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learning about nutrition in an unlikely place: reality TV…

Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Blog Posts | 7 comments

Who knew that a reality TV show would be the best source of basic “nutrition education” I’ve witnessed (other than me, I hope) for my almost first-grader? I’ve written a lot (here and here and here are a few…) about how harmful “nutrition education” can be for children, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the messages in Discovery Channel’s Man, Woman, Wild (so far) where a husband and wife team face survival challenges.

Here are the basics. Husband and wife, Ruth and Mykel, are dropped into the wilderness with no food, shelter etc. (For some reason, they always have a big honkin’ knife, but I digress.) They are hungry.

And here is how it plays out and why I like what M is taking in…

They talk about food for what it can do for the body. When they talk about calories, it’s to keep their energy up, and they are thrilled to find something with fat and protein in it. Usually”fat” is a dirty word — as in the recent incident where my then-Kindergartner was taunted for enjoying 1% milk with FAT in it! Gasp! Ruth and Mykel eat raw fish and smack their lips. Vitamins, minerals, water, fat, protein and carbs help our bodies in different ways.  A calorie is a measure of energy— nothing more, nothing less. There is no judgement, only gratitude when they find food.

“Mommy, where does meat come from?” This is a great resource for that discussion. Ruth kills to eat the way I have done (rarely fish). She winces, gets all squirmy and says “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” but gets the job done. (Okay, I do that with the worm when I put it on the hook to catch said fish too.) Both she and Mykel thank the animal and are respectful about it. Seeing this may help some kids, and may turn others off. Watch a few episodes first and see what you think before loosing this on the kids. (A good rule in general with TV.) Overall for M it has been a positive spark for discussions about how we eat meat in our family.

It motivated M to eat her first banana in about three years. On the show the other day, they were on a volcanic tropical island and were gushing about how great their banana find was. M said, “Mom, can I have a banana?” Frankly, I was happy to chuck the usual structure and no grazing routine we try to follow and jumped on this rare interest in bananas (which she has turned down regularly for years). I didn’t want to seem too eager or pressure her, so I said, “Well, it’s not too long until dinner, how about you have half as an appetizer.” She marched over and cut off half a banana. She asked to have some honey to dip it in, and I said sure. Huh. Who knew that a survival show would be the thing to get her back on the banana bandwagon?

And that’s just it, with selective or cautious eaters, you NEVER know when they will be ready to try or revisit a food or why. Patience, perseverance and waiting for whatever mental block to finally melt away? Having a show that neither praises not demonizes food, that shows naked hunger and gratitude is so different that it just may help.

On another note,  the hosts are respectful, work together, and encourage one another and seem to have a genuine affection, not something you commonly see on TV either.

Have you seen positive messaging around food, nutrition in the media? Where?

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  1. Erika

    This is a great post! My kids have also learned a little about nutrition from the gecko we just got as a pet. We need to feed it live food (crickets, mealworms) and feed the FOOD first. They’re learning that nutrition goes from one thing to the next…well fed crickets means a gecko that gets the right nutrients, and that different critters give the gecko different things (protein, fat) it needs to be healthy.

  2. alana skye

    I love “I can Cook”, a program made by CBeebies, one of the BBC channels which makes and shows programmmes for children. The presenter and four or five kids make a simple dish together, using kid-safe scissors for cutting veggies instead of chopping them, and they have a song about washing your hands before you start, and a song about clearing away and washing up at the end, and there’s a bit where the kids learn about where food comes from, like seeing tomatoes on a bush or watching a video about a chef making pasta, and they have “grown-up” ingredients like olives and sun-dried tomatoes, and the kids get to eat what they’ve made afterwards and there’s no talk about good and bad food, just how nice it tastes. I keep meaning to tell you about it.

    • katja

      sounds fantastic! Wonder if the US will continue the tradition of ripping off BBC shows with this one… I imagine they wouldn’t be able to help themseleves and would ruin it with health talk and anti-obesity messages… I’ve seen nothing like that in the US…

  3. Rhapsody98

    I ADORE that show, Mykel and Ruth have taught me a lot about survival, but they’ve also made enough mistakes to show me that they are real. For example, as a naturalist, I know that Box Turtles are toxic, but Mykel actually thought about eating one once. I think they’re both great role models in general, and I’m glad to see someone else have the same opinion, from a different direction. Alas, Man Woman Wild was too hard on them, and they opted not to renew it. The rumor is they’re trying to get something a little more low key going that involves their six year old, and I can’t wait for that!

    • katja

      Interesting… Alas I wonder if with a kid on the show they will feel the need to “teach” and muck it up. I loved the simple truth of calories=energy…

  4. Twistie

    I was shocked recently to see a fairly reasonable message about food and eating on Bridezillas, of all shows. I watch it because some of the horrifying messages make great fodder for my wedding planning blog, but I tend to shudder through the whole thing.

    Anyway, there was an episode recently where one of the featured brides had her bridesmaids meet her at a restaurant to go over some wedding details… then wouldn’t let them order food and hauled them out to go to the lingerie store with her in order to have a happy chorus of women telling her how faultless her taste is.

    So these women all expected lunch and then found themselves tricked into standing around the lingerie store ordered to have the bride’s opinion of the lacy things she was trying on.

    Of course what happened was that the bridesmaids all mutinied. They kept on saying they were hungry, and when that didn’t move the bride they started snarking on her rotten taste in fancy underwear.

    And that’s when a miracle happened: the voiceover started in telling us that’s what happens when people aren’t allowed to eat regular meals!

    Okay, I feel very sure that if the bridesmaids had been allowed to eat there would have been some shaming over how they might not fit in their dresses come the big day, and nobody said boo about how incredibly rude it is to take up a huge table in a restaurant (this woman had six or eight bridesmaids, and a proper order would have meant a lot of money in the till for the restaurant and a good sized tip for the waitress!) and then walk away without ordering anything.

    Still, one reasonable message was about three more than I expect on that show.