A few summers ago, my family and I visit Israel. I couldn't wait to taste the fresh, seasonal produce from local farms dotting the countryside. In the weeks before we left, I day dreamed about the book I'd write. Inspired by French Kids Eat Everything, my book would focus on the lessons learned years ago on ancient biblical lands, and how they stood the test of time. I could almost taste the fresh figs, olive oil and dates. Alas, I was dismayed at the popularity of chicken nuggets (called Shnitzel, in Israel) and, despite hearing how many vegetables Israeli children eat, I rarely saw a child eat anything other than cucumbers and tomatoes (a typical Israeli salad). And while I enjoyed my fill of date syrup and fresh litchis, I returned to the U.S. and the work of First Bites.
Until yesterday. Yesterday I had the good fortune of meeting Rachel Azaria, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Azaria has an incredibly impressive portfolio which, among other things, includes her very personal mission of transforming meals in Israeli preschools. If we can all agree to put politics aside, Azaria is an inspiring and passionate leader, who is certain to make real change.
As we talked, I was struck by the similar challenges we face, despite living literally worlds apart. Azaria talked about the proliferation of processed foods, and with it, the high levels of sugar, fat and sodium. Despite the perception that Israelis eat a healthy Mediterranean diet, obesity levels are on the rise. And, as in the U.S., fewer people are cooking from scratch. Finally, while children once played and ran freely in the neighborhoods, adults are now more vigilant in closely supervising their children and walking them to their neighbors, all resulting in less physical activity and free play. Sound familiar? I thought so.
Despite the many miles and many worlds that separate us, we aren't all that different. We are all trying to encourage our children to eat more fruits and vegetables, to eat more real food and less highly processed "food like" products and to reduce daily sugar levels. We have lessons to teach each others and challenges we are facing together. Perhaps we are all trying to get back to the basic way of living and eating they did on those ancient lands. And maybe together we can get their faster.