The New Yorker printed this piece in the Talk of the Town this week about a kindergarten field trip to the supermarket aimed at teaching kids how to think critically about consumer products. I'm going to have to do a similar experiment with my kids. I think Elliot and Walter would hit it off, "I want to take off my underwear...I want candy!"
Smart Cookies by Rebecca Mead
It is sometimes suggested that schools no longer teach children values, but this assertion would not be true of P.S. 321, in Park Slope, which has been offering an “Ad-Busters” class as an after-school program, intended to impart radical skepticism to kindergartners. The class is taught by Susan Gregory Thomas, a P.S. 321 parent and the author of “Buy, Buy Baby,” a soon-to-be-published exposé of the depredations of kiddie consumer culture. One recent very cold Friday, Thomas’s charges were crowded around a lunch table in the cafeteria in advance of a field trip to Key Food.
“Who goes shopping with their parents?” Thomas, who has brown curly hair and was wearing a pastel-colored jacket trimmed with fake fur, asked.
Walter, whose lips bore faint traces of blue that might have been caused by food coloring (unlikely) or marker pen (probable), said, “I sometimes go to Met Foods, or D’Agostino’s.”
Ishai, who was eating a bag of Pirate’s Booty, said, “I go to the Food Co-op.” Thomas asked if Pirate’s Booty was healthy. “It’s snacky,” Ishai said.
“How do we know when something is healthy?” Thomas asked.
“From reading the nutrients list,” Ishai said.
“I can’t read,” Walter said, pulling on a fleece hat.
The children headed down Seventh Avenue holding hands in boy-girl pairs: their choice. The group passed Back to the Land Natural Foods and the D’Vine Taste fancy-food emporium.
“There’s the wine market!” a boy named James said.
“I want to take off my coat, I want to take off my hat, I want to take off my shoes, I want to take off my pants, I want to take off my underwear!” Walter was saying as he entered the supermarket. Once inside, he yelled, “I want candy!”
The children milled around a bin filled with bananas, blocking the efforts of a middle-aged man to navigate his shopping cart beyond Fruit. “I know what this is,” Walter said, momentarily dispirited. “It’s the grownup aisle.”
As the group rounded the corner into Canned Goods, a quiet boy named Charlie reached for a pack of soy chips. “We’re not buying those, Charlie,” Charlie’s dad, a parental monitor, said. “You had those for snack.” Thomas halted in front of an array of Campbell’s soups, pointing out that the packaging on many of the cans featured cartoon characters. “Leave the cans of soup on the shelf,” Charlie’s dad warned, as Charlie picked up two cans—bearing Chicken & Stars and Goldfish labels—and knocked over a display of pickle jars.
“Does anyone know what saturated fats are?” Thomas asked. “If you ate three of these cans in a day, you would be over the fat limit for a child of your age. You would have to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have the cupcakes and the cookies.’ ”
A boy named Sam looked dubious. “I don’t even like soup,” he said.
Further along the aisle were packages of mix for macaroni and cheese. “Would you choose this one, or the one without characters?” asked Thomas, holding a box featuring Shrek.
“I’d choose the plain one,” Maeve, who had blond hair and was just getting over a cold, said. “Shrek is bad for you.”
“Why is all the macaroni and cheese orange?” Thomas asked.
“Food coloring!” Ishai said, dropping dramatically to the tiled floor and picking himself up.
“Who is it aimed at?” Thomas asked.
“Kids!” Ishai answered, dropping to the floor again.
In the cereal aisle, James, who was wearing a white Power Rangers cap, grabbed a box of Fruity Pebbles. “That’s ‘The Flintstones,’ ” he said. “That’s a very old show.”
Thomas picked up a box of Health Valley granola and asked, “What does ‘organic’ mean?”
“It means it’s organized,” a boy named Henry said. An older gentleman who was carrying a tub of Quaker Oats paused to listen. “You wonder why people are dying of heart attacks every day,” he said. “The corporations are running America and poisoning Americans, and the people don’t realize it. The politicians are paid off to let them kill people.”
Thomas ushered the children past Paper Products and back outside, where a truck decorated with a Canada Dry logo and covered with wintry ice was making a delivery.
“Icicles!” Walter shouted.
“Icicles aren’t packaged!” Ishai said.
“You can’t eat icicles,” a wary Maeve warned. None of the children expressed a desire for ginger ale.