With the finale of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” tonite, I got to thinking about the question of ultimately who should be responsible for the state of our children’s health right now and what they put into their mouths. There are 4 factors to the equation that can make or break the system. I outline them below and offer just a couple of comments about each to think about.
#1-Food Advertisers-There is more money spent on marketing to children too young to rationally weigh the pros and cons of a particular product, especially food products, than any other demographic. Fast food, snacks, sugary juice beverages, candy, you name it. They are all geared at appealing to a young childs eyes. They are bright, colorful, have cute cartoon characters associated with them and they make kids feel like they are participating in something that everyone else is doing. It’s a terrible marketing ploy that undermines good parenting. How can a parent possibly combat the multi-sensory media that is constantly bombarding their children, not just at home, on tv or the computer, but at school? Numerous schools are being approached by companies like Coca-Cola who are placing vending machines in schools and offering them big money to do so. A school facing a budget crisis would be stupid not to take these companies up on the offer, but at the same time, at what expense to their students who are buying these products?
#2-Teachers-Lets be honest, kids spend a good portion of their waking hours with their teachers. Teachers can be extremely powerful influences on childrens lives as kids look up to them. This is an opportunity to affect change that is a huge responsibiltiy and one many teachers are taking seriously. For example, one of my cooking class students and a great friend who is a teacher has made it her goal to teach kids through cooking. This week she had her kids select a bunch of veggies for a stir fry and made them lunch, on her buck. She decided it was so effective and the kids enjoyed it so much, that she is going to try to do this weekly. That is a dedicated and inspirational teacher whose example should be followed by many.
#3-Government-One of the glaring gaps in the food system that “Food Revolution” has shown is in USDA regulations that are being followed by all schools. The logic that a child should have flavored milk options because it is better for them to drink any milk rather than not drink milk at all is ludicrous. Kids are hungry. They are growing. If they are hungry or thirsty enough, they’ll drink and eat what’s available. Get rid of the sugary, salty crap in schools and feed them healthy options. Too many kids are being diagnosed with ADD and other illnesses and are being fed medications like candy to treat something that is directly attributable to what they are putting into their bodies. Get rid of the sugar and kids will calm down. Stop poisoning them with chemicals they don’t actually need. I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate diagnoses for ADD, but the increase recently is fishy to me and this sentiment is shared by numerous teachers I am friends with. And of course, as we have already discussed in a previous blog, there are issues of classification of foods by the USDA. Putting french fries in the same category as broccoli or spinach is ludicrous.
#4-Parents-I’m not a parent. I can’t imagine in this day and age, with a dual income household and most kids more interested in playing with their computers and texting than going outside to play ball how tough it is to raise kids. I know the challenges are out there. But, with that said, there are a lot of people doing all the right things and I want to applaud them. Our neighbor who has 4 kids works part time and her husband works full time. She also is a volunteer for numerous things from the Library to the high school vegetable garden. Yet, she takes the time to plant her own vegetables and goes out of her way to cook good, nutritious meals for her family because it means something to her. Her kids are all active, healthy, not fussy about what they eat and do well in school. Her attitude never seems stressed or overwhelmed. She does what she does because it makes her feel good and it’s right. I don’t think she is superwoman, I just think she has made this a priority for herself and her family. I wish more parents could take her lead and emulate her habits. I admire her immensely and would encourage those who think they can’t do the same to reevaluate whether they legitimately can’t or just don’t feel like it.
I know this is harsh, but it’s the reality. We have to start looking at this or our future, the future of the world is in jeopardy. Lets not worry about Aztec calendars and Nostradamus predictions for the end of the world. My fear is that it isn’t an end per se, but a self-induced poisoning, one that will seriously jeopardize the future generation. Just recently a story came out suggesting that childhood obesity is a national security risk as army generals feel that 25% of kids are too obese to pass basic fitness requirements to serve. And the FDA just imposed stricter regulations on the amount of salt allowed in foods, which has gotten out of control, leading to skyrocketing cases of heart disease, hypertension and more.
Food can nourish, but it can also kill. We have to start paying attention to what we are putting into our bodies. You are what you eat isn’t just a catchy bumper sticker. It’s reality and it’s an oppourtunity to be in control of something. Take control of yourself and of our future.