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Personal Development for Smart People
InterviewsJohn, Deo, and Ocean Robbins
Interviewed by Morissa Williams
Social activists, humanitarians, and loving parents, vegans Deo and John Robbins, their son Ocean, and his wife, Michele, are celebrated for their work in creating a healthier, more compassionate world. Ocean and Michele are now the parents of two beautiful children of their own. The expressions of their compassion and profound love of the world have flowered in many books and several galvanizing organizations and websites.
John Robbins is the author of The Food Revolution, Diet for a New America, Reclaiming Our Health, and The Awakened Heart, co-written with Ann Mortifee. Ocean Robbins is the author of Choices for our Future, co-written with Sol Solomon. In addition, "Diet for a New America" is available as an award-winning, widely-praised videotape, and "The Food Revolution" is available as an audiotape.
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What is most marvelous about these books, however, is that Robbins points towards solutions, shares stories that will inspire you to hope, and offers workable, exciting solutions for any families wishing to live more compassionate and loving lives.
Ocean Robbins, raised as a vegan, was an activist from his youngest days. His book, "Choices for Our Future", written before he was 20, encouraged his generation to choose a life of loving activism and dedication to a healthier, more peaceful planet. Further, it helped show his peers effective strategies to help make this so.
Ocean and Michele are the Co-Directors of YES! (Youth for Environmental Sanity), an organization, that, as its website explains, "connects, inspires and empowers young changemakers to join forces for a thriving, just, and sustainable way of life for all." Any parents contemplating with concern the immense social pressures on their children to conform to unhealthy social norms will be reassured to see the altruism and hope of these dedicated young people.
The YES! website goes on to explain, "Youth stand at a threshold point in life, as they make choices that will send out vast ripples. Some young people believe growing up means abandoning their ideals. To us, it means learning how to live our ideals, every day, on the Earth. We believe that if the passion, creativity and commitment of youth can be liberated for the common good, we can transform our world."
Reading these books and learning about these organizations, the dedication, achievements and nurturing of Deo Robbins in all of these endeavors is manifest. Deo coordinates and facilities personal growth workshops and retreats, and she is the Co-founder & Outreach Director of EarthSave International, and on the Board of Directors of YES!, among countless other labors of love.
The Robbins family created Earthsave in 1989. As its website notes, "EarthSave was founded in 1989 by John Robbins to channel the tremendous response to his book, 'Diet for a New America', into sustained and positive action. With nearly 40 chapters in the United States, and many others throughout the world, the organization promotes food choices that are healthy for people and for the planet, helping countless numbers to shift toward plant-based diets and to take compassionate action for all life on Earth. The organization's programs are essentially educational, working internationally, nationally, and through local chapters to get the word out and to help people discover alternatives to the Standard American Diet." Finally, the Robbins website, www.foodrevolution.org, is a treasure trove of resources, articles and links for all families seeking ways to make compassionate choices in diet and lifestyle. Vegan parents will find it hugely valuable and helpful.
The following interviews with Deo, Ocean and John were conducted in July 2004.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN ROBBINS
Q. John, your book, Diet for a New America, galvanized my conscience. I had been a vegetarian for several decades, and was always uncomfortable eating dairy and eggs, but when I read Diet for a New America I saw the immensity of the tragedy of which I was a part. I realized I had succumbed to intense social and familial pressures to conform to the typical American diet, and I saw in what egregious way my dietary choices were harming myself and others. Yet it still took a major health crisis to transform me into a vegan. How I wish I'd made the change decades before.
As a parent, John, what would you tell vegan parents who are facing similar social and family pressures to conform to unhealthy and cruelty-supporting food and lifestyle choices? Do you think it is simpler now to raise a child as a vegan than it was when your son Ocean was born?
A: It takes inner strength to be true to your integrity in a culture that often pulls in a different direction. There are forces in our society that want you to be passive, compliant and ignorant. They want you to buy ever more useless junk rather than express your life force, your compassion, and your creativity in the direction of your highest values. They want you to eat burgers and fries rather than food that nourishes your body and soul. It is an act of rebellion against the anti-life forces to live with reverence and respect for yourself and for all beings. It subverts the dominant paradigm to live mindfully, passionately, and with inner purpose. When you uphold the possibility of a healthy, compassionate, and thriving way of life for all, your choices become the foundations for your children's growth and maturity.
