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Why individuals "just saying no" to Big Food isn't enough

Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

First post...


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Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

This is a blog I read semi-regularly: Weighty Matters, by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff

Dr. Freedhoff is a family physician who specializes in obesity treatment and bariatrics, and is an advocate not only for evidence-based treatment of obesity and obesity-related illnesses, but also is an activist who speaks out against corporate food conglomerates who push junk food on children (and adults) through predatory advertising, sponsorship of events, lobbying government for as little regulation as possible and influencing government policy such as the Canada Food Guide, and by creating environments where junk food is ubiquitous.

On babble, we've had a number of threads over our history where we've discussed the rise of obesity and the junk food conglomorates who are promoting it, and there have been so many debates over whether the food industry should be regulated more, whether McDonald's or other fast food places share responsibility for obesity in our society, etc.

We have seen so many arguments here on babble about how it is each person's individual responsibility to eat properly, that no further regulation is needed, and people can "just say no" to junk food and fast food.  And that furthermore, if a child becomes obese, it is all the parents' fault, because parents can just stare down the overwhelming pressure from constant junk food advertising aimed at children by "just saying no" to their kids when they want junk food.

Well, Dr. Freedhoff doesn't think much of this individualistic solution, mainly because it just doesn't work in practice.  So he's started a new series of posts on his blog called "The Parental No Files", which features situations where parents are overwhelmed by the amount of junk food shoved at their children, and why there is a bigger issue than "just saying no".

The Parental No Files

All of the examples in the blog postings are real, sent in by parents who read his blog, and there are lots of other examples in the comments after the posts too.  Junk food at every meal at Girl Guide camp, city-run summer camps, hot dog day, pizza day at school, a pile of junk food given to preschool-aged children at a little kids' triathlon as loot packs for participating, donated by junk food sponsors (in which Dr. Freedhoff estimates there are more calories than the kids would burn doing the triathlon)...

Anyhow, I thought it would be an interesting thing to discuss, either as parents, or as individuals who have to fight off the constant messaging and availability of crap food ourselves after being inundated with it all our lives.

 


quizzical
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Joined: Dec 8 2011

i was raised vegitarian and no junk food or even sugar was allowed. mom was hardcore 'bout it. i wasn't allowed to go to anyone's house who would feed me junk food. it was 25+ years ago. and ya know what happened?  mom's aunt called CPS 'cause she felt i was being deprived. she was obese and still is.

it's a lot more acceptable today than back then to say no "junk food" to your children. i remember being angry 'bout all my friends having the toy sets from McDonalds and i didn't. told that to the worker who came to see if i was being denied food.  thesed days i thank mom for loving me enough to know what was best.. i've a healthy food pallate and just can't go to junk food places. 


onlinediscountanvils
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Michelle wrote:

We have seen so many arguments here on babble about how it is each person's individual responsibility to eat properly, that no further regulation is needed, and people can "just say no" to junk food and fast food.  And that furthermore, if a child becomes obese, it is all the parents' fault, because parents can just stare down the overwhelming pressure from constant junk food advertising aimed at children by "just saying no" to their kids when they want junk food.

Well, Dr. Freedhoff doesn't think much of this individualistic solution, mainly because it just doesn't work in practice.

 

Poverty is one example of why this doesn't work in practice. For the first dozen years of my life I'd say that my family ate fairly healthily. We ate a balanced diet. We never had sugary cereals in the house. The only time my dad ever bought pop was when we'd go camping on Victoria Day weekend. He'd buy a flat of pop, and that would last our family of five right through to the end of summer. But in the '90's things became very tight finacially, and it really had a negative impact on what we ate - and even more so on what we drank. Cheap processed foods replaced the more nutritious - yet more expensive - whole foods on our plates. And unlike my early years when our consumption of pop was kept to a minimum - a special treat for camping, fishing trips, and barbeques - 2-litre bottles of store brand pop gradually took the place of milk and juices in our refrigerator, becoming pretty much the only thing we drank at home. We didn't even drink water at home because the rising cost of rent in the city meant we eventually had to leave the suburbs and move into a rural area where our well water had a really bad taste which only my dad seemed able to tolerate. So yeah, it's not as easy as just saying 'no' to junk food. Proper nutrition is sometimes a 'luxury' that people can't afford, even when they know what things they should and shouldn't eat to be healthy.


