise, was dependent on education I received out of the home.  Becoming a vegetarian was a decision that my parents encouraged, but did not stimulate.  But most everything else – the value of consistent mealtimes shared with other people, the importance of growing one’s own sustenance and preparing it with a partner, the incorporation of vegetables (dark green, sometimes sour – i.e. brusselsprouts – ones), meats (wild, lean ones) and grains (whole ones) at most every meal – was determined by 18 years of reinforcement by what I now deem a healthy food culture.  Even my late-night dining, and the pension for sweets seems to owe its existence to my parental units.

And it wasn’t like when I stepped out of my home one day (to live in the college dormitories) and went on one monstrous binge for new foods.  I was sort of repulsed by a few of the foods prepared in the University of Montana cafeteria.  Luckily they offset the majority of their purchases by promoting a rich spread of vegan, freshly sourced ingredients . . . everything a young kid from my home was used to (with the exception of wild game meat).

But these points really highlight my interest in working with mothers new to the game.  As a future farmer, I hope to target this population, participate in any programs they do (like WIC, which, in Montana alone supports 19,279 mothers), and support any commitments they are willing to make on behalf of future life-forms in their bellies.  Because it’s the glorious ideas of pregnant women that have the power to translate, once children are born, into a household that has many of the values I find important, and into dorm rooms and eventually into new households.  It’s awkward to write this, but For the first time, I truly grip the connection between family and nourishment.

A little background data suggests that many mothers are already taking advantage of the WIC program and using it to connect with possibly the healthiest food around.  Nationwide, 2.3 million participate in the farmers market sub-program, and are recipients of vouchers that can be appropriated to producers in their communities.  I wonder if this population (or many more) would be more interested in a program that supported more of a routine.  It seems like the CSA (community supported agriculture) model is ripe for experimentation.  This direct farm to consumer system, which allows consumers to  pay a one-time fee (another benefit to the federal government is this inherent simplicity) at the beginning of the season and to pick up a weekly basket of seasonal vegetables (~$25 of produce per week).

There is information (statistical and qualitative) that can be gleaned from past research that focuses on this target population.  But it relates specifically to the WIC farmers market benefits.  I would collect data from WIC participants that helps develop a picture of the challenges farmers and consumers must overcome when dealing through a CSA market. What support rings in a CSA member’s ears the most, or would be the most effective use of our time.  Farmers spend so much time growing, washing, and delivering produce.  It’s important that we understand what types of support we can provide, and which type(s) are the most useful to low-income mothers?  Is it culinary support (recipes, workshops, etc.)?  Would more direct delivery assist mothers in using their time to cook instead of pickup the food?  Would special involvement in crop planning OR openness to requests (in terms of what vegetables are grown) produce deeper results?

I would collect this information using focus groups to allow mothers to rally together, bounce ideas off of, and empower, each other towards a goal that I could record, and eventually, hopefully fulfill.  I might also assess a much larger sample size through a survey.

I do not believe data exists on this subject, specifically, although I would submit that the reasons more people are not involved in CSAs are many-fold.  The reasons may include the following:

1) They may not know about them.

2) Their close circle of friends and family may not be able to relate any experiences about CSAs, because they are themselves, not members.

3) They may have trouble breaking the supermarket food sourcing pattern – a pattern they observed as children.

4) They may find food preparation challenging for many reasons.



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