In the face of social and family pressures, it's helpful to remember that your purpose is never to change anyone else, but always to do the work you are here to do. And in guiding your children along, it's good to realize that they have a purpose and a wisdom which may be beyond your understanding. As Buckminster Fuller once said: "Our children and our grandchildren are our elders in universe time. They are born into a more complex, more evolved universe than we can experience or than we can know. It is our privilege to see that new world through their eyes."
It is simpler now to raise a vegan child, in that there is a great deal more awareness about vegan lifestyles than there used to be. But it is also harder, in that the culture has become more violent, and even more consumption based. In the long run, it doesn't really matter whether it is easy or difficult. What matters is to undertake with great love the work that has been entrusted to you in this life.
Q. You and Deo have raised a child with an immense love for the planet. Now he is a father and an activist himself. Did you ever worry, when he was little, that he would be swept into the tide of the conventional American lifestyle that threatens the health and well-being of other young people?
A: I am so fortunate, because I get to see and bathe in Ocean's love for life every day. It has been and continues to be the greatest privilege and honor of my life to be his father. Yes, sometimes when he was little I worried about him becoming swept into the prevailing lifestyle, but I prayed continually for the strength to assist him in being true to himself, and to help him to use life's difficulties and challenges to become every more deeply rooted in his essential being. And I knew that if I was going to help him see the opportunities in obstacles, I would have to learn to do that myself, too. I don't believe you can say to a child, "Do as I say, not as I do," and retain much moral authority in their eyes. If I was going to be able to support my son in honoring his integrity, then I needed to honor mine, too. If I was going to help him to live with joy, self-confidence and power, then I needed to learn how to do that, too.
Three-and-a-half years ago, Ocean's wife (and my daughter-in-love) Michele gave birth to extremely premature twins. After the birth, we were told that the babies almost certainly would live, but we were not allowed to touch them for many hours. We were also told that they would require many months of hospitalization, marked by massive and sustained medical intervention. We also learned that there was a 25% chance that they would suffer from a severe and permanent disability, such as blindness, deafness, or cerebral palsy necessitating a wheelchair. Watching how Ocean responded to this extremely painful challenge taught me a lot about who we can be as human beings. He responded with vast love, seeming limitless inner strength, and exquisite courage. And his twin sons are thriving now, despite their extremely difficult beginning. I am so awed and inspired by the kind of father he is, and the kind of mother Michele is.
Ocean has become such a powerful and clear human being that I no longer have even a trace of worry about his being overwhelmed by a culture that sometimes values material possessions more than human wellbeing. And I am very grateful that he met and married such a wonderful woman as Michele. He is in the best of hands with her. I could not love her more if she were my own biological daughter.
Q. Your book, May All Be Fed, deserves pride of place on the bookshelves of all families. As a vegan mother (with an omnivore husband) who often employs her vegetarian child as an assistant chef, I love both the recipes and the compassionate quotes and the research about healthy diets, accompanying them. My four-year-old is fascinated by what he learns when I read aloud from this book. He was breastfed for three years and understands full well what a tragedy it would be to remove a baby animal from its mother in order to take her milk away and give it to someone else - especially if the baby animal will go on to live and die in suffering. Your book is helping me help him make compassionate connections, and what's most wonderful is that as we are creating healthy food together, he understands that we are helping support a lifestyle that can help feed the planet even as it promotes compassion for other animals - and that can help us be healthy all our lives.
John, do you think parents sometimes underestimate the ability of their children to understand their own stature in the world - the power that they themselves have either to further suffering, or to diminish it?
A. Yes, as parents we often underestimate our children's powers, and we do that for the simple reason that we have learned to underestimate our own. If we can live in alignment with our deepest purpose, then we can help our children to do the same. If we are continually throughout our lives learning how to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, then our children will learn from our example. Our effort must be to awaken from the cultural trance that teaches each of us we are helpless in the face of suffering. When you realize how much your love matters, you will never feel powerless again.
