the end of mystery meat?


I've been hearing a lot lately about the fight against childhood obesity, and after watching the sneak peek of Jamie Oliver's new show, Food Revolution on ABC, I became even more interested in what is being done to combat unhealthy eating in public school cafeterias and households. Other than Oliver's show, I don't really know what spurred this new-found interest in school lunches, but the information I have come across is appalling and saddens me for the future condition of millions of school children. The food served to them in their cafeterias, and by many of their parents at home is literally killing them slowly, one pizza roll at a time.

I was blessed to grow up with a mother who cooked us healthy and nutritious meals, encouraged us to eat fruits and vegetables and did not bend to our whines for junk food or refusal to try a meal she had spent a great deal of time preparing (the Turkey Stuffing Debacle of '95 and the Cod-Spitting Fiasco of '93 come to mind...) I also attended a school that did not provide on-site lunches, with the exception of one-day-a-week pizza day, and even then we were limited to the number of slices we could order. That meant brown-bag packed lunches from home, which always included a fruit or vegetable, healthy protein such as turkey or peanut butter, and a small treat like a few Oreos or fruit snacks.

My parents were great about teaching all of us the importance of staying active and the rule of "everything in moderation," but I know that we were very much in the minority. I distinctly remember spending the night at a classmate's house in 4th grade and being completely dumbfounded at the fact that their mother let them eat Twinkies before dinner, their pantry stocked full of bins of candy (complete with metal scoops, just like the candy store) and the exorbitant amount of Sprite and Coke in their refrigerator. As a 10-year-old, of course I was a little jealous, they were practically living in their own personal Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory! Looking back now, however, I remember how sickly my classmate and all of her sisters always looked, how much school they missed due to illness, and the youngest child's entire upper row of teeth capped in silver. Throw in the three or four ferrets this family let run rampant throughout their house, and I can safely say it might have been one of the unhealthiest living environments I've come across. (Why was I allowed over there again?)

Thankfully, steps are being taken to change what goes into school lunches and public figures are putting pressure on food companies to reduce the amount of salt, sugar, and fat in their products and change the way they market to children. Hopefully, this change will strike a cord with parents and alterations in at-home meals will take place as well. (One thing I loved about Jamie Oliver's show is that he not only attempts to restructure a school's food system, but also goes into homes and teaches families how to revolutionize their eating habits. Making changes at the foundation is key to these practices becoming habits.) Michelle Obama recently submitted an article to Newsweek about her crusade against childhood obesity and was invited to speak at the Grocery Manufacturers Association- which counts Kraft Foods Inc., Coca Cola Co. and General Mills Inc.-among its members. In her speech she urged the nation's largest food companies to speed up efforts to make healthier foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

Hope does seem to be on the horizon, with initiatives being made to reduce the amounts of unhealthy elements in junk foods, as well as one aspect of the new Health Care Bill taking effect immediately--chain restaurants will be required to prominently display nutrition information. As opposed to the Bill that most people are, and as many things wrong with it as there may be, I think this could prove to be extremely beneficial in changing the food landscape in America. For example, most people have no idea that coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories. (Read more HERE)

As a member of the fattest country in the world, I sincerely hope that efforts such as these help Americans change their own eating habits and those of their children to ensure long, healthy, fulfilled lives.


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