I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Ever Changing Food Pyramid

 I like Michelle Obama. I think she is cool. I think she puts up with a lot of crap from the fundamental right wing media - comments about her "big butt" and communist leanings (and for anyone who says that, I challenge you to stay away from a tried and true "communist" place in every community... the library! The devils!). Which is ironic because one of her major initiatives is to make our children healthier by providing better food in the lunch room. She envisions a world where our kids don't gorge on french fries every day and get so hyped up on strawberry milk that they can't sit still for the second half of their school day.

Honestly, I don't think healthy food should even be considered a political agenda. As with many other things in our country that are bizarrely wrong, it is a no-brainer. If the federal government is going to subsidize or mandate nutrition for children in public school: it should be healthy. It should not be contributing to the growing American obesity epidemic.

 Now I approach this topic with a true sense of realism. Kids love junk food. They love sugar. It is often more of a struggle to force broccoli than it is to appease them with hamburgers. I am not a fan of fad diets or extreme eating in any way: the name of the game is moderation. I understand why people are vegans or vegetarians: it is a very healthy lifestyle. But it is also expensive, time consuming and not entirely realistic for growing children. I used to pay close attention to every label and spend the extra money for organic this and organic that... but as a family of five, it is virtually impossible to weed out the unwanted fats, sugars and (gasp!) high fructose corn syrup.

 Recently, our "food pyramid" changed to MyPlate. If you grew up in the eighties like me, you remember the different colored levels of the pyramid - calling for a certain number of servings of grains, fruits/veggies, fats and proteins. MyPlate is still that general idea - but recommends filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal. Easier said than done. Because many of us lack the initiative or time to closely inspect calories - the plate image teaches us to have visual cues for how much is enough. We all overindulge. It's almost impossible not to. Restaurant portions are absurdly large and well, snack food is just so damn delicious.

 Like it or not, our food choices and availability are influenced by corporations and the USDA. McDonald's is the largest purchaser of potatoes in the country: so their preference in potatoes dictates what 90% of potato farmers will grow. Say goodbye to diversified crops. All of this makes it more difficult for independent farmers to be successful or even make a living. The USDA chose to subsidize corn, which led to insanely cheap corn byproducts that are now in almost every food we eat. The same goes for soy... it is in everything. These are not necessarily good choices; and when the government has such a huge influence on what our kids are eating: we should pay attention.

 The guidelines over the last century have changed dramatically. When food was rationed during WWII, the pyramid reflected our limitations. And earlier than that, when our country was recovering from the Great Depression, the USDA recommended that a good meal was a main course of whole milk, with a side of white bread to dip in it. Milk was the most affordable protein and kids at that time needed as much fat as they could get to thrive. I read this all in a really neat article in Food Network Magazine a few months ago - and of course I can't find it online anywhere.

My point is this: the government doesn't always get it right when it comes to our food. They do a horrible job at regulating the meat industry. Not to mention genetically modified foods and Monsanto! And right now, it is a disaster in school lunch rooms. If you caught Jamie Oliver's show where he challenged the state mandates for chocolate and strawberry milk, it is obvious that change is hard to come by. Basically, he wanted flavored milks OUT of the lunch room because they contain more sugar than soda. What kid is going to choose the 1% milk when they can have delicious flavors? The government's "logic" was that more kids will choose milk if they have enticing flavors. Jamie's logic was that elementary age kids don't get a choice when it comes to milk. They will get thirsty and they will learn to like the white milk. His Food Revolution is pretty freakin awesome.

 I really respect that Michelle Obama is making this a priority because while most of this responsibility should fall on parents to teach good food choices, from the state of our collective health, parents are not doing a very good job. Heart disease, diet-induced diabetes and high cholesterol are all serious problems our kids are facing. I don't say this with judgement. I took my boys to McDonald's for lunch today. That indoor playground has us hooked! But you can bet we are eating broccoli for dinner tonight.

 All I know is that I pack Ayla's lunch every day because the two times she has ordered lunch in the cafeteria, she promptly threw up later that evening. No one is helping her to make good choices. When we ask what she picked - it was the winning combination of chicken nuggets AND a hot dog AND fries. The week that highlighted the "National School Lunch Program" was a different variation of pasta/pizza/cheese every day. How's that for moderation?


  1. Please don't encourage those people to boycott the library. I don't think they have much trouble staying away from books as it is.

  2. Yes, ol' fashioned book reading isn't nearly as fun as watching angry newscasters. But that's the thought that pops into my head every time someone starts a communist diatribe. Other than taxpayer money spent, what's to not love about the library? What a novel communist idea started by none other than Ben Franklin! People are so dumb.

  3. I follow Michelle Obama's work as part of my job and the situation is really depressing. She had to change her initiative from 'eat less junk and play/exercise more' to just "let's move". The food lobbies (junk food, soda, restaurant and Corn Refiners of America) were so threatened that she would even suggest kids eat less junk (their plot is hook 'em young, keep 'em for life - just like big tobacco) that they poured a billion dollars into lobbying against her program. She was outmatched and had to step back to just "play/exercise more."

    There are a lot of really good scholarly/policy wonk websites out there that offer research about this subject but my favorite is foodpolitics.com. Its a good place to go, especially if you want to be outraged and have it backed up by facts.

    You're armed with broccoli and they're armed with talking sweet candy and catchy songs! Keep on fighting the good fight, Alexis!

  4. Yikes! I do like a good website for inciting my outrage at corporations. I know from first-hand experience how the junk food industry markets to kids... and it really works! They want Spongebob macaroni and cheese, Dora the Explorer yogurt and McDonalds every 50 feet on the highway.

    Should I consider just moving into an Amish community? They are the only people that aren't going to be fat hogs addicted to corn syrup and Rice Krispie treats.