Sven
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Joined: Jul 22 2005

quizzical wrote:

i was raised vegitarian and no junk food or even sugar was allowed. mom was hardcore 'bout it.

You're not actually implying that individuals have a choice about what to put in their mouths, are you?!


Sven
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Joined: Jul 22 2005

onlinediscountanvils wrote:

Proper nutrition is sometimes a 'luxury' that people can't afford, even when they know what things they should and shouldn't eat to be healthy.

There are tens of millions of grossly obese peope in North America...and North Americans are among the wealthiest people on Earth.


Ken Burch
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Joined: Feb 26 2005

A disproportionately large number of those people are from lower-income households, due to the fact that junk food is cheaper and much more easily available than nutritous, healthy food in the areas where lower-income people predominate.

Things like the the lack of supermarkets or farmers' markets and the destruction of community gardens in low-income areas to accomodate gentrification also make the problem much worse.  The closures of gyms and playgrounds in low-income neighborhoods reduces the ability people have to be physically active.  You can't just tell the poor "it's enough that you can go jogging".

Among working-class and middle-income people, obesity has been made worse, in significant measure, due to the increased hours working-class and middle-class people have been made to work since 1980 simply to hold onto the same purchasing power they had BEFORE what we can now call The Great Rearrangement.  Those extended hours often force people into worse nutritional choices(you can't really eat a nutrititous mean when you only have a 30 minute lunch hour, or when you're doing a working lunch at your desk, or when you're pulling forced overtime at the plant.  In those situations, people are pretty muched force to eat things like candy, chips and, God help us, microwave burritos.

And those extra hours also mean that people don't have the time they once had to exercise.

Other posters will be able to add greater detail to fill in this point.

You can't reduce the whole thing to bad individual choices, Sven.  There's a clear class basis to nutritional problems and obesity in North America.  Yes, North America is an overall wealthy place, but the concentration of wealth among a very few makes that meaningless when considering the reasons most North Americans who are obese happen to be.

The only way we can really make North Americans healthier is to create a society and a system with healthier values, one that doesn't treat large numbers of people as expendable.


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

Sven wrote:

onlinediscountanvils wrote:

Proper nutrition is sometimes a 'luxury' that people can't afford, even when they know what things they should and shouldn't eat to be healthy.

There are tens of millions of grossly obese peope in North America...and North Americans are among the wealthiest people on Earth.

And what about the bottom third  of prosperous America? Being poor and black or Hispanic in America is worse for your health than smoking or obesity.

And if they choose to be poor, then it surely can't be a result of shitty centrally planned economies. It's never the unspeakable truth.


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Sven wrote:

quizzical wrote:

i was raised vegitarian and no junk food or even sugar was allowed. mom was hardcore 'bout it.

You're not actually implying that individuals have a choice about what to put in their mouths, are you?!

Could we not do that, please?  No one is saying that individual choice is not a factor in obesity.  Could you please engage in the discussion intelligently instead of making sarcastic, mocking comments about things no one is saying?  You're being extremely disrespectful towards me by writing such a rude response to an opening post that I put a decent amount of thought into.

If you bothered to read the link (you didn't bother, did you?) you'd see that this doctor also limits junk food for his kids and has no problem with saying no.  He's saying that the pressure is overwhelming and that despite a parent's best efforts, kids are being bombarded with and surrounded by junk food advertising and people pushing crap food on them, and that for many parents, it is very hard to police everything a kid has pushed at them.

