How Soft Shell Crabs Helped Me Teach My Children About Where Food Comes From

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There are no secrets about food in our home. Our children, if they're paying attention, know where it comes from and what it was doing before it ended up on the plate. Though we don't forbid anything, we aren't shy about letting them know the difference between that fast food chicken sandwich and the chicken we got from Mr. Eubanks at the farmers' market. Much like adults, kids will eat what they want, in spite of what they know. But we like them to know what they're getting into. Take soft shell crabs, for instance. 

I love soft shell crabs, only in season for a short time here in South Carolina, and a delicious treat sautéed, steamed or fried. Fun Fact: Crab should be alive until the moment you prepare it. Please skip this next part if you don't want to know what happens to crab a right before it dies. I understand. It's really kind of gross, and I cringe when I do it. Wait for it...

Before dredging the crab through cornmeal, you kill it by cutting its face off. Some people do it with scissors. I use a fork and knife, like you might cut a steak, because I'm too jumpy to hold it in my hand. (By the way, it still twitches as you remove the skirt and gills. Gah!) A chef friend taught me the technique and that's the way it's done if you want fresh, not frozen. 

And if my children and I want to enjoy the delicious taste of soft shell crab, we need to know exactly what we're doing, just to keep things fair. (Please forgive the photo of the cooked crab. It was my first attempt at preparing it myself, and I've seen prettier.)

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Though we don't preach about food at every meal, we definitely let the boys know what they're eating. Regular trips to Soda City and other local markets show them who grows, harvests, raises and slaughters the food they enjoy. They know we prefer to meet and support the farmer who did the work, whenever possible. We try to eat what's in season where we live. In my dream world, this will teach them to make thoughtful food choices.

We aren't vegetarians. (My husband is half French, half Serbian, and I'm all South Carolina, so that probably wasn't in the cards, though we have both dabbled.) Each of our two older boys were vegetarians at different times, with some overlap, which was just fine by us. We don't eat meat very often at home anyway, and their choice helped me expand my vegetarian repertoire. They made the change after thumbing through our copy of Fast Food Nation. To encourage their interest, we gave them the companion book, meant for younger readers, Chew on This, a must read for any child with a penchant for fast food.

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Though their vegetarianism only lasted a few years, it left them with a more considerate view of food. (And I can't help it — I'm proud of them for that!) At the moment, everyone in our family is an omnivore, but we know where our food comes from, and we aren't afraid to look it in the eye.

How much do your children know about what they eat? Have they made different choices from yours?

(Images: Anne Postic)

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