Monday, December 12, 2011

Breaking Our American Food Obsession

by Kelley Lindberg

(Between a sick kid and major deadlines, I’m squeezed too tight to be creative today, so I’m presenting an oldie but (hopefully) goodie from my archive of blog postings. Enjoy, and see you next week!)

Americans are obsessed with food. It’s one of our worst habits (aside from overspending, exporting bad dramas, consuming the majority of world resources, and gloating as morons humiliate themselves on reality TV shows). As a culture, we adults have become so food-driven that we can’t conceive of having any sort of social function without involving food. It’s the ultimate crutch – “Well, if we can’t think of anything to say, we can always eat something.”

Want to get together with a friend for an hour? Let’s do lunch or grab a coffee.

Want to go see a movie? Let’s get a large popcorn, even though we just had dinner.

Kids’ play date? Let’s bring snacks.

Business meeting? Order doughnuts.

Going to a kids’ soccer game, in which we actually get them outside running around? Quick, make an assignment list so we know who’s bringing the Oreos and Kool-Aid. Our kids can’t possibly last one whole hour without refined sugar coursing through their blood stream.

Science Fair award ceremony? We’d better order refreshments, ‘cause nothing says “Good job dissecting that cow’s eyeball” like a dry, store-bought, prefabricated chocolate chip cookie (speaking of science experiments…).

It’s obscene. No wonder we are a nation known for our obesity. (Not to mention diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems.)

The thing is, kids aren’t born like that. We go to great pains to teach them this behavior.

Adults would never leave half a cookie uneaten on a plate. Kids do. All the time. They get full (or bored) and they stop eating. Whoa, just try and find an adult that can do that! To most kids, snacks are cool, but playing is better. Ask a kid: Would you rather have a pizza or a new Legos set (or Barbie, video game, or ticket to the latest movie)? I guarantee you the kid will pick the new toy or movie.

This food obsession is an adult one. We force it onto our kids. It starts early, and we reinforce it hard. So by the time they’ve become teenagers, they’re firmly locked into the unhealthy eating habits that characterize America.

The frustrating part is, even if we try to break the habit in our families, our teachers do it.

Although our school has a well-known policy against using food in the classroom as rewards, we still have incidents crop up every month or two where we have to re-educate teachers or parents or substitutes about it. That’s just going to be the way it is, as long as adults are involved in our school. “The class that does the best Nutrition presentation gets a pizza party! Right after lunch! Yea!” Hunh? Yep, an adult would dream that one up. The kids would rather get a free hour on the playground. No brainer. But no one ever asks the kids. We just apply our tiny little restricted adult brains to the problem and come up with… wait, I know! Food!

A friend of mine in another school attempted to introduce the idea that using food as a reward is a non-useful teaching tool. (She doesn't have food allergy issues. She does, however, worry about her kids developing unhealthy approaches to food.) At her community council meeting when she brought this up, she encountered the resistance all adults throw up when faced with change. The immediate reaction was “How on earth could we NOT use Tootsie Rolls as rewards for getting right answers?”

Right there, I see two problems. First, they’re using food as a reward – bad American habit! Second, they’re REWARDING kids for getting a right answer. What? We have to bribe our kids to answer every question, now? That’s setting up a true sense of entitlement – another one of American society’s big ills. Getting a good grade should be the reward. A sense of accomplishment is a reward. Praise from the teacher (“Good answer, Freddy”) is a reward. Our kids are being turned into guinea pigs who have to ring a bell to get a pellet. But that’s a different issue for a different day.

It’s time we adults began to take a hard look at our own eating and socializing habits, because we can’t expect our kids to have a healthy view of food if we don’t. That whole “Do what I say, not what I do” thing really doesn’t work.

If you agree with me, let’s talk about it. We can do it over lunch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is why my answer to bad ideas at school, mixed with food at school is to home-school. Oh, we are still obsessed with food, but it comes in the form of a baking lesson...where we can substitute bad ingredients, avoid allergens, and cut back on the sugar in a recipe. My kids favorite is carrot cake with cream cheese icing. The icing recipe calls for 4 cups of powdered sugar (WHAT!), I cut that down to 1 1/2 cups of sugar and it is still really sweet.
Keep up the good work on the blog. Have a great Christmas!