Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why we're fat: An exhausting analysis: Part 1

Have you heard of obesity? It's a real problem here in America. Everyone has a solution to the problem it turns out. That solution, per the internet, is to hate corn syrup with as passion as one can muster, eat cayenne pepper, lemons and legumes, and spend lot's of money on school lunch programs.

Alternately, we could have a sincere discussion about how and why people are obese. That won't generate votes, justify food subsidies, or land Chartwells any sweetheart government deals, but it might yield solutions.

The truth is, the sheer volume of reasons why we are fat require a treatise. So that's what I'm gonna write.

Reason 1: We hate our children, or behave as though we do

Consider a typical child's day of eating.

Breakfast: Cereal that tastes like donuts, juice.
AM Snack 1: Milk, cookie.
AM Snack 2: Fruit, juice.
Lunch: Sandwich that tastes like a donut, chocolate milk, chips.
Lunch dessert: Chips, juice.
PM Snack 1: Yogurt that tastes like ice cream.
Dinner: Mac and cheese that tastes like salty donuts, milk.
Dessert: Ice cream that tastes like yogurt. Sprinkles.
For no reason at all: Candy
Bedtime snack: Crackers, cheese, milk.

So, basically, eight desserts, an absurd amount of dairy, and some junk food. Why do parents do this? How did we get here?


Remember the food pyramid, which posited a diet built on a bedrock of grains and dairy? It was on the wall of every science classroom in the country, giving it an air of objective authority. There was no science behind it, of course... It was negotiated between the various farm lobbies and the FDA. Of course, the good people of General Mills were more than happy to disseminate this "information", though they failed to sell parents on the idea of purple horseshoes as a fruit.

And milk? Milk has calcium, which does a body good, builds strong bones, and keeps your teeth from falling out. After all, bones are made of calcium, right? Good enough for the dairy industry to sell the FDA, as though there was epidemic of children shattering their hips during recess.

Thing is, though, studies conclude that children are fine consuming 300-400 mg of calcium per day. Even in America, where the dairy industry still more or less sets dietary guidelines, children only need 800 mg. Calcium is toxic for children in doses above 2000 mg. 1 cup (not glass) of milk has 300 mg. So the diet above, in addition to being a nutritional disaster otherwise, also delivers a toxic dose of calcium.

Picky Eaters

Of course, kids would do just fine getting their calcium from vegetables. For some reason, though, kids don't like them, and will notoriously reject foods if they are told they contain vegetables. The appropriate parental response to this predicament, of course, is "tough shit, kiddo. Eat it or starve," but that fell out of vogue...

...Right about when my parents started raising children. As such, we have now a generation of new parents who cannot, themselves, tolerate vegetables (more on that later). One can scarcely compel his children to eat that which he will not eat himself, and the whole task of compelled consumption is so unseemly, not to mention arduous.

Of course, it's hard to expect kids to eat broccoli when they know you will give them salty donuts in a box. Kids are stupid at most things, but prove to be tactical geniuses when it comes to the procurement of food they enjoy.

Yogurt and Juice

Do parents ever wonder why it is their kids like these items so much? It's not the vitamin A.

Snacks before bed

Child does not want to go to bed. Child pretends she is hungry. Parents oblige with crackers. Child then pretends to be thirsty. Parents oblige with milk. Parents wonder why child wets the bet and where she learned to lie to her parents.

Let's end this madness, eh?

Dining out

Most parents can't cook worth a lick (more on that later), and so their children learn that the only good food comes from restaurants, either in the form of fast food or kiddie menus. Of course, all of this food is salty, chemical laden trash, served in ridiculous quantities, and so this becomes the standard against which all meals should be measured.

Peer Pressure

The slim minority of parents who work diligently to feed their kids healthy food are met with a veritable tidal wave of tut-tutting from parents who think the mere fact of being pre-pubescent entitles kids to eat pre-fab glop at all hours of the day. I've seen people literally go out of their way to provide junk food to these kids when their parents aren't around.

See, one way or another, people internalize their relationship with food. For most Americans, food is one of the few things that makes them happy. Most people grew up eating junk, and junk is what made them happy. Any parents opting for a different paradigm are seen as judgmental. Imagine if someone said "I want to raise my kids so they don't turn out like YOU."

Others, grandparents in particular, simply feel it is their responsibility to spoil children. Candy is an affordable way to do so.

Grocery store tantrums

Because they are run by opportunistic pricks, most major grocery stores do their able best to put expensive junk food items in easy reach of children (unless state law forbids them to do so). This gives kids the ultimate trump card in their quest to eat delicious food, the in-store tantrum. Embarrassed parents make absurd purchases in order to quiet their little scream-bags, who consequently learn that screaming = gratification.

By my lights, a child screaming sounds better than the strained silence of acquiescence.

Next up - Reason 2: Cooking anxiety


Blogger brgulker said...

Good post, Kevin. I look forward to the rest of it.

Also, where can I get donut-flavored sandwiches?!!?

12:39 PM  

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