Sunday, May 15, 2005

Junk Food Battles


Culture of Life News admits this: we are health food addicts. This means staying trim and trying to keep our health going, a real neccessity due to circumstances. It is obvious if anyone looks at our schools today that many of the students are suffering from eating disorders. The teen girls, to make themselves thinner, starve themselves and the the others are overweight. All Americans struggle with the weight problem and hope there is some magical solution that doesn't involve eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables...which happens to be our personal diet, by the way.

We have eaten badly in the past. We know how much fun it is. But once one settles in and eats properly it isn't just easy, it is quite pleasurable.

In Texas, of all places, the place that pioneered making money for schools instead of taxes by allowing the big corporate food companies to directly sell to kids, is changing course, drastically.

The Texas commissioner for agriculture is not an obvious soulmate of Jamie Oliver's. Six-foot-two and a lifelong Republican, Susan Combs is a fourth-generation cattle rancher whose "shoot-from-the-hip" style oozes the spirit of the old West.

Yet Texans, as her old boss President George W Bush likes to say, can surprise you.

Susan Combs' new regulations for meals are the strictest in the US
In the teeth of fierce opposition from parents, teachers and her own party, Mrs Combs, 59, is taking on America's obesity epidemic with a school diet revolution that would have Oliver beaming with delight.

When Texan children went back to school last autumn, they found their school lunches had radically changed. Fizzy drinks were banned. Biscuits and crisps were in mini (aka British) packets. Pizza was to be a once-a-week treat - as were french fries. And those foods, along with ice-cream, will be phased out this year.

She is right, of course. This won't mean she will succeed. Many parents and schools pay lip service to healthy eating and bemoan how children are spoiled yet they are the chief engines of this spoilage. Go to any supermarket and watch parents buy food. The fresh food isles are smaller than the sea of prepared foods. The snack food/empty calorie drink isles have mushroomed greatly and now take up a good hunk of the stores. All heavily advertised and prettily packaged. If a store has a "health food" section it usually is a woeful thing which is increasingly filled with manufactured "food subsitutes". If you want a hamburger you might as well consume a cow.

Her bid to take on America's addiction to junk food is seen by many as an infringement of liberty akin to banning the right to bear arms. "Parents think they have a right to bring whatever you like to eat to school," she said.

"All of a sudden I will get 40 letters from one school telling me it's unconstitutional to stop them. 'Why can't we have French fries?' I'm asked.

" 'Well,' I reply, 'state law makes our children go to school and, by golly, we should do them no harm when they are in our care.' "

It is a colossal challenge. As the rest of the world has watched in horrified wonder, for more than two decades Americans have been getting fatter and fatter. In few states is the problem more acute than Texas, where more than a third of school-age children are overweight or obese - more than double the national average of about 12 per cent.

French fries, if they are baked, are OK if they retain the skin on one side and are not consumed in great quantity. The McDonald's version is toxic waste time.

This week, as Right-wing groups and the fast-food industry accused the "anti-obesity lobby" of peddling myths, Bill Clinton, long known for his fondness for the deep fry, began a campaign against childhood obesity.

The former president has lost more than a stone since he had quadruple heart bypass surgery last year. He has teamed up with his successor as governor in Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, who has lost nearly eight stone in the past two years and written the book Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.

Their campaign has drawn positive headlines but the real drive for change is coming from Texas.

Mrs Combs's new regulations for school meals are the strictest - and healthiest - in the nation. When the legislature blocked her plan, she pushed it through by fiat in a recess. Cue outrage from all sides.

We liberals know the conservatives love to meddle in our private affairs, the more private, the more they lust to interfere. When we warn them this sword cuts two ways they scream and continue onwards. Well, if the Pope or Bush can dictate when or if I have a baby then I can tell them what to eat and when to go to bed. Deal?

The religious right wants us to talk religion. Well, we should talk about those old Seven Deadly Sins. You know, the lust and rage and greed and obesity stuff. The stuff that Republicans do blissfully and indeed, consider prime steak virtues. The Christian religion tells us that we should control our animal urges and this includes stuffing our faces with fatty foods while others in the world starve to death.
"This is a battle we cannot afford to lose," she added. "We are huge. We are fat. We deserve our national stereotype.

"When I was growing up, the joke 'fat' image used to be of huge Russian women on the Black Sea. Now the image has moved to Miami."

She blames an array of factors for America's bulging waistlines, including the increase of portion sizes and the decline in exercise at school. "No one sweats any more. No one goes back to class stinking like a boar hog. We are all fresh and sparkling," she said.

This feast of goodies is a recent change in our culture. The Victorian adults ate heartily but they greatly restricted food for the children feeling that an overfed child would be a danger to growing up sober and civilized. So candy was tremendously restricted and indeed, appeared only on very special occassions. A slice of fruit pie was considered a huge reward which is why old cartoons feature children trying to steal the pie all the time. The Victorian kitchen like the medieval ones, was a locked place that didn't allow children to root about. Even up into the seventies, a stock cartoon gag was the one of a boy caught stealing from the cookie jar. Cookies were handed out one at a time, via mother.

Back then, that cartoon gag was old fashioned and woefully out of date. Today's families allow the kids to rampage through the kitchen unimpeded and everyone is eating a diet as if Spanky and his Gang are in charge of planning dinner. Halloween which was a time when children would dress up and beg for fruits and nuts has evolved into an orgy of eating masses of high calorie candies which rot the teeth and destroy the health.

It should be banned.

Here is another story about children and food:

Trying to coax children into eating their greens is a task that defeats most parents, however determined.

The answer, it appears, may lie in vegetable ice cream and frozen yogurts - the latest "disguise" for unpopular vegetables that would otherwise be left half-eaten on the plate or thrown on the floor.

It sounds unappetising, but when vegetables are mixed with sweeter products such as sultanas, mint and oranges, and presented in a tub or cone as ice cream, children take to them with relish. That is the theory, at least.

The ice creams will be launched soon but are being unveiled next Friday at the Baby Show at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham. Gerrie Hawes, of Fresh Daisy, an organic frozen baby food company which supplies Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and independent delicatessens, said: "A lot of parents have problems with vegetables in their children's diets so I created recipes introducing red cabbage, broccoli, carrots, parsnips and peas into a kid's favourite treat - ice cream.

My mother gave me some sweet pea seeds to plant when I was a child. I watched them grow and then ate the peas. This was often my "dessert". To go out into the garden and harvest these peas. We were also given 10 cents a week after doing chores suitable for our ages to buy one piece of candy after Church. My Victorian grandfather was outraged by this.

When healthy food has to be smothered in sugar they are no longer healthy. Popping a vitamin pill makes more sense in this case. If a child refuses to eat this means the child is no longer hungry. Off to bed! This cruel edict can be a problem but ignoring childish squeals of rage isn't that hard to do. Laughing helps. Children would happily eat only candy if you give them this. Giving the fat little tots more candy so they will eat something else is insanity. The photo of the little boy eating pea icecream in the article cited here says it all. He doesn't need to eat more. He needs to be hungry enough to eat what mommy serves him.

When overseas I have witnessed actual starvation. It sears into the mind. Starving children will eat anything, even plaster and dirt. Spoiled children hold out for candy. Many of the overweight children today come from families whose parents or grandparents went hungry. These parents are understandably anxious to make their children fat and happy. They will indulge in anything to see them eat and smile. I come from generations of upperclass Protestants. They were very set on not spoiling children. Since food was always there and there were never worries about it, the parents could restrict food at will and they did this with a vengence.

All in the name of making their children strong and clever.