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March 02, 2006

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Allison

I agree, up to a point. There have been studies done showing newborns pretty much come pre-programmed to prefer sweet tastes over all others, which makes sense since they live off milk for the first six months or more. But there was another study involving babies and smushed-pea babyfood showing that if kids are offered (not pushed, but offered) the same food day after day, after about 10 days they will not only eat it but decide they like it. And of course, kids aren't going to starve if parents don't bring home any junk food. They'll eat what's available.

My kids are famous in our social group for eating stuff that my friends' kids won't. They like Thai food, fish, veggies, salads, Indian curries, etc. It's because they've always been exposed to these foods, so nothing seems wierd to them, and we don't force them to eat stuff they decide they hate. It makes them more likely to want to try new things.

Citations

Yes, we did the same. In fact, my children are far less picky eaters than I am. And while we never forced them to eat anything, we never made them separate meals either.

My son is famous for ordering goat. And liking it. We were at some New York restaurant, what can I say?

Jill

The Food Source has to be invested in creating good habits, and I don't see a lot of that out there. It's easier not to fight that battle for most people, it seems.

Also, with some kids, it's a victory to get ANY food into them. My goddaughter, for instance, has been in the high %ile of height and the low %ile of weight since her birth, and has been a picky eater since the first jar of baby food was opened. If she'll eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, they're just happy she's eating ANYTHING, even if it is a cereal with vitamins and minerals sprayed on.

I grew up eating good foods and never getting anything to drink other than milk, water, or (sometimes) juice. I developed my insane love for pop and my unhealthy adoration of processed foods all on my own. {g}

transmogriflaw

I think it's very much a question of economics. Packaged, brightly colored, highly processed food is often cheaper than the healthier alternatives.

My sister counsels very poor patients as a family practice doctor for a public health clinic. They know that they should feed their kids vegetables etc., but they don't have access to good produce in their neighborhood, they don't have cars to go to better neighborhoods, and they work very, very hard to make the pittance that they do make, so they can't waste their hard-won free time making trips for fresh vegetables. So processed, very bad food it is. Plus, there is an emotional connection: in lives that are otherwise extremely difficult, eating and enjoying some bad food is a rare pleasure.

It doesn't work to tell them that they should just eat better. They know that already. Telling them to eat better doesn't solve the fundamentally economic problems of deep poverty. My sister and I both get very frustated with the school of thought that obesity would be fixed if those weak-willed fat people would just buck up and exercise some willpower. For my sister's patients, they frankly work harder and have a heck of a lot more willpower than a lot of their wealthier critics. She's always astonished at what they go through to just get their kids to the low-income health clinic. Going somewhere to buy fresh vegetables is just not on the radar - and not possible.

Citations

Regarding costs, it is a myth that processed is always cheaper. Faster yes, but in fact the more processed a food is the more expensive it is. I refer you to this post as one anecdotal example, which I can back up with my own experience.

Regarding accessibility: that is a difficult but not, I think, insurmountable problem. The lack of decent grocery stores in our inner cities is scandalous, I agree, and causes more difficulty for people lacking resources and choices. However, even in inner cities I think market forces might work, and if a corner store finds enough people asking it to stock some fresh fruit, for instance, it might well begin to do so. Also, the percentage of our general population living in inner cities is not all that large, and the problem of generally unhealthy diets spreads far beyond those boundaries.

I'd also like to point out that the WIC program is probably one of the most successful government aid projects ever, and it subsidizes only healthy food.

I would never deny the momentary pleasure of biting into a fatty, salty, or sugary food -- I've done it plenty of times and more than I should. And now, during finals week... But I will say that a more enduring pleasure is good health, for oneself and one's children.

transmogriflaw

I am pessimistic that market forces will ever change the quality of the food offered in inner cities (or, where my sister works, in exurb agricultural communities - the lack of good food is not just an inner city problem.) It's getting worse, not better. The place where my sister works is semi-agricultural, yet her patients eat far worse than the town did a generation or so ago, when they frequently had access to home-grown vegetables. Now they don't have that, because what was once a farming community is now made up of an underclass of migrant workers and cheap laborers who don't put roots down long enough to grow food.