Unless, of course, you also advocate helicoptor parenting, where the mom and dad don't let the kid do anything on their own or make any of their own decisions.  Unless you're shadowing your kids 24 hours a day, you're not going to be able to stop them from eating crap food, because a) they're bombarded with advertising making them crave it constantly, and b) so many authority figures and role models in their lives are shovelling it at them, and you can't be the only authority figure or role model in your child's life.

If I remember correctly, you don't have kids, right Sven?  I remember how easy it was to be the perfect parent - before I had a kid.

quizzical, that's really interesting, about your mom.  I think your story is a good illustration about the almost irresistable, overwhelming pressure parents face when it comes to feeding their kids crap.  It's good that your mom was able to stare everyone down, including relatives who called a child protective service on her.  How many parents have the time, energy, inclination, or even knowledge about food that is so firm that they would resist to the point of staring down a child protective service over it?  My guess is not very many.


Michelle
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onlinediscountanvils, that's a great illustration of how poverty contributes to poor eating - I agree with your analysis of how poverty contributes to obesity, and thanks for sharing your personal example.  I also recognize that it's not just poor people who are obese.  Obesity happens in all walks of life, for various reasons.  But here are some of the main reasons for it in North America, in my opinion:

1. We're bombarded with advertising from the time we're babies for crap food.  We're trained by this advertising to think of crap food as comfort food, as happy food, as a love substitute, even as an object of love in and of itself.  We're taught to live to eat instead of eat to live.  We're actually encouraged to form addictions to these kinds of foods.

2. Therefore, when we're emotionally vulnerable in any way, the overwhelming abundance and availability of crap food, along with the overwhelming conditioning we've received our whole lives to think of crap food as comfort food, means that we turn to it.  Yes, we have the choice not to, but addiction is one of those things that overrides choice until you get proper intervention, which brings us to

3. There are a million profit-based "interventions" to "cure" the addictions to food created by conditioning from birth to become emotionally dependent on crap food and the broader availability of it.  Almost all of these interventions are based on "willpower" to make choices based on rules that contradict each other from program to program.  And almost none of them work long-term, except for maybe 1 or 2 percent of people who try them - everyone else who tries them ends up in a "yo-yo" - losing some weight, then gaining it back, and then putting on even more weight than when they started.

4. Even the one intervention that actually works long term when it comes to treating obesity - and that's weight loss surgery - requires the obese person to work on their addiction issues with food in an extremely hostile environment (which is everywhere, unless you decide to go off and live like a hermit in the wilderness and hunt and gather your food without any contact with the outside world of media).

So no one is claiming that personal choice doesn't play into the obesity rates being what they are.  The issue is that in North America, personal choice is being overridden by overwhelming conditioning and pressure, and we are allowing corporations to do their best to create addictions in people that they form as children and spend the rest of their adulthoods trying to overcome.  How can we see the huge and rising rates of childhood and adult obesity and still tell ourselves that this epidemic of addictive behaviour is not in any way created by the advertising and sponsorship of EVERYTHING kids do and like by junk food companies and that they bear no responsibility for this societal ill?

5. If poor people are more obese than rich people, it's not just a matter of cheap junk food vs. expensive healthy food.  It's an issue of time, of energy to cook cheap healthy food, of skill to cook healthy food, of emotional sustenance and ability to resist addiction.  When you're poor, you often work longer hours for less money, you often spend way more time getting to and from work, sometimes you work more than one job, and when you get home, you're exhausted.  Your kids watch more television because you're not around as much to supervise them, and because it's a cheaper pastime than signing them up for sports and stuff you can't afford.  They want to watch, and you let them watch, because you are exhausted after getting home from your shit job.  And to emotionally make up for the fact that you can't afford much in the way of treats, or fancy toys or other stuff, at least you can afford that bag of chips that advertising makes your child beg for.  At least it's one thing you can afford that they want and like.  You can't afford to take them to Niagara Falls or to the Science Centre, or to buy them the Nikes the other kids have, but at least you can afford to treat them to McDonald's and buy them a treat at the convenience store at the end of the block (which carries every kind of junk food on the market, but no vegetables or fruit or other healthy food).  And don't forget, you as an adult are also conditioned to comfort yourself with food, too.  You could go for a walk for 30 minutes after a physically and emotionally exhausting day at work, but you'd rather veg in front of the TV because, well, you're exhausted, and it's the only bit of comfort you get - some zone out time in front of the TV, and something sweet or crunchy to eat, maybe along with a beer.