Q. Your philosophy of living integrates compassion for individuals, their communities, and for the globe encompassing all communities. What always astonishes me about your books is that they face the agonizing realities of the world without blinking, yet find - and share with readers - the courage, the faith and the love to work for a more compassionate world. A world where no one is hungry, where animals are not brutalized, where health is as vibrant as it can and should be.
I've just been reading the memoir included in The Food Revolution called "The Pig Farmer". In that memoir, you describe meeting a man who maintained a brutally cruel pig "farm", where the pigs lived caged inside, in filth and misery, immobilized their entire lives. Yet, invited to dinner at the farmer's own table with his family, you and the man seemed to meet one another's souls.
You described the astonishing conversation you had as, at first, you were treated as an adversary, and then, as someone who could be trusted to hear a heart-rending story, were told a story the man had locked inside himself all his life. You described how the man's emotional life had been paralyzed, as a child, when he was forced to butcher a pig he loved dearly, or face unbearable exile from his father's love. You described how, over time, relieved of the emotional burden he'd carried over the years, he became able to believe that he could follow his own conscience and still have worth - could still be loved, and he gave up raising pigs for slaughter, and became an organic vegetable farmer, even starting a program to help educate schoolchildren about the intelligence and friendliness of pigs.
In your research and your books, you document the unfathomably cruel ways animals are brutalized in our society, yet you find the core of love that exists in all beings.
John, was the meeting with this farmer, and perhaps similar encounters elsewhere, part of makes your work feel like a bridge across the chasm between cruelty and compassion? Do you ever feel that you and your family, with your books, with Earthsave, with YES!, are helping other families assume a greater measure of their own intrinsic compassion and integrity, by encouraging them to make compassionate and fully informed choices about food, about health, and the way they live and work?
A: I am humbled by the fact that my books and work have helped a lot of people. It is a source of joy to me that so many people are working in their lives to honor their humanity and make their lives expressions of their caring.
The journey from cruelty to compassion can take thousands of lifetimes, or it can take a single second. To my eyes, this dear world has seen enough violence, enough injustice, enough pain. I want so deeply to use my life to help the world and each being here to be a little happier, a little more at peace, with a little more beauty and healing in their lives. Isn't that what we all want, at our cores? Haven't we had enough of the opposite? I've always felt my soul reflected in the prayer of St. Francis:
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
May I seek
Not so much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand.
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
In pardoning that we are pardoned,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life."
Q. When I read your book, Reclaiming Our Health, I was reading it in tandem with books by a number of other progressive health advocates such as Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Dean Ornish, all of whom recommend pure or nearly pure vegetarian diets for better health, and have published books which deal explicitly with the diet-health connection. Their point of departure is mainly the safeguarding of the individual's health, while you examine not only the health of the individual, but the social implications for everyone of our culture's emphasis on drugs and surgery over a healthy, compassionate diet and lifestyle. Taken together, books like yours, and theirs, and other holistic practitioners such as Dr. Andrew Weil, present a powerful case for making major correctives in our diet and lifestyle in this country. For parents - well, for everyone, so much comes down to our most practical, everyday choices, such as what we choose to eat. And, indeed, all of you have included terrific recipes in many of your books.
John, could you share the names of a few of your personal favorite cookbooks? Did you have a particular "coach" who helped you learn to be a vegan cook?
A: My cooking is really embarrassingly simple. I love salads and steamed vegetables. If it's wholesome and nutritious, I'm there.
Q. Are there any special messages you would to share with the readers of VegFamily Magazine, at VegFamily.Com, who are vegan parents endeavoring to raise vegan children?
A: Parenting is one of the most important tasks in the world. I say that, even though I know that our society doesn't honor it nearly as much as it should. Our children are how we bring our love into the world. It is by the way we care for them that we express our gratitude for all that has made our own lives possible.
I don't think that being vegan, and raising vegan children, is an end in itself. To me, it is a means to a greater end, that of a peaceful and loving world. This is the great work of our times.
