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It all began in a garden


I could have so easily fallen for Thomas Jefferson! Sally Hemings would have had some good competition from me had I lived back then! I share Jefferson's aesthetic for all things French and his love for food. He was experimental, brave, and passionate about food. The father of agriculture, Thomas Jefferson changed the way we eat in America and the way we grow food. He was inspired by the French when he lived there as the minister to France from 1785 to 1789. Living there he became a connoisseur of good food, a gastronome. Paris is where Jefferson developed his palate. Imagine the dinner parties Jefferson must have attended.

He loved French food so much Jefferson paid for his slave, James Hemings to be trained as a French chef. The French have always had a love-love relationship with food. Jefferson recognized this and appreciated it enough to bring the French culinary art home to America.

Our third President wrote, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.... Jefferson liked to try new things like growing unfamiliar plants and experimenting with new foods in his garden at Monticello. He grew tomatoes, introduced the potato and grew other vegetables that were new to America.

Many of which were brought back by Lewis and Clark. He also introduced waffles, macaroni and cheese, mustard, and ice cream to America. Can you say merci beaucoup?! Jefferson packed European plants in his bags when returning to America. For years, he ordered seeds from Paris. He wasn't stingy; he would share his seeds with other American gardeners. I think it was his dream to cultivate and bring the culinary culture of food to America.

Michelle Obama was inspired by Jefferson when planting the White House Garden. I have read her goal is to improve the nutrition for her own family and inspire other Americans to make better choices with their food. This is smart because if children are exposed to and learn an appreciation for food early on, they will have it forever.

Food has always been an art form in France; a meal is something to celebrate. Jefferson recognized this. It is common in France to have a garden. I have a small herb collection and my parents have a nice size vegetable garden. I like for my children to see the fresh picked herbs and vegetables. I know my daughter is learning because when we go on a walk she points out rosemary rubs her hand on it and smells with satisfaction. We also have a beautiful garden at the school where I teach. Children are proud to see their herbs, vegetables, and flowers before they head out to recess.

When I pack my daughter's lunch, I send her with water and her lunch in a Japanese bento box. I like these bento boxes because they have many neat compartments and I think it makes for a nice presentation.

Schools in France place a priority on lunch. French children eat off real plates with real forks and glasses. This sets children up to the ceremony and pleasure of a meal. They drink water with their meals and the cafeterias use fresh produce and prepare lunch from scratch. They also have a longer lunch time than we do in America. Yes, I know we don't live in France! But, this sounds nice, n'est-ce pas! I taught a child from France once. It was someone's birthday and they were passing out Little Debbie brownies; he looked at it and said, "non"!! I imagine what his mother made for him on his birthday was homemade and not out of a box!

My school has adopted a program called CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health). The plan is to promote physical activity and make healthy food choices in school. Thanks to our Health and Wellness committee we also do a "Fear Factor Friday" where the kids have a chance to try something they may have not had before like: cherries, kiwi, mangos, pumpkin seeds...It is delightful to see a child try something new and have a positive reaction to it. Children are learning that eating healthy and being physically active every day is fun and they're building a positive relationship with food.

I can't help but think of Joseph Pilates, and how his dream was for children to learn his exercises so they can take care of their bodies forever. I also think of Julia Child. Wouldn't she have made a fabulous grandmother! Can't you just imagine her feeding her grandchildren "soul food"? Jefferson, Pilates, and Child are connected in the way they each wanted more for America. These people are all gone but have stamped America with culture, fitness, and a love-love relationship with food. The key is to teach our children early so they grow up with a natural love for their health. I think teaching healthy habits to children inspires parents to change their own relationship with food.

Thomas Jefferson had a love for food. If we can implement a healthy love for food in our children they will grow up to be good eaters. Parents, teachers, farmers, and cooks must pave the road to success. Food is a part of culture and history. Remember, it all began in a garden!

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