These are the issues that come into play.  It's not just about saying no.  It's about the way we set up our society to encourage unhealthy addiction to crap food - and the corporations know it and tailor their advertising and sponsorships of events and ubiquitousness of crap food to encourage it.  Why do we allow them to do it when it's hurting us so much? 


Boom Boom
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TMN (The Movie Network) has been showing a three-part documentary this month, each 90 minutes long, about the obesity epemic affecting children in the US. It's chilling how lobbyists prevent Congress from passing laws to ensure schools have safe, healthy food in their cafeterias. It's especially bad in Wisconsin, which was profiled last night. It's unbelievable how much junk food is served up in school cafeterias despite Michelle Obama's (and others) efforts to convert school cafeterias acrross the US to healthy food. And that fruit juices - apple, orange, grape - have as much sugar as soda! And that shit like high energy drinks are sold in school cafeterias. 

When I went to school in the 1950s and 1960s, all I took for lunch in a brown paper bag were either peanut butter or ham and cheese sandwiches, and an apple - five days a week. I drank either cold milk from the school fridge or water. That was it.

School cafeterias - elementary and secondary - in the US serve up fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, pizza, and other high fat content foods, along with soda, energy drinks, as well as milk and fruits (that go largely unsold). Why are children being fed that shit in school????

US school cafeterias do have what they call healthy hot lunch specials - but look pretty disgusting and are mostly ignored by the children.

I think the solution is to ban school caferias from serving anything except sandwiches, fruit, a salad, milk, and giving free water - in glasses, not plastic bottles. Unfortunately, how do you defeat the lobbyists who fight this tooth and nail???

Not everyone suffers from obesity in the USA - but the problem is growing, as are diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems rarely seen before in young children. It's insane. 

And - only seven states have mandatory physical education in elementary schools - I think it's the same for secondary (high) schools in the US as well. Growing up in Ottawa and just outside Ottawa, physical education was mandatory - every day.

The documentary showed that all over the US, kids are more sedentary than ever - playing with video games, social networking (facebook)  on computers, and watching television - instead of going outdoors and getting exercise. No wonder there's a problem not only in the USA but here as well - our lifestyles here reflect the USA so much.

ETA: The documentary showed that pizza is classified as a vegetable in some school cafeterias. That's the problem in a nutshell.


Michelle
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Boom Boom, Jamie Oliver has a series called something like "Food Revolution" where he goes into US school cafeterias and tries to change what they're serving (because pretty much everything they serve is crap, and even the few "healthy choices" available in some of them are crap too), and he faces an uphill battle with the school administration over cost.

And yet, I keep hearing from some here on babble that healthy food is so much cheaper than junk food.  Then why is it that Oliver had to fight tooth and nail for the schools to allow him to spend more on fresh food than the disgusting meat slurries and shit that US cafeterias feed to their kids every day?

Oh, and no, it's not always possible for parents to just pack a lunch.  First of all, many of the US schools discouraged parents from doing that.  Secondly, there are so many food allergies these days that what we used to take for lunch to school isn't allowed anymore (staples like peanut butter sandwiches, nuts as snacks, and sometimes even certain types of seeds - forget it), and there's no refrigeration for the kids so that what they are allowed to take can be palatable or not riddled with salmonella by lunchtime (e.g. yogurt, fish, egg or tuna or salmon salad sandwiches, etc.).  Thirdly, the reason for school lunch programs, especially in poorer schools, is because parents don't have money for lunches or breakfasts, and also because many low income parents are working two jobs to make ends meet and don't have time to cook or prepare nutritious lunches.