In many other cultures, the nurturing of wise and healthy children is seen as a spiritual act, a labor of eternal consequence, and parenting is considered sacred. Children are held constantly, both in the arms of people who love them, and in the heart of the wider community. Each child is honored for his or her unique gifts and qualities, and enjoyed for who they are. Each child is treasured, and helped to develop her or his wisdom and talents. How painfully different it often is in our society, where money-making is often made more important than our children's lives. When children are raised by daycare and television, and fed by corporations like McDonalds and Coca-Cola, we create generations of discontented, wounded, and needy people. If we don't find a way to prevent the painful abandonment, abuse and exploitation of children, we will spend the rest of our lives building mental hospitals and prisons.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to fight.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn to be confident.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with honesty and fairness, they learn about truth and justice.
If children live with approval, they learn to find love in the world.
If you are a parent today, you have the opportunity to cherish your children and raise them to be healthy, self-reliant, responsible, and joyous. In a culture as alienated from natural wisdom as ours is, this is no small feat. In fact, it may be the most revolutionary thing you can do. If you can raise your children to know what they can trust in themselves, and to be fully aware of the power of their own hearts, their whole lives will reflect this gift you have given them. If you can listen to them, even when it's hard and you may not want to hear what they have to say, then your children will be able to express who they really are. If you can make it safe for them to totally be themselves, then you can help them to carry forward their lives' purpose with attention, honesty, and integrity. If you can give them the freedom to be their wacky selves, all the while supporting them as they grow and explore new ways of being, then they will not only live in this world, they will change it, so that it comes to reflect humanity's highest aspirations rather than its darkest fears.
I guess you can tell I really believe in children. I love them so much. Someone once said that with each child that is born, there is proof that God has not given up on the human race.
I believe that children come into this world endowed with new energies that can correct the errors of past generations, and give a new breath of life to the world. They are here for a purpose, and it is our privilege and joy to do everything in our power to help them achieve the realization of the dreams they bring to life.
Gandhi once said: "If we are to reach peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering."
AN INTERVIEW WITH DEO ROBBINS
Q: Were you raised as a vegetarian, Deo? If not, would you mind sharing the story of how you became vegetarian?
A: No, I was not raised a vegetarian. It was spam or bacon for breakfast, bologna for lunch, and any variety of cow, pig or sheep parts for supper. My parents were extremely overweight, suffering from many of the health problems associated with a high meat-based diet. I feared becoming like them, with no idea what I could do to prevent this.
When I met John in college at age 19, we fell totally in love. It was like a light went on, illuminating all aspects of our lives and choices we were making. Suddenly things we had done habitually for years no longer made sense. We began to question many things, and to look for more compassionate, sane, and sustainable ways to live. Becoming vegetarian was the obvious choice once we began to learn how animals in the American food machine were raised.
Q. Deo, you are part of an almost unfathomably engaged family - YES! Earthsave, the Food Revolution website, the many speaking engagements, and books, and, doubtless, countless other commitments. Could you share with parents reading VegFamily magazine some of the ways your family is able to enjoy quiet time together?
A: Quiet time together has become a rare and precious commodity since the premature arrival of our twin grandsons River and Bodhi three plus years ago. Although hard to come by sometimes, the four adults in our family have made it a priority to spend several hours of quality time together once or twice a week. We arrange for a friend to play with the boys during this time, and meet in a quiet part of the house or outside in the woods near our home.
How we use our time varies from week to week, depending on how we are each doing. Sometimes we might share foot massages, sing, talk about projects we are working on, or share something that may be bothering us. Often we will offer reflections, observations, questions or concerns about how River and Bodhi are doing. Pooling our insights and creativity enables us to support these little fellows, who had such a rough start, with the best we can give them.
Quiet time that includes the young ones is a little different. We might all crowd onto the bed along with twenty or more stuffed animals, and tell stories about what the animals like to eat, or about what the animals like to eat, or even about what the animals like to eat! I guess you can tell what River and Bodhi's favorite topic is these days.
Q. What are some of your favorite books, Deo, and music? Would you be comfortable sharing some of what nurtures your own soul as you go about your work and the nurturing of your family?
A: There have been many recording artists over the years, who have nurtured my soul, but most important to me these days are Joanne Shenandoah and Deva Premal and Miten. I love to dance, and some of Dusty Springfield and Linda Ronstadt's old songs really get me going. And these days I seem to spend a lot of time listening to Raffi.
