Don’t Just Stand There — Grow Something! Part 1

Carthay Center School Garden

Way back in 1959, almost no one (except its inhabitants) spared a thought for Harlem, the festering black ghetto of New York City. Warren Miller’s novel The Cool World was startlingly different. A 14-year-old gang member gets into serious trouble and is sent upstate to Juvenile Hall. For the first time in his blighted young life, Duke discovers something to care about and look forward to. The reform school inmate writes to a counselor,

Right now I got the flower beds fixed for the winter. Cant hardly wait till the spring time to see how good I done.

When a book’s last line stays in a reader’s mind for 50 years, it contains powerful magic. This is the same magic described by Liz Snyder in a piece called “On Mrs. Bizarri’s Farm,” about her first experience with food in the wild. We mentioned it briefly, but saved a beautiful quotation for today:

When I stepped onto that patch of green for the first time it was… an awakening. Something inside my heart opened up, something that had never been accessed before… I felt as if I had stumbled upon something magical, primal, something ALIVE.

Snyder describes what she calls “a hole in our children’s education” (link is ours), namely, knowledge about what we are putting in our mouths and why. Reconnecting with nature is an equal-opportunity experience, as Snyder points out; something that can be done by just about anybody, regardless of age, disabilities, economic status, weight, or whatever.

Wanting to share the wonder of growing food with children, and to do it through the schools, she came up with something called Seed to Tray Education. This involves putting kids in charge of their own school lunches. Here’s the pitch:

Why not try this experiment: let’s put the freshest young brains on the planet in charge of their own lunch. Not just cooking it, but planning it, running it as a business. Being in charge in a world that doesn’t give kids the chance to own anything except electronic gadgets.

The community needs to be involved, of course. Mentors are recruited — farmers, chefs, restaurant owners — to oversee the various stages of food production and service, and make sure the kids have adequate information and the right tools.

Snyder talks about an experimental program at a middle school in Berkeley, site of so many social innovations. When Dr. Michael Murphy (Harvard Medical School) studied The Edible Schoolyard’s students, he found less stress, better grades in science and math, and a tendency to choose healthful foods without coercion.

All three of those outcomes have a direct influence on childhood obesity. All three of those factors can help prevent a child from ever falling into a twisted relationship with food that is either a true addiction, or acts so much like an addiction, that it might as well be. All three of those factors can help a person shed addiction if it has already taken hold.

Dr. Pretlow’s “Prescription for overweight clients” includes this advice:

Do three things to reduce your stress each day, such as relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, taking a walk, practicing a hobby, shooting hoops, or playing a musical instrument.

Gardening fits right into this. On the most basic level, it’s simply displacement activity, and that’s okay. The activities of gardening and of conscious food preparation, like many other activities, can help discharge painful psychic energy, which relieves unpleasant emotional states. A lot of people use eating as a displacement activity, relieving stress with lots of biting and chewing. That is one of the ways in which, for some people, eating becomes an addiction. They’re self-medicating their stress.

Between pulling weeds or eating, which one adds fewer calories to the body? Pulling weeds. Which one burns more calories? Pulling weeds. Besides, if you’re digging in your raised-bed garden, both hands are busy, and you’re not stuffing your face with a chocolate-covered bacon sandwich.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Cool World: A Novel,” Google Books
Source: “On Mrs. Bizarri’s Farm,”
Source: “Seed to Tray Education,”,
Source: “Fighting Addiction,” Therapy Times, 06/27/10
Image by Gelattobaby (Alissa Walker), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources