Tuesday, September 15, 2009 by Stephanie Vance

What does better produce have to do with democracy?

According to Alice Waters, a great deal. Her recent column titled “Want to Teach Democracy? Improve School Lunches” draws a direct correlation between healthier food in schools and a healthier democracy. According to Waters, “Better food isn’t just about test scores, health and discipline. It is about preparing students for the responsibilities of citizenship.”

That’s a pretty powerful statement, but is it true? She offers for evidence recent studies showing that having access to healthier meals often helps students do better in the classroom. Students that feel better can think better. More important, though, she suggests that so-called “edible education” leads to a better understanding of the basic principles of responsibility, compromise, and cooperation that are integral to the democratic process. It is possible that students who understand the connections between the land, the food we eat, and our service to one another may also understand how citizens can effectively operate in a political system – with respect for one another and differing opinions, and without shouting each other down.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for this argument, however, comes from another source who she quotes in the piece, Thomas Jefferson. He commented that: “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.”

So, PMA members, keep in mind that whatever your role in the produce industry, you may be doing more good than you know for the country as a whole. Who knew produce could be so good for the body — and our democratic ideals?

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