Marianne Williamson's books have kept me flowing down the river in the right direction, and the work and books of Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living) have helped me keep my head above water. My enjoyment of Diet For A New America, The Food Revolution and John's other books has been rich and multi-faceted, from editing the first chapters to reading the freshly printed copies. His work has illustrated for me the importance and meaning in every choice we make.
Taking my work as grandmother very much to heart, I spend a lot of time reading about how to make finger paint, play-do, and other profound things.
Playing with River and Bodhi nurtures my soul. There is a joyful childlike spirit within me that rarely got to be expressed in my own childhood. When we play we are together in the moment, present and exploring, silly and delighting.
Listening nurtures my soul. Silence nurtures my soul. Loving nurtures my soul.
Q. Deo, when Ocean was a small child, what were some of the books you most enjoyed reading to him? What were some of your favorite toys? Was it difficult at all to find the kind of books and toys that were in harmony with your values of compassion and awareness?
A: When Ocean was small, we lived in a little cabin on an island far away from stores, televisions, and the lures of a consumptive society. He had very few toys, and those he had were simple and well used. A set of wooden blocks kept him busy balancing ever taller structures for hour upon happy hour. Some worn and torn stuffed animals were his constant companions, and lent themselves to endless dramatic fantasies. He enjoyed the Serendipity books when he was very small, and as he grew older he loved to hear some our favorites read aloud: Siddhartha, Initiation, The Wizard of Earth-Sea. We recorded the stories we read him and gave him a portable tape deck which he learned to operate. He spent many hours listening to story tapes while playing with blocks, coloring, or hanging out with his stuffed animals.
Q. If you could close your eyes and imagine a handful of blessings for families, what would they be?
A: What a beautiful invitation! I would want family members to be blessed with gratitude and appreciation for one another, and the understanding that taking time to pay attention to, love and support one another brings infinite gifts. I would wish for them that they could share their fears and challenges honestly with one another and become stronger and more capable through their being together. I would want them to be blessed with lots of play (not just the children!) dancing, singing and laughter. And I would want each family to be blessed with the joy of service. To know that in some way, big or small, they are contributing to the healing of our world.
AN INTERVIEW WITH OCEAN ROBBINS
Q. Ocean, one of the outstanding characteristics I've discerned in reading about your organization, YES! (Youth for Environmental Sanity), and in reading about your history of social action, is the love and energy that seems to flow through your work. I'm humbled, too, by your wife and partner Michele Bissonnette Robbins. Her life is also one of vibrant, compassionate activism. Both of you were already working for a healthier, more peaceful, more healthy world when you were children. Now you have twin babies, River and Bodhi, and doubtless they themselves are already galvanizing the world for the better.
Most of the readers of VegFamily Magazine are vegan parents, working to raise thoughtful, healthy, joyful children in a largely non-vegan culture. For these parents, choosing to be vegan is about choosing to live a compassionate and healthy life in an integrated way that includes all people and all beings. A hopeful life.
In its Youth Jams, conferences, camps, and other activities that nurture young leaders, YES! seems to proclaim, exuberantly, that young people have reason for hope - that they themselves are hope personified.
Ocean, could you share with VegFamily Magazine some of the aspects of being raised as a vegan child that might have contributed to the nurturing of your amazing spirit - and energy?
A: I was raised by parents that sought to see and affirm who I really am, and to give me the support I needed to fulfill my purpose in this world. They sang to me, loved me, appreciated me (vocally and frequently!) and also were honest with me about their own prayers, commitments, and struggles. They didn't try to pretend anything with me, and so I knew they were real, and I learned a lot from them about what it takes to really show up with who we are in this world. They've taught me a lot about courage, because they are both people who have made a lot of choices for integrity and conscience, whether or not circumstances supported them. A healthy and compassionate diet was one of the many ways that my parents supported me growing up in looking at my every life choice as an opportunity to demonstrate respect for myself and all living beings.
Q. Ocean, I imagine I am not the first vegan parent who has read about your family and wished your family might somehow magically appear to support us when we are trying to cope patiently and tactfully with people who insist we are "harming" our children or "going against nature" by being vegans. These are often the same people who say they were be "too upset" to read about slaughterhouses, factory farming, the hazards of genetic engineering, the build-up of pesticides, herbicides, hormones and other hazardous substances in the flesh and milk of factory farmed animals, the destruction of habit due to ranching, etc. Our children tend to be very aware of the ramifications of even their simplest choices, such as what to eat and what to wear.