 


Boom Boom
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With regard to your point about food allergies - yeah, but all parents need to pack something suitable for their kids. And teach them not to share lunches with others. Food safety and food health begins at home.

Get rid of the school hot lunch programs altogether, and throw out the junk food. For those in need, have packed lunches (sandwiches, etc) readied in place of the hot food program.

The documentary also showed that every school cafeteria surveyed had potato chips, nacho chips, and other crap displayed prominently by the cash register - get that crap out now!

And have water fountains - no more bottled water.


Boom Boom
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Actually, Jamie Oliver or anyone else will never be able to have much influence, because the USA is ovevrrun with junk food lobbyists who control Congress. It's a lost cause. Those parents with a modicum of common sense will look after their kids well, and they'll be the minority. Michelle Obama wasn't able to beat the lobbyists and mandate safe and healthy food choices.


lagatta
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Boom Boom, hot lunches are a way of making sure kids eat some vegetables (in soup etc) which they might not eat otherwise. And might sandwiches not be a healthy choice for those who have to avoid carbs, or gluten? The packed lunch also has to consider allergies. For example, I'm allergic to apples, a common fruit around here. Teachers forced me to eat them, and to drink milk, and were aghast when my face then turned beet red from allergic reactions.

Boom Boom
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You're missing my point, same as Michelle did. Parents are the ones responsible for their children's nutrition, and need to control what they give to their children - and teach them not to share.

The documentary showed that the hot lunches prepared by the schools - soups, meat slurries, etc are often just passed over in favour of fatty dishes like pizza, chicken nuggets, and so on. Why are pizza and chicken nuggets available in schools in the first place? Answer: because the junk/fast food lobbyists control everything.


lagatta
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Except in the case of serious allergies, I'd think teaching children not to share is socially extremely negative!

Left Turn
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If we're discussing cafeteria food, I'd like to bring up the cafeteria food on BC Ferries. Most of it is crap. And thanks to having outsourced their burger and fries menu to BC based restaurant chain White Spot, the burger menu is way more prominently displayed than any of the other items on their menu. And because it's White Spot, the menu on the wall advertises the burger combos with the fries and large soft drink. Absolutely ridiculous.

They do have other hot food items on their menu: clam chowder, soup of the day, chicken fingers and ceasar salad, terryaki noddles and vegetables. Thing is, these menu items are on a seperate, less prominently displayed menu board in a smaller font. Meanwhile, the White Spot burger combo menu is visible twice, on the outside wall of the cafeteria where you can see it before you even go in, and again above the hot food counter.

Not to mention that when I ordered the terryaki noodles in order to get some decent vegetable content, I had to wait ten minutes because they had all the space on grill taken up with cooking burgers. And this was when boarding as a foot passenger -- foot passengers board before the cars -- and going straight to the cafeteria. Which means they clearly filled up ll their grill space with burgers before anyone on the sailing even ordered anything. And then after telling me it would take ten minutes for the noodles, the woman at the hot food counter asked me if I really still wanted to order it.  The implicit message being that even though I could order it, they'd rather I not. What a load of crap.

They do have some healthier packaged salads and sandwiches -- healthier though not 100% fresh -- in a seperate cold food queue so you bypass the hot food counter. But right next to these are chocolate cake, nanaimo bars, brownies, and strawberry cheese cake. Not to mention that if a parent's kid wants a burger combo and the parent gives in, the parent probably also gets a less healthy hot food option because they're in that queue.

So no surprise, it looks to me as though 90% of the people who eat at the cafeteria on BC ferries get a burger combo. Not a good situation.

