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“Gate-keeper” or guide to a wonderful world?

Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 in Blog Posts | 6 comments

What do you think about referring to mothers as “gate-keepers” in terms of feeding their families? It’s a term often used, as in this headline, “Empowering the Food Gate-keepers Will Go A Long Way To Solving The Overweight Epidemic.”

I see primarily negative imagery—a linebacker, a goalie, a guard at a castle gate. You “lose” if you let a cookie or an “entertainment” or “red-light” food slip by. It presumes children are not capable and must be protected from the dangers of food.

Now, I know that moms mostly decide what foods are served, and this is an issue of semantics on some level, but words matter. How we think about food matters. Will it be an enemy to be wary of, or a joyful part of a well-lived life?

How about we talk about parents as guides—as having responsibilities of buying, preparing, and enjoying foods with their children. An image perhaps more of a mother sitting at a table conversing pleasantly while the children eat. Perhaps  a Mama Bear, showing her children where the berry patch is, or modeling how to catch a salmon. The baby bear is nearby, watches, tries it out, maybe mama bear brings a still-live salmon to shallower water so her cub can learn with increasingly difficult tasks…

Instead of keeping things out, as “gate-keeper” implies, the parent or mother is seen as passing on food traditions, teaching children about a wonderful variety of foods.

That’s my ideal vision anyway. I’d rather imagine myself as a smiling companion as I pass on our family recipes and a love of food and family meals than a “gate-keeper.”

What images and words can you come up with instead of “gate-keeper?” Do you think it matters?


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  1. elizabeth

    We’ve really moved from food as culture to food as technology, haven’t we?

    At the School of Natural Cookery (meaning just cooking whole foods from scratch) in Colorado, they talk about cooking and food as an art form. It’s so friendly. Think about food as color, texture, and the elements of taste and smell. Go a little further into the feeling realm for comfort/calm and stimulation.

    I give tours to little kids at the Wedge from time to time. We talk about colors and rainbows, leaves, stems and roots, hard and soft. All the same descriptions we give to other aspects of life. Today a 4-year old shouted out “protein” as we talked about what makes food yummy. Ouch.

  2. Natasha

    I think it matters a lot how people name it. And I agree that Gatekeeper is a restrictive and somewhat negative label. Something along the lines of Guide or Teacher definitely feels more positive and I think it is key to not lose the element of teaching about all the variety of what people eat, how to prepare food, present food, and enjoy food. I think of a Librarian introducing one to different kinds of books and imparting the love of reading and the education about what is out there (even if you don’t love and read every single genre), sometimes encouraging one to read a more challenging book and develop and refine one’s tastes and opinions.

    This is also more open-ended – with a Guide, there comes a time when the child is ready to continue the journey independently, but with a Gate Keeper concept, the primary role is not to teach but to control, and no prospect of gradual increasing responsibility and decision-making. Is one prepared to feed oneself well after moving out of Mom’s house? Isn’t the main point of all parenting to teach and prepare a child to make good decisions on his own?

  3. KellyK

    I love the idea of “guide.” I agree that “gate-keeper” conjures up the idea of control and restriction. Our whole culture around food needs to focus less on restriction. (I’m picturing the Black Night from Monthy Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail saying “NONE SHALL PASS!” in this big imposing voice.)