Let’s Travel Through Our Fridge
Have you ever craved a favorite fruit or vegetable – perhaps fresh blueberries or peaches – only to be disappointed to find that your local supermarket didn’t have any? In today’s world, many of us expect to be able to get anything we want to eat, whenever we want it…but we don’t always think about what makes that possible.
Join 7-year-old Scarlet Lennox from Switzerland as she takes a fascinating journey to learn more about where her food comes from, but also why it tastes and looks the way it does, and why a more colorful diet is also a healthier diet.
The First Strawberries of Spring
It was early spring in Switzerland. The flowers were in bloom and a choir of baby birds was singing the most joyful song. But 7-year-old Scarlet was joyful for a different reason: her mother had just returned from the supermarket with one of her favorite foods: fresh strawberries! Scarlet’s mouth watered as she watched Mummy rinse off the plump red berries. It had been months since Mummy had found any fresh strawberries to buy – and several months is quite a long time when you’re seven!
Finally, Mummy placed a bowl of strawberries in front of Scarlet, who closed her eyes to fully savor that first delicious bite – so sweet, with just a hint of tartness – perfection!
Future Farms will Look Up
Have you ever been to a greenhouse, where plants can grow year-round regardless of the outdoor climate? In the future, greenhouses will be used to grow more produce in “vertical farms,” in which fruit and vegetable crops expand upward, stacked on top of one another, instead of spreading horizontally across a field. That will also make it possible to grow (and buy) a wider variety of fresh produce in any location and any season, with the help of plant breeding.
Then, with pink juice trickling down her chin, Scarlet stopped to ask the question she’d been wondering since Mum had returned home: “Why has it been so long since we had fresh strawberries?”
“It’s much too cold for strawberries to grow in Switzerland in the winter,” Mummy explained. “Now that it is getting warmer, our local farmers are able to grow them again. These were the first strawberries of the season,” she added.
“But couldn’t the supermarket get fresh strawberries from somewhere else?” asked Scarlet.
“Sometimes they do,” answered Mum. “But they have to travel a long way from other countries where berries can grow outdoors during our winter months, so they don’t taste quite as fresh as the ones that are grown close to our home. And because it’s harder to get them here, the store doesn’t usually have as many; sometimes I get lucky and find some, but often other shoppers find them first.”
Where Does Our Food Come From?
“Hmmm,” Scarlet pondered. “I’ve never really thought about where our food came from before it got to the supermarket.”
“You’re not alone in that, my darling,” said her mother. “Many adults don’t think about where our food comes from either. But come on over for a look inside the fridge…let’s do some exploring!”
Mummy pulled open the refrigerator door to reveal all the goodness inside. “Nearly all of the food you see here – or even the processed and prepackaged foods in the cupboard like cereal or crackers or cans of soup – is the result of hard work by farmers and many other people who work in the food supply chain,” explained Scarlet’s mother. “Farmers grow the fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains and nuts; farmers also raise the animals that provide us with fresh meat. We also depend on their chickens for eggs, and on their cows and goats for milk. Without milk, there would be no dairy products like cheese…”
“And ice cream?” interrupted an enthusiastic Scarlet, who had opened up the freezer for a peek inside. “Absolutely,” smiled Mummy. “We have dairy farmers to thank for our favorite frozen treat! And what you see here is our ‘normal’ food supply, right?” Scarlet nodded yes. “But…here’s a little history lesson,” Mummy continued. “It wasn’t always like this!”
Not Long Ago, Today’s “Normal” Food Supply Was Undreamed Of
“When my grandparents were children in the United Kingdom, having this much food and such a wide variety of fresh options would have been unimaginable – especially outside of the main growing season,” Scarlet’s mother explained. “They probably didn’t eat many fresh foods at all during the winter. Even during the summer, foods that we now think of as common – like oranges and bananas – would have been an exotic treat for anyone who didn’t live in a tropical climate. And people who lived in the tropics didn’t often see many of the foods that we grow here, like carrots or potatoes.”
“My goodness,” gasped Scarlet, who loved to peel and eat juicy orange slices. “I can’t imagine! Then why are we able to have oranges all the time?”
“Improved transportation systems and production facilities and food storage – like refrigeration – have given us more food options than any other people in history. Even for processed foods like ice cream – where raw ingredients like milk and sugar are shipped to facilities where the final products are made, then transported to distribution centers and on to stores – all of those processes are continually being improved by science.”
“Where else in the world does our food come from?” asked Scarlet.
“Brilliant question, my dear,” said Mummy. “Have you ever noticed these ‘country of origin’ stickers on our fruits and vegetables? Let’s see which countries we can find and then look at the map to see how far our food has traveled.”
Would you like to learn along with Scarlet? Print out the Cut and Paste Mapping Activity to learn more about where your food came from.
Sustainable Shopping Tip
When you have the opportunity, try to buy local. But when it’s not possible, you can look for other ways to offset your carbon footprint.
The Food Journey Begins With Plant Breeding
“So, what did you learn?” Scarlet’s mother asked her after they had completed their mapping activity.
“One – I learned that we’re very lucky that food can travel so far today because it gives us more choices of what to eat,” said Scarlet. “Two – I also learned that we should eat fruits and vegetables that farmers grow here in Switzerland when we can, because it’s better for the environment. And three – I learned that farmers, truck drivers and many other people work hard to make it easy for us to get our food!”