When I say processed food is cheaper, I mean that it is cheaper for the poor population my sister serves. Sure, broccoli bought at a middle-class grocery store is probably cheaper than the same bag of chips bought at that store. To me and you, safely in the middle class, yes, it's a myth that processed food is cheaper. But that is NOT the case for the poor population I'm familiar with, and I doubt it's the case for most poor people in the U.S. Many people have to do their grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, for example, which subsidizes snack foods to a ridiculous degree. They may not have working stoves at home to cook the broccoli even if they can get it. Or they live in a rented apartment with ten other people and they have to use the stove in shifts during the few hours they have off of their work. The cheap, easy bag of chips is going to win every time.

I would never deny the momentary pleasure of biting into a fatty, salty, or sugary food -- I've done it plenty of times and more than I should. And now, during finals week... But I will say that a more enduring pleasure is good health, for oneself and one's children.

I agree with you here, and it's how I try to live my life, but this sentiment is no use to a person who lives day to day. The crushing cycle of poverty makes it very difficult for poor families to think about next month, let alone long term health. And really, from their point of view, why should they care about long-term health? There is a pessimism and hopelessness about the future that comes with poverty that makes it hard to see the need for giving up one of the few pleasures of life, tasty bad food.

Anyhow, I didn't mean to hijack your blog. It's just something that frustrates me (and my sister), the endless scolding that the poor American underclass gets about their diets. I agree with what you wrote as it applies to the middle class and up and in fact we do not eat fast food at our house because we don't want our son to learn about it. I also agree that the problem of bad diet is worsening.

Frankly, I think the only thing that is going to work as far as stopping the bad diet is to tax the hell out of snack foods. If it's dramatically more expensive than the equivalent healthy food, people won't buy it. In other words, take the cigarette approach, not for a fundraiser but as a public health deterrent. Beyond that, I don't see much improvement.

Citations

Okay, I've been mulling over the latest comment for a few days while I studied for torts, trying to decide how I want to respond. I'm not sure I've decided yet, but here goes something.

First, while I may be happily and cozily ensconced in the middle class now, that has not always been the case. As I've probably mentioned somewhere before, my parents were missionaries and there were times when we had No Money. None.

And when we did have money, there was never very much at all, and there were lots of people -- mostly big and hungry boys -- to feed. So my mom figured out how to feed them on pennies, and while I can't say I always liked the food (PLEASE do not mention lentils to me. Or tofu.) I can say that I always got fed and it was always healthy.

Sure, my mom is something of a nut (in a good way) and learned more about nutrition than anybody without a degree in it. She scoured the papers for ads and would figure out the cheapest place to get any given item on her carefully planned list. And yes, it took a lot of time. Of course we didn't have a tv, so she didn't have the option of daytime soap operas either.

What I'm trying to say in my inept and long-winded way is that I know first hand what it's like to be poor, and I know how to feed people healthy food with very little money.

It does take time and effort, though. So if people have no money, but aren't willing to spend the time and effort, it's going to be much harder to have a healthy diet.

Second, the scolding. Am I scolding? I didn't really intend to, I simply expressed some of what I think is causing the widespread (sorry) problems we're having with obesity (and diabetes, a related problem). There are plenty of people I'd be happy to scold, though; the politicians who don't properly fund school meal programs, the idiots who think four fried foods in a school lunch is a balanced diet, and yes -- the companies advertising sugary cereal as though it's the healthiest thing since granola. Which isn't necessarily healthy, but that's another story.

But for people who have a car to get to Walmart, and choose to shop there for their groceries, I can only hope for some kind of a revelation to hit them. There are other places to get your food, people. As for "cheap and easy," I'm not quite willing to assume that because someone is too poor to afford Whole Foods (that would be most of us) they are too lazy to put together a decent meal. Not great, just decent.

The entire attitude of "they really can't help it" strikes me, I fear, as a bit too patronizing -- while mine no doubt comes across as either unfeeling or Pollyannaish, although I assure you it is neither. But I must go study for my next exam at my high-falutin' law school, so I shall cease my ranting.

But you are welcome to hijack the comments any time -- it's always a pleasure to have a thoughtful discussion about this sort of topic, and more interesting when not everyone sees eye to eye.

And taxing unhealthy foods... what an interesting idea. Some of my beloved cheeses would no doubt double in price, alas.

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