BC ferries really nneds to get their act together and get more healthier options on their menu. Except that it would mean standing up to White Spot, and we all no how not bloody likely that is.


Ken Burch
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Joined: Feb 26 2005

As a ferryboat steward on the Alaska Marine Highway System, I find that last post chilling.  It's probably what's going to happen on OUR boats in the next few years...since our governor is a privatization fetishist and embodies the kind of right-wing nutjobs who see daily burger consumption as a right granted by the White Christian Penisdeity.

BTW, Michelle, your posts #9 and #11 are exceptional contributions to this discussion.  Thanks for those.  You brought out a lot of points that help support the broad argument emerging in this thread for a social approach to obesity.

And I doubt we'll see Sven in this thread again any time soon.  Perhaps he's gone to White Castle.


Boom Boom
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lagatta wrote:
Except in the case of serious allergies, I'd think teaching children not to share is socially extremely negative!

Except children - indeed most people - do not know who around them have allergies. What if your child unwittingly caused serious harm or even the death of a fellow student due to an unknown allergy?

Food is an entirely separate issue from the practice of sharing. Share your clothes or crayons or pencils or what have you, but children should NEVER  share  food in an uncontrolled setting.


Mr.Tea
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One thing we need to emphasize is that "cheap" food is actually incredibly expensive. It's only cheap at the cash register. It's only cheap because all of the costs are externalized. So, McDonald's can sell a hamburger for a dollar because the factory farming industry gets massive taxpayer subsidies and because they are not held accountable for the massive environmental degradation to our air and water that they cause. Further, it's the taxpayers who are then on the hook for for the billions of dollars it costs to treat obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.


Boom Boom
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Absolutely right, Mr. Tea. Good post.


Boom Boom
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Back to the subject of school lunches: I was amazed to see in that documentary actual school cafeterias not only in secondary schools, but also primaray schools, in the USA.

From grades K to 8 I never saw a school cafeteria or even a lunchroom - we ate our lunch in class. Always sandwiches, an apple, prange, or banana, and milk, or water.

In secondary school (9 - 13) we had a lunch room with tables and chairs - no cafeteria, and definitely NO hot food, but also no soda machines or junk food of any kind sold on the premises.

Things have changed - and that's the problem.


Fidel
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Boom Boom mentioned that diabetes is on the increase in children. 

NY Times wrote:

“It’s frightening how severe this metabolic disease is in children,” said Dr. David M. Nathan, an author of the study and director of the diabetes center at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It’s really got a hold on them, and it’s hard to turn around.”

Before the 1990s, this form of diabetes was hardly ever seen in children. It is still uncommon, but experts say any increase in such a serious disease is troubling. There were about 3,600 new cases a year from 2002 to 2005, the latest years for which data is available.

The research is the first large study of Type 2 diabetes in children, “because this didn’t used to exist,” said Dr. Robin Goland, a member of the research team and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. She added, “These are people who are struggling with something that shouldn’t happen in kids who are this young.”

Rady Ananda wrote:
Factory foods comprise most of the US diet. Industrial food adulterations are directly responsible for the skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart and neurological diseases. Farm overuse of antibiotics has led to drug resistance in humans.

Big Food owns governnment. Policies for neoliberal deregulation have resulted in a loss of family farms and placed the emphasis on big agribusiness and industrial food. They are putting chemicals and antibiotics in our food that were never a part of the human food chain until relatively recent times. If they don't know what it's doing to our health, like they didn't want to know about tobacco for decades, then it looks like the unprecedented epidemic of diabetes in children will continue unabated. Monopoly capitalists prosper by deliberate and unwritten government policies that suggest what the public doesn't know can't hurt us.

The U.S. Government and our's are not very transparent or accountable to the public. The war on cancer is said to be another bogus government war on a deadly disease since Richard Nixon's time in the sun. They didn't want to know about the effects of tobacco for over 50 years, says U.S. public health authority Devra Davis. The corporate good is more important than human health as a general rule of thumb.