Mummy smiled and nodded. “You’re absolutely right! And there is also lots of work that happens before farmers even plant seeds in the ground. Did you know that fruits and vegetables haven’t always looked or tasted the way they do right now? For example, broccoli did not start out looking or tasting like broccoli. It actually comes from the same plant as cauliflower and brussels sprouts! These different vegetables are the result of thousands of years of selective plant breeding – and that’s science! Breeders are always trying to develop fruit and vegetable varieties that have the right mix of genetic traits.”
“Like how they taste?” Scarlet guessed.
“Precisely!” said Mummy. “Taste is extremely important. The healthiest food in the world won’t do any good if it tastes bad and people don’t want to eat it! So, plant breeders try to develop fruits and veggies with flavors that are so yummy that people want to gobble them up.”
Want to learn more? This short video helps explain how plant breeding creates varieties of fruits and vegetables that people prefer in different parts of the world.
The Science of Taste
Children have more tastebuds than adults and can be overwhelmed by certain flavors. To encourage a healthy relationship with food, parents should be aware that their kids literally taste things differently than they do. You can learn more about this and how plant breeders innovate for taste and nutrition in this episode of The Tomorrow Farm podcast.
Why Is It Important to Eat Fruits and Vegetables?
“Mmm…the peppers in that plant breeding video looked delicious. Now I am craving a sweet red pepper,” said Scarlet’s mother, after they watched the same video that you just did.
“Not me,” said Scarlet. “I don’t like peppers.”
“You don’t like some pepper varieties,” corrected Mummy. “I certainly don’t think you’ve tried them all.”
“That’s true,” agreed Scarlet. “But I’m not sure I want to try a red pepper.”
“That’s OK,” said Mummy. “The most important thing is to eat fruits and vegetables every day, no matter which ones you choose.
Which Ones to Eat?
- It does not matter if fruits and vegetables are organic or non-organic. There is no health or nutritional difference. Both kinds are good for you!
- Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.
- Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.
The bottom line: Scientists say it doesn’t matter how fruits and vegetables are grown or eaten. Just eat more fruits and veggies!
Scarlet’s mother then reminded her: “Remember what you learned about the food groups at school? A healthy meal includes a serving of grains, smaller servings of protein and dairy, and half a plate of fruits and vegetables.” “Oh right. But half a plate is a lot! Why so many?” Scarlet wondered.
“Fruits and vegetables give our bodies nutrients that are essential for growing strong bones and muscles. They also keep our heart and brain and other organs functioning well, and give our immune system the best fuel possible so that it can protect us from germs,” explained Mummy. “They are also a very good source of fiber, which keeps our digestive system running smoothly.”
“Which fruits and vegetables do we need to eat the most?” asked Scarlet, hoping to hear some of her favorites in Mummy’s response. Instead she heard, “All the ones that make up the rainbow of nutrition.”
This confused Scarlet. “But how can fruits and veggies make a rainbow?”
“Well, you already know that they come in many different colors,” Mummy responded. “Broccoli is green, strawberries are red, carrots are orange…and so on. Just as one color by itself can’t make a beautiful rainbow, eating only one color of fruits or vegetables won’t give your body the complete set of nutrients that it needs.”
Challenge: Can You Eat a Rainbow Of Nutrition?
“I could try to do a better job of including a ‘rainbow of nutrition’ in my diet too. Sometimes even grown-ups need reminders about making healthier food choices,” admitted Mummy. “What if we challenged ourselves to not only try to eat more fruits and vegetables every day, but also to try new ones that we haven’t tasted before?” Mummy asked Scarlet. “Would you be up for that?”
“Sure,” Scarlet responded. “That sounds like fun. How do we do it?”
“I have a couple of ideas,” said Mummy. “The first one is a ‘Taste by Number’ activity. We will get to color the numbered shapes in this picture when we eat fruits or vegetables with the same colors – and as an added bonus, we’ll be able to color an extra shape any time we taste something new. We can then see who will finish coloring their entire picture first.”
“I’ll do it!” exclaimed Scarlet, who loved a competition. “And I’m going to win!”
Are you ready to take the Taste by Number challenge too? Print the PDF below to get started!
The Rainbow Bite
“And finally,” said Mummy, “I challenge you to think of fun ways to make a meal that includes as many rainbow colors as possible. Maybe you can even get some help from your big sister.”
“Really?” Scarlet jumped up and down excitedly at the thought. “We can make any dish we want?”
Her mother nodded yes. “As long as it’s healthy and full of colorful fruits or veggies, you can make anything that you promise you will eat.” With that, Scarlet ran off to find her 12-year-old sister Maddie and tell her about everything she just learned – and about their permission to experiment in the kitchen!
The next morning, Scarlet and Maddie woke up bright and early to put their meal plan into action. It was a yummy breakfast, which they delivered to Mummy in bed with a smile. In fact, even Mummy’s plate was smiling! “Breakfast is served,” Scarlet announced as they set the tray down in front of her. “We call this ‘The Rainbow Bite.”
“Wow! Look at that colorful face!” Mummy beamed proudly as she took a big bite. “You girls really did create a rainbow-filled meal…it’s delicious and also nutritious. Well done!”
Print the instructions below to create your own Rainbow Bite.
Scarlet and Maddie loved their Rainbow Bite so much that they started making it regularly, each time slightly different, depending on what foods they had available at home. Scarlet has already tasted several new fruits and veggies that she had never tried before – and discovered that she liked them!
Thanks to her journey through the fridge with Mummy, she has gained appreciation for all the hard work it takes to get healthy food from farmer’s fields to her fridge and is even more grateful for every carton of fresh strawberries Mummy brings home from the store. She also thinks more about how to make healthier food choices for her body, and for our planet. Even though she is only seven, she is forming habits that will serve her well for a lifetime – and, now that you’ve taken the same food journey, you can too!