Were there ever times for you, Ocean, as a child, when being vegan felt uncomfortable or difficult? Were there ever times you felt it might be easier to be less aware, less concerned, less personally involved with the task of diminishing the suffering of those with whom we share the world?
A: There were times that it felt uncomfortable or difficult to live in a world where people thought it was normal to eat the flesh of what I considered to be tortured and slaughtered animals. Times when I hated to see my friends turning their bodies into, as I used to call it to their faces, "graveyards." And times when I would feel disgusted by the smell of animal corpses in my best friends' lunch box. But I also felt it to be uncomfortable and difficult that we live in a world with war, with racism, and with nuclear weapons. I've always felt that it's part of the human experience to recognize that we live in difficult times. I didn't ever feel drawn towards going numb, or succumbing to the cultural trance of attempted normalcy, as life was far to interesting, too meaningful, and too important to be wasted on trying to fit in or have an "easy" time at the expense of my own soul's purpose. Sure, I need some times when I'm not worrying about what's wrong, but simply loving the beauty of life. When I'm body-surfing in the ocean, or climbing a mountain, I might not be thinking about factory farms, I might be marveling in awe at the beauty of life. But I've never been drawn to intentionally doing things that are destructive to the Earth or to other life forms - any more than I'm drawn to suicide. We're all connected, and there's enough pain in this world already. With all the blessings I've been given, complaining or giving up would be such a waste!
Q. Ocean, could you share some suggestions with vegan parents and children to help them ease the inevitable conflicts that arise with people who have been raised to see the world as fundamentally adversarial - species against species, for example, or country against country, or religion against religion?
A: Those of us who hold a vision of a thriving, just and sustainable world need to do a lot of work to avoid falling into the same patterns we seek to change in the world. The work isn't just "out there," because the line between good and evil runs across the landscape of every human heart. Gandhi said that he had no hatred for the British, but he hated the British system of governance that oppressed his people, just as he hated the caste system even while loving the Hindu people. We can aspire to follow his example -- recognizing what vigilance it can take to stand for something with all our hearts, and also be willing to treat everyone else with respect for their humanity.
I think children have a natural sense of joy, cooperation, and service that needs to be nurtured. My wife, Michele, and I have identical twin boys, River and Bodhi, who are 3 1/2 years old. River and Bodhi LOVE to help out. It is so much fun to find creative ways that they can help us clean up, pick berries, or even get their own shoes when it's time to go outside. So I think that children need to be respected, to be honored, and to have the opportunity to give, and then they will naturally tend to be respectful, to be honoring, and to look for opportunities to contribute. That doesn't mean there aren't hard places along the way. A parent cannot control how their children evolve or the nature of their children's destiny. But parents can love, nurture, support their children, and doing so will make an enormous difference to how our children relate to the world around them.
Q. Ocean, what are some of your most beloved books and music? Could you share some of the books and music you look forward to sharing with River and Bodhi? Could you share some of the foods you loved most as a child?
A: I love my dad's books! And I enjoy a lot of music. We love sharing with our children the music at www.putumayo.com. It's lively, multi-cultural, and put out by wonderful people. And our boys aren't quite old enough for them yet, but we're excited to share the books at www.veronicalanebooks.com with them (those books are for ages 4-10). Growing up, I also enjoyed the Serendipity books, and I'm sure we'll share them with our children.
My parents started me off eating simple, unprocessed foods, with no sugar and little salt, so my taste buds were used to that. So even relatively simple foods can taste gourmet to me. Children eat when they're hungry, but if taste buds become jaded early, then nothing tastes as good as chocolate cake or French fries, and children may lose appetite for simple things. So I think its important to feed children simple and natural foods pretty-well exclusively for the formative early years, and then to branch out a bit as they move into the world. A baseline is established in that way. At least in my case, I still love rice, vegetables, oatmeal, or salad. And now, I also love cooking stir fries, tacos, lasagna, muffins, and so many other things. The world of food is so varied - it's great!