Food Tips from the Fairies

By Rebecca Pou, Project Archivist

Pairs of vegetables (potatoes, beets, carrots, etc.) marching down a path with a fairyToday we are celebrating Food Day, “a nationwide celebration and movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.” Concerns about good food, and encouraging children to enjoy it, are nothing new. In 1921, Dr. Beatrice Slayton Herben’s Jack O’Health and Peg O’Joy: A Fairy Tale for Children included jingles written by students of Public School 15 in New York City such as:

“Sing a song of coffee, rich foods and cakes,
these will make sick children with bad stomach-aches
Sing a song of clean milk, butter, fruit and bread,
these will make strong children with their cheeks all red”

In the story, a succession of health-conscious fairies teach Jack and Peg to follow good health habits throughout the day. They learn to brush their teeth, comb their hair, drink plenty of water, get a good night’s rest, and, of course, eat nutritious food.

When Peg despairs at the thought of a life without cake, the eat-clean-food fairies reassure her that she may have cake after eating fruits and vegetables, but “be careful not to eat too much.” In fact, the fairies tell her, even the fairy queen eats a special cake, made from mist and decorated with stars, which is made just once a year.

Fairies bringing cake to fairy queen

The foods promoted in the book include fresh fruits, carrots, potatoes, spinach, and lima bean soup —all nutrient-dense foods that support health, in line with Food Day’s recommendations.

Many of the lessons in Jack O’Health and Peg O’Joy, are featured in today’s Food Day celebrations. Beyond promoting a healthy diet, Food Day also calls attention to the broader context of food production, such as the environmental impact of farming and food and farm workers’ rights. Learn more about Food Day’s priorities here.

To celebrate Food Day, NYAM, Mt. Sinai, and El Museo del Barrio have organized a Healthy Food Walking tour, highlighting a number of establishments in our neighborhood. These include: Lane Farmer’s Market, Pure Food, Champignon Cafe, Mt. Sinai Greenmarket, El Aquila, El Paso Restaurant, and East Harlem Cafe. The next time you are at NYAM or in the neighborhood, visit these businesses for a healthy bite. The eat-clean-food fairies would be proud.

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