 


Left Turn
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Ken Burch wrote:

As a ferryboat steward on the Alaska Marine Highway System, I find that last post chilling.

The truly chilling part is that it happened under an NDP government.

The food service staff are still unionized and still make union wages, because they're trained to help evacuate the ferry in an emergency. But the burgers are the exact same ones sold at White Spot. Which as I said means that the burger menu is much more prominently placed than the menu with the other items.

White spot is a family style restaurant, so the burgers are slightly better than what you would get at a fast-food place, but they're still burgers. White Spot has other items on their menu at their restaurants, but only their burgers are on the ferry.

And while we're on the topic of White Spot, it's a sad irony that White Spot, as restaurant with the word 'white' as 50% of its name, remains the most popular restaurant chain in the Vancouver, despite Vancouver now having a majority population of people of colour. They have to their credit added a few asian items to their menu, but that doesn't really get to the root of the problem.


Fidel
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Kids pick nutritional Happy Meal when no toy offered with less healthy option: study

Quote:
Hobin said the fact children in the intervention group were more likely to opt for the healthier meals when a toy was offered suggests that restricting promotional premiums could be one way to get kids to avoid eating less nutritional fast food.

"Currently, Canada has very few regulations restricting food marketing practices directed at children, despite the fact that government and non-government organizations have identified that reducing food marketing to children as a priority in Canada's childhood obesity strategy," she said.

Alas, those occupying the halls of powerlessness in Ottawa can do nothing. Their impotence is not a real medical condition and exists only in their feeble minds.


Boom Boom
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I make beef and chicken burgers at home - old habits die hard. But I think I'm probably getting better nutrition than I would at a fast food joint - I include washed and dried lettuce, washed tomatoes, a slice of red onion, a slice of dill pickle, and a mixture of ketchup and mayo for the sauce - and used sparingly. And they are cooked on an electric grill which allows grease to seep into a tray below. And - I clean the grill after every use.

I don't have burgers very often - once or twice a week, max. I usually have a sandwich and water for lunch.

I really don't understand the American fetish for a hot meal at lunchtime in the schools - I never had a hot meal in either primary or secondary school. And there were never any fast food places around the corner, either. It was a different time, for sure.

 


lagatta
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Actually Britain introduced hot school dinners long before the US did, and they are a longstanding tradition in the Nordic countries. France if famous for its use of school dinners to introduce not only healthy food habits, but also exposure to a wide variety of foods, but their famed school dinner plan has come under criticism for its failure to accommodate vegetarians (and especiallly vegans). France is known to be rather militantly secular, but in practice, there are many schools in neighbourhoods with numbers of Muslim and/or Jewish students that refrain from serving pork, or make it one choice among others. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/sandwiches-m... One of MANY articles about French school dinners. A friend in France (originally Canadian, from Toronto, and secular-Jewish) confirms these practices, as his daughter (now at university) made her way through the publlic school system in the 19th arrondissement in Paris, an area where many people of Maghrebi origins, both Muslim and Jewish, live.

Timebandit
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Read this a little while ago on Slate.com:  http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/06/food_deserts_alice_waters_and_dietary_class_warfare_.html

Food deserts are—and have always been—a flawed conceit. As a measure of access to healthy food, supermarkets are crude. Some are flush with high-quality produce, but others have little concern for quality control. And while all supermarkets sell produce, they are also rife with processed junk (even Whole Foods).

What’s more, the method by which supermarkets are identified leaves out important nuances. Typically, a local list of food stores is screened for those that exceed a certain size. Modest green grocers, farmers’ markets, or street vendors won’t show up in the measure of “food access.” Indeed, one of the more obscure debates in policy circles is whether “food swamps” or “food grasslands” might be more apt descriptors. And while early studies found links between food access and either lower obesity rates or better diets, more recent ones question whether access plays a role in the obesity epidemic at all.

