Children, Food, and Indoctrination

A few weeks back, this video of a precocious kid talking about the ethics of food made the rounds. I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I guess it’s finally time. I don’t like to pick on kids, but child evangelists creep me out.

Very early in the video, Birke says something pretty interesting about kids and their role in marketing. He says:

I’m really amazed at how easily kids lare led to believe all the marketing and advertising on TV, at public schools, and pretty much everywhere else you look. It seems to me like corporations are always trying to get kids, like me, to get their parents to buy stuff that really isn’t good for us or the planet. Little kids especially are attracted by colourful packaging and plastic toys. I must admit, I used to be one of them….

This is ironic, because it seems to me that this Birke himself has been very seriously indoctrinated: he’s a hard-core devotee of small-local-and-organic, a child soldier who knows the key speaking points by heart. The fact that Birke sees himself as part of “a movement” speaks volumes. If Kellogs or Tyson or Del Monte or Monsanto used an 11-year-old to deliver propaganda this way, they would rightly be criticized for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He seems like a very bright kid. And I’m sure a very nice kid. But a lot of what he says is either false or misleading. GM foods have been “proven to cause cancer”? That’s simply false. Joel Salatin is a considered a “lunatic farmer” by “the system”? Well, maybe — but “lunatic farmer” is actually a description Salatan has adopted for himself, and used in the title of his own book. The idea that small farms growing organic, free-range meat are a sustainable way to provide meat to the world? Highly, highly unlikely.

At least Birke’s opening argument against GM foods — the fact that they make him think “Yuck!” — is age-appropriate for an 11-year-old. But it’s hard not to get the feeling that that idea was put into his head by someone old enough to know better.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in advertising, agriculture, children, consumerism, ethics, factory farms, farmers, genetic modification, health claims, industrial, kids, local, marketing, meat, organic, values. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Children, Food, and Indoctrination

  1. Anastasia says:

    Thank you for this commentary. Greg Laden posted the video over at his blog and I had exactly the same reaction. I’m glad it’s not just me.

  2. Leigh Harris says:

    It’s also worth comparing the harm done by mainstream advertising to induce kids into purchasing ‘shiny food’ as he puts it, versus indoctrination into movements. People often like to condemn consumerism as a vast, broad conspiracy designed to inculcate people into a hazardous institution, but surely the dangers of teaching children to profess perspectives on the world with such zest when the argument is still raging is a finer line to tread.

  3. Paulette says:

    Reminds me of a saying (may not be the exact words – this is from memory) attributed to the Jesuits “Give me a boy at 6 and I will have the man for a lifetime”. It sounds like this young lad has had some heavy indoctrination. It is definitely easier to preach a party line than to encourage critical thought and take the chance that your subject may disagree with your stance.

    • Leigh Harris says:

      Agreed. It’s vitally important for parents to teach their children how to think critically. Perhaps it was thinking critically about GM foods which led the parents to the conclusions they did, but instructing your children as to what the correct answers are risks producing an inferior child.

      I’m quite glad (as an aside) that my parents did encourage critical thought. As such, I have completely different religious views to theirs. Which is my right, and their pride.

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