Learning About Labels While shopping with my five-year-old nephew, Nicky, I was thoroughly entertained as I watched him pick up packages, look at the labels and sniff the produce as he tried to decide if a “new” fruit or vegetable might be something he would like. Together, we were learning more about Nicky’s preferences and dislikes. Occasionally I would make suggestions, though I always let him make the final decision. Watermelon, asparagus and celery (to smear with peanut butter and dot with raisins) are just a few “new” items that are now regulars in Nicky’s shopping cart. Equally interesting to me was the day in the car when Nicky, out of the blue, asked me if all vegetarian food items were organic. Clearly, this little shopper was paying attention as well as listening intently to adult conversations around him.
From the time he was walking and talking, Nicky and I have had conversations about animals, including farm animals. (Come to think of it, bouncing him on my lap and singing endless verses of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” was one of our earliest shared pastimes). Early on, I wanted Nicky to understand some of the basics about factory farming in an age-appropriate way. I believe that even toddlers have a right to know where their food comes from.
That’s how Nicky was first introduced to the idea of food labels, including “cage-free” and “grass-fed.” Since then, we’ve been able to talk about how only a few labels have government oversight to make sure they are legitimate, and what each of those labels ensures.
As Nicky began to ask questions, he was adding to his own food consumer vocabulary. He now understands in very simple terms the difference between “vegan” and “vegetarian.” He has also learned that while animals on “organic” farms may be better off than animals in factory farms, the term doesn’t necessarily mean the animals are treated as well as we would like. He is learning how animal products show up in things we might never expect, such as pork enzymes in Doritos. Nicky asks questions that range from whether Brussels sprouts will help him build strong bones and muscles, to whether a particular brand of chicken fingers came from a place where chickens were afraid or sick and weren’t allowed to see a doctor. All of these great questions will help him become a conscious consumer throughout his life.
Check back next week for part three of this blog series.
In this blog series, Sharon Discorfano, Esq.,a Government Relations Intern at the ASPCA, will discuss her experiences with helping her nephew make food choices for better health and animal welfare. For more information about Sharon’s animal-related projects, please visit sharondiscorfano.com or follow her on Twitter @shadisco.
My seven-year-old nephew, Nicky, is quite the fussy eater. Until a couple of years ago, I’m pretty sure he would have chosen to live on French fries, corn, and Grandma’s pasta and meatballs. He’ll eat a basic green salad with tomatoes at dinnertime, but is suspicious of any variations. Motivating him to take a more adventurous approach to food took strategy and sustained effort. As a former teacher who is now immersed in the world of animal welfare, I took on the task of helping Nicky make better choices for his own health as well as for the health of animals. I’m excited to share with you some of the things that have proven as fun as they were successful.
A Trip to the Grocery Store
It all started a couple of years ago with a trip to Trader Joe’s, the first of what has now become a regular thing for us to do together. Kid-sized shopping carts made it all the more of an adventure to Nicky. I handed him a five-dollar bill and set up the rules: one fruit, one vegetable, and something new. He went for familiar items first: corn and some cantaloupe—one of the few fruits he likes. “Something new” was a bit of challenge, but he settled on some Ritz-type crackers.
The following week, Nicky wanted to go shopping again. He wanted to get the crackers again, so we expanded his budget. Green grapes went into the cart along with cantaloupe cubes. For “something new,” Nicky surprised me when he gravitated towards a package of veggie dogs, which he recognized as something he’d seen in my own refrigerator. As finicky as he is, I envisioned Nicky taking one bite and making a puckered face. But Nicky’s reaction after the first bite: a big nod and, “Delicious!” Nicky now asks for a veggie dog whenever hot dogs are for dinner, and his family now keeps them in the fridge.
Two Cooks in the Kitchen
Nicky and I like to cook and bake together. These have become precious times to me—the conversations we have while we’re getting our hands messy range from school projects to the relationship between lightning and a clap of thunder. It’s as much about trying recipes together, and chatting as we do, as it is about the final result on the table. Recently, I stumbled upon a ridiculously sinful recipe: brownie cupcakes that each contained two stacked Oreos, stuck together with peanut butter. The individual ingredients were all things Nicky had tried and liked; the recipe consisted of just a few steps, easy enough to follow and not too time-consuming; and the idea of us both with fingers so sticky with brownie mix and peanut butter was too much to resist. These were not exactly healthy, but certainly worthy as an extra-special dessert. The brownies are long gone, but the memory of our baking activity is a keeper.
Check back next week for part two of this blog series.
As summer begins and families nationwide prepare for road trips and summer camp, animal shelters are experiencing a hectic time of year known as kitten season. While the “kitten season” moniker might bring adorable images to mind, this time of year can be devastating for shelters. Between March and November, animal shelters experience a flood of homeless cats and newborn kittens in need of care.
Kitten season is in full swing, and there are plenty of ways your family can help out! Here are just a few suggestions to you get started:
Foster a feline. Due to the influx of kittens arriving at shelters during kitten season, shelters often struggle with overcrowding. You can help alleviate this problem by providing foster care for a cat (or multiple kittens!) in your home until they’re ready for adoption. If you live in New York City and would like to foster for the ASPCA, please visit our foster care page.
Spring is finally here, and the sun is shining at last. It’s the season for spring cleaning and outdoor adventures, but before you start enjoying the fresh air, consider a few tips for keeping your furry friends safe and happy this season:
Screen it: After months cooped up indoors, it’s tempting to throw open your windows to let the breeze in. However, pets—especially cats— are apt to jump or fall through open windows. Make sure your windows are fitted with screens before opening them.
Grow a green thumb: As you work to beautify your lawn and garden, be mindful that some popular springtime plants including Easter lilies, rhododendron and azaleas are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if eaten. Fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides are dangerous to pets as well. Visit our full list of garden tips, and consider teaching your kids which plants are potentially harmful to your furry friends.
Ah-choo!: Like humans, pets may suffer from allergies during the spring season. Dogs and cats can experience allergic reactions to pollens, plants, dust and foods. If you suspect your pet is suffering from allergies, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible.
Spring cleaning: As you prepare to divvy up the chore list and give your house a deep cleaning, be sure to keep all cleaners and chemicals away from your pets. Most commercially sold cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to pets. Always read and follow label directions for proper use and storage.
When you’re out and about: Chances are that as the weather warms up, your family will spend more and more time outdoors. If your family likes to ride in the car with the windows down, be sure your pet is safely buckled in or rides in a crate. Going for a walk in the park? Be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and has been microchipped.
Looking for Cyber Monday deals online? If you download a browser app called We-Care, a portion of your online purchases will be donated to the ASPCA at no extra cost to you. You can shop over 2,500 sites like Macy’s, Sears, Travelocity, and Zales.