When it comes to raising healthy kids, is food the answer?

When I was in college, I interned with an organization that was working to connect New York City students, often students in low income districts, with real, fresh food. They worked to bring fresh, local kale and chard and carrots into the cafeteria, into cafeterias in schools where virtually every child received the same subsidized meal each day.
My job was to educate. Part of that meant going into classrooms and teaching lessons about vegetables. But the other part meant stopping at a market in the morning, picking up all the fresh vegetables that would be in that afternoon’s lunch, bringing it on the subway to the school, plopping it down on a cart, and rolling that cart throughout the cafeteria during lunchtime. I was supposed to engage the students with the food that was in their meals, to educate and inspire them about the vegetables as they ate.
I believe in this mission. I believe the foods the earth gives us are precious, nourishing. I believe they affect our mood, enhance our ability to focus, help us feel grounded. I believe they create peace in our bodies and our beings. That is the beauty of the earth: it serves us, it is us. What we eat, we become.
So a couple days a week at lunchtime, I’d roll my cart through the cafeteria, stopping at each table to invite the elementary school students to notice the colors of their food—could they pick out the oranges and the purples and the greens? And to show them what their meal looked like before it was cooked—the long, leafy stems of kale, the sweet potatoes that grow covered by the dirt, deep in the soil. We talked about what they tasted—what they liked and didn’t and why. And how it made them feel.
But I began to notice that what these children craved most was connection. Isn’t that what we’re all seeking? The boys would try to make jokes or look cool in front of their friends to get my attention, and so I’d push my cart aside, sit down at their table on one of those long cafeteria benches, and tell them that the coolest boys support each other. And the girls would compliment my clothes—my shoes, my skirt, my hair. It’s how us women have been taught to relate, by connecting over how we look. And, so, I’d push my cart aside with them, too, sit down at their table, and tell them that my favorite part of getting dressed each day was getting to express who I am and how I feel. We’d talk about their clothes, too, or the ribbons and bows in their hair, and then we’d remind each other: but our real beauty comes from within.
It was chaotic in that cafeteria. There must have been 20 tables at a time filled with children and one lunch aide assigned to supervise the whole thing. She must have had tremendous reserves of patience and guts to try to tend to all those children at once.
The cafeteria always felt loud, but when I sat at each table with the children, it felt like, suddenly, it got quiet. Like there was nowhere else and no one else but us, sitting together around a rectangle.
One day, I saw a little boy sitting by himself at a table in the back of the room. So I grabbed my cart and rolled over to him. Again, I pushed it aside and sat down across from him. There was a book beside his lunch tray, so I pointed to it and asked him about it. “I love to read,” I said. “Do you love to read?” Suddenly, a smile came across his face and he reached for the book to pick it up and show me.
In this moment, the lunch aide must have caught a glance at us. She was in the midst of children, some literally grabbing at her legs to get her attention. How she managed to stay rooted in that moment, I’m not sure. But, feeling flabbergasted by it all, I imagine, she turned to the boy I was talking to and yelled across the room, “Don’t bother her! She doesn’t want to hear about your book.”
I’m not blaming her; it was a rough moment. I don’t know that I would have handled it better. But as the little boy’s face sunk, I assured her and him, “Of course I want to hear about the book!”
This has come to be one of my most pressing struggles in my work with skin and wellness. I want to talk about the ways the earth heals us when we take it in as our food or apply it through oils on our skin. But I also know there are moments when none of that matters. When the most urgent requirement for wellness is love.
Acceptance, kindness, connection, peace. Feeling heard. Feeling purpose.
During that internship, I talked about food. But I also pushed that cart aside so many times because what mattered most had nothing to do with kale and everything to do with love.
When I create custom face and body oils for my clients these days, I ask them questions. I ask them first about their skin—is it dry, is it oily, what are you experiencing? But then I ask them about the state of their spirit. I send them a form listing intentions: “I am optimistic,” “I feel calm and peaceful,” “I do not let fear limit me,” “I laugh freely,” “My life has meaning,” “I love myself,” “I know my beauty.” These are just a few. Then I ask them to check the ones they most want to cultivate in their lives. And when I create their custom oils, I create not only to honor their skin, but their spirit, their intentions. If they’re seeking more peace, I use calming chamomile. For laughter, I use the uplifting essence of lime or lemon or orange, the zest of life. Because I have come to realize, through my own skin, that its glow is not just linked to what I take in, to the wellness and care of only my physical body. It is also linked to my spirit.
When I’m stressed, my skin turns red. When I have heart-ache, beneath my eyes looks sunken. When I am angry and frustrated and feel stuck, it’ll break out.
I have great products that honor it in these moments, that help it heal.
But I am certain wellbeing is so much deeper.
I will continue to advocate for kale in schools. But I know health is so much more.

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