Legal Quandary

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

There's No Food In Your Food!

Has anyone else noticed that Americans as a whole have a really crappy diet?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I've always been one to check out what other people put in their shopping carts at the grocery store (because I am NOSY), but I've noticed lately that it is not just college students and single adults who are filling their bodies with junk - it's also parents who are teaching their kids to eat this way.

I notice it especially at Lil Q's new daycare. In TVPNM, breakfast, lunch, and snack were included in her tuition. Being the Pacific Northwest, the food was all vegetarian and mostly organic. (This might also help explain why tuition was $900 a month.) Here, we have to bring breakfast from home. Lil Q is a notorious early riser, so she usually has cereal at home, and then we just bring yogurt to school. But I can't help but notice what the other kids bring. There's several kids who usually have cereal. Some of it more nutritious than others, but even Cocoa Frosted Sugar Bombs have some redeeming nutritional value, right?* Then there's the Go-Gurt crowd. Because regular yogurt is just too damned hard to eat. Here, I think the parents are at least trying to provide a healthy breakfast, but have you ever read the ingredients on this stuff??? It's mostly corn syrup and gelatin - which might make for a tasty concoction, but it's not yogurt. But then there are other kids who bring Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, or Burger King. Every. Single. Day. Are we really too busy as a society to pour some Cheerios into a tupperware container or wash some grapes?

I know that technically this is none of my damned business, but I have to admit that I am concerned when I see 3 and 4 year olds downing enough calories in one meal to keep a fully grown adult going for a day. When we wonder why our kids are out of shape - I'm thinking the answer is fairly obvious. Between feeding them what amounts to candy for breakfast and then plunking them in front of the TV, it's a wonder they're all not 100 pounds by the age of 5.

I guess this really isn't anything new. I remember school lunches from my elementary school days, and I don't think the point of school lunches was really nutrition so much as cheap, fast and filling. (Remember those sandwiches made with a slice each of white and wheat bread spread with peanut butter AND butter??? I rest my case.)

Mr. Q for some reason has a copy of the daily school menu from the Biloxi public schools from the early 1990s. (We think his mom sent it to him in college as some sort of bizarre sign that his younger siblings were thinking of him. Or something.) A sample: Breakfast - Cereal, 1/2 Ham Sandwich, Fruit Juice, Milk. Lunch - Golden Fried Chicken Nuggets, Mashed Potatoes w/ Gravy, Early June Peas (in September), Hot Buttered Rolls, School Baked Cookies, Choice of Milk. Another day lists an Egg Roll as the main entree for lunch. My point is that while filling, this diet is a recipe for early heart disease and obesity. And yes, I'm taking into account that for some kids, this is ALL they're getting to eat for the day, and it's a damned sight better than what they would get at home. But still - are you seriously telling me we can't do better by our kids? Or that just because kids grow up poor, it's ok to foist health problems on them later in life because we couldn't be bothered to teach them to eat vegetables and other foods with actual nutritional value? I recognize that this shining example is about a dozen years old. The thing is - things haven't really changed. I see exactly the same stuff on EC's school menu. Maybe the menu selections have been slightly updated in that they're serving quesadillas instead of bean burritos. Maybe they offer more salads (iceberg drenched in dressing), but fundamentally, we're still feeding our kids crap.

I've also noticed that the poor eating habits we teach our kids don't just magically disappear when the kids grow up. While on active duty, I saw what the Commissary (the military grocery store) stocked their shelves with, and watched what people put in their carts. I saw what my airmen were bringing to work for snacks or lunches. Heck - I ran the soda fund for my flight, and I know for a fact that the best sellers were any carbonated beverage, any snack made by Little Debbie, and ice cream. (The Apple Streusel Coffee Cakes, Swiss Cake Rolls, and Fudge Brownies were always the #1 sellers). In my defense, I also tried to provide fruit juices, granola bars, string cheese, milk, and fresh fruit. But let me just say that we made a LOT of money selling empty calories and fat.

I also saw how many of airmen were on the weight management program. The program was a truly assinine concept from the get-go, whose inherent problems were compounded by poor administration. At any rate, lots of young men and women lost careers over the fact that they just didn't know how to eat and exercise. And by the time we got to most of them, their habits were just too ingrained to really do much about. (Two notes here. 1) I know there were some people who had other issues - such as the "disparity" between their neck and waist measurements, or health problems which made it difficult for them to lose and/or keep weight off. But the vast majority of the ones I observed started out with poor diet and exercise habits that they couldn't overcome. I can't tell you how many of them got so frustrated that they stopped caring about the career and decided it would be fine to get kicked out - so long as they could eat what they wanted and not have people harping on them about their weight. 2) I would be the last person on earth to argue that anyone has a "right" to a military career.)

I'm not saying my eating habits are perfect. Anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any length of time knows that I have one heck of a sweet tooth. And that I can put away junk food with the best of them when I'm under stress. But I don't eat this way all the time. And I try really hard not to instill these eating habits in my kids.

Do we have dessert in my house? Yes. Every night? No. Do we eat fast food from time to time? Yup. But I can't remember when the last time was - probably on the drive out from TVPNM. Unless you count take-out pizza - which we've had exactly twice since we've been here.

The really frustrating thing is that I don't really know how to change things. I see our country's kids on a collision course with serious health problems. I know there's information out there, and parents either aren't aware of it (I don't see how this can be true) or are just choosing to ignore it. Or maybe I only think the information is accessible because I subscribe to several cooking magazines which emphasize healthy eating. I'm also frustrated by the fact that good food is becoming more expensive - meaning that Doritos and Coke become staple foods for people with lower incomes, while whole grain breads, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products become luxuries. Tell me again why we're subsidizing farmers to produce corn (and as a consequence, corn syrup)?

I guess the answer is for me just to set an example for my kids and leave it at that, but somehow that just feels like I'm not willing to be part of the solution. Is it really ok that the rich stay healthy and the sick stay poor?


* I'm not even sure I believe this statement.

Nice post
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