Despite the divided national debate about food choice vs. food access, the two camps are not diametrically opposed. I’ve been covering food and class for nearly a decade, and I’ve yet to meet someone doing supermarket development work who doesn’t think food education is important too. The efforts of Brahm Ahmadi, who’s trying to open People’s Community Market—a community grocery store in West Oakland, a textbook example of a food desert—is a case in point. And for all of Waters’ foibles, most chefs I’ve met grasp the economic difficulty faced by working-class Americans (not to mention the problem of time). Check out Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal for an example of someone using the language of high culture to promote very proletarian ideals.

Is availability an issue?  Maybe partly.  But have you never been in a grocery line with your pile of produce and the person ahead or behind you with an array of packaged and processed foods and nary a green in sight?  Part of the problem may be with access, but I think personal choice is also part of the equation.  And no way is "lunchables" packaged lunch with extra salt and sugar less expensive at the cash register than purchasing meat, cheese and crackers without the packaging.  I've done the math. Same goes for most other convenience foods.  I also spend no more than 10 minutes to pack two lunches in the morning - time is shorter now that the older one can pack her own.

I have a bit of a problem with the idea that saying "no" as a parent is such a difficult thing.  My kids get exposed to the same advertising as their peers, but they don't clamour for junk food or sugar cereals.  It's not that I've put a complete ban on them, either - chips are a once in a while thing, cookies are allowed in moderation, one box of sugar cereal to eat when we're on vacation per year, and once in a blue moon we'll visit a fast food joint.  But in a sense, it's not just the saying no or not - it's modeled behaviour and thinking.  If your attitude to fast/junk food is more positive, the kids will pick up on it.  If going out for a Happy Meal is presented as a fun event, of course the kids are going to think it's something to beg for.  If your attitude is that it's a once in a while thing that's fast and that you actually prefer better food, they'll model that in their own thinking instead.  So in a sense, it's more complex, but it is very close to the same thing.  The fact is, for a lot of adults, convenience is more important than quality and they may already have developed a taste for bad food that they're passively passing on to their kids.

I also reject the notion that bagged lunches are undesirable/dangerous/too difficult.  Salmonella from a tuna sandwich that was packed that morning?  Seriously? I send them with my kids frequently - we don't have cafeterias here - and in the last 8 years of school lunches that has never happened.  I also send thermoses with soups or leftovers like shepherd's pie or beef stew, spaghetti, etc, or instant ramen noodle with real veg and a thermos of hot water.  There are lots of things you can send that are better than pizza.  There are notices about allergenic foods that can't be in the environment - all schools are pretty much nut-free now, and the entire province of SK manages to run lunchrooms that are largely free of dangerous allergens. 

I don't think there's one cause or one cure.  But I do know that choice and our thinking as adults definitely is a factor in creating the tastes and behaviours our kids develop.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

Regarding food deserts, I think that is part of the problem here in Saskatoon.

The fact is that two of the cheapest grocery stores, with some of the highest-quality produce and meat are right in the centre of our "desert". But as Asian food stores they don't have dairy, bread, or a lot of other things that many people here are used to eating. So many wind up going to Giant Tiger.

This in no way lets the grocery store chains off the hook for abandoning the city centre, and I am not saying it is the fault of the people living in the core for not using foods they might be unfamiliar with. But it is maddening to see a food option which is better than the chains under-used, while people have to pay cab fare to get to a grocery store.

I remember that it was a similar story in Winnipeg when Eatons closed its food store in the basement downtown. 

And regarding school lunches, they actually ask parents to not send certain junk foods and candy. It is not strictly enforced, but from what I have seen it is generally followed.


Boom Boom
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Joined: Dec 29 2004

I find that if I have a hot lunch, I have to lie down afterwards. It's different at breakfast - you're just waking up and the hot food acts as a stimulant. I imagine a hot lunch at school would result in some sleepiness but perhaps not, as it seems to be more or less standard now.


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