Daily Archives: July 15, 2012

The Political Palate – Part I

It’s early Saturday morning and I have a long list of chores to do and errands to run, but I heard an ad on the radio on my way home from the gym that brought out the blogger in me.  The commercial starts off as a son calls his mother and tells her that he’s having eggs, bacon, sausage & griddle cakes for breakfast.  The mother asks “Wait a minute, how do you have time for all that?” to which the son replies “I went to McDonald’s!”   Mother’s reply:  “I raised you right!”  As a mother I was downright offended.  Really!  Are we now a society that accepts and, in fact, praises the McDonald’s mom?  The thought sickens me.
Wake up folks!  Mayor Bloomberg banning super sized drinks is not going to cure the obesity problem in this country.  The only way our children won’t become obese is if we are better parents and set a better example.  It is not the government’s job to dictate what we eat; it is our responsibility to choose wisely and then dictate what is provided to us as food in restaurants, schools, supermarkets, etc.  We live in the land of capitalism and we can control the markets with our consumer buying power.  Instead we allow the advertisers to control that buying power and choose poorly.  So let’s talk about a few of the most controversial topics when it comes to food:  fast food, school lunches, and portion size. 
I will warn you ahead of time that if this is a sensitive subject for you, you may want to consider not reading the remainder of this post.  It is not my intention to offend anyone or make anyone feel singled out.  It is simply my opinion whether you agree or not.
Fast Food
 I won’t claim that I have never eaten fast food because it would be a lie.  There are some chains I have never visited such as Taco Bell, KFC, Arby’s and quite a few others.  Not because I have anything against them, but I would rather make my own Mexican food and fried chicken.  I’ve heard Arby’s is actually not too bad, but I’m not a big fan of roast beef.  I have, on occasion gone to Wendy’s, McDonalds, Five Guys, etc.  And let’s face it there is nothing better than landing at LAX, picking up your rental car and picking up an In & Out Burger to eat on your way to Rancho Cucamonga.  Your destination may be different but the satisfaction is the same.  What I’m saying is there is nothing wrong with fast food if you eat it once in a while.  By once in a while I mean no more than twice a year.  Unfortunately for most families, fast food is the meal of choice multiple times per week.  The chains aren’t forcing it on us, we are choosing to eat the food.  This is not only unhealthy but so very sad.  In some cities like El Paso, TX the only food you can find on the main road through town are fast food chains.  Thank goodness for the little Mexican places that serve some delicious and authentic food on the side roads.
So, is fast food really faster or cheaper?  Or is it just an excuse for laziness?  I think you know where I stand.  In the time that it takes to get in the car, drive to the nearest chain, wait on line, order, pickup and return, I can easily put together a quick, healthy meal that is not laden with a thousand calories.  For example it takes exactly 20 minutes to make a meal of Cajun salmon, steamed broccoli and cous cous for a total cost of $8.00 which I’m sure is less than cost of two burgers, fries and sodas.  That’s less time & money than pizza or Chinese delivery.  I save the time-consuming preparations for the weekends or make them ahead of time.  And there is no supersizing in my house.  In fact the only choices for drinks are water or milk which is ok to supersize.  Soda and juice are treats to be had at parties and not everyday beverages.  The one thing we adjust is our dinner time.  I don’t understand why so many of us think we HAVE to eat at 6pm.  This only serves as an excuse for not having a healthy dinner.  There is no way I could provide a meal by 6pm.  Between work and my son’s activities, there is just not enough time to cook for that deadline.  So I give him a small snack and a glass of milk when he comes home from school and we eat anywhere between 7 – 8pm on most days.
Now I’m not telling anyone what to do because that would make me no different than Mayor Bloomberg.  But if someone chooses to live on fast food and junk food and become obese, please don’t expect me to contribute towards your rising health care costs, or to provide special treatment for airline seating, or give you a special advantage in any kind of competitive situation because of those choices.  Suck it up and deal with it!
Note:  Along with fast food, we try to limit going out to eat in general.  Especially at chain restaurants such as Chili’s, Houlihan’s, or my son’s favorite – Cheesecake Factory.  The food at these restaurants is very high in fat and calories.  While some places are trying to introduce lighter, healthier menus the number of calories in these options is still ridiculously high.  And that slice of cheese cake for dessert becomes tempting and negates any progress you made with the meal.  But I’m happy to see a start and they too are a fun treat once in a while.
School Lunches
A couple of years ago my son’s teacher called me up to specifically ask that I send a healthy snack with him at school instead of chocolate chip cookies or chips as I usually do.  I told her that when the school started offering an actual healthy meal for lunch I’d be glad to oblige.  That snack is the only treat my son gets in a day of otherwise healthy food.  He eats a very healthy breakfast which includes milk and some fruit, eats a lunch packed from home, generally a sandwich on multigrain bread or chicken w/ broccoli & pasta, and dinner is almost always a well balanced meal.  So I took offense to a teacher trying to control what I gave him for snack. 
Have you seen a school lunch menu lately?  Hamburgers made from mystery meat, hot dogs full of sodium and preservatives, fake chicken nuggets, ketchup considered as a veggie serving, and other crap that they pass for food.  If anyone watched the few shows that Jamie Oliver did recently trying to change the food quality in a school district, you understand how difficult an undertaking this is.  And yet they have the nerve to tell me that my two chocolate chip cookies are harmful to my child.  I say mind your own damn business!   But that is the difference between checking off a list versus actually understanding nutrition and that is where schools fail our kids today.  No common sense is used, just a set of arbitrary rules to accommodate the politicians and fulfill statistics.  Needless to say my son doesn’t buy lunch at school very often except for pizza on Fridays.  At least this is ordered from the local pizzeria and not the lousy stuff that was offered when I was in school with the plastic cheese on top.  So why is the garbage they pass off as lunch more affordable in a school budget than a real meal?  We pay $2.25 for our subsidized lunch program.  Are you telling me that this is not enough along with the money from our taxes to get some real food?  Well, it is the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   We, the parents, don’t demand and thus the schools have no need to supply.  And the parents that care simply send their kids with lunch from home.
Portion Size
We are a land obsessed with the concept “Bigger is better”.  We live in big houses, drive big cars, and eat big portions of food.  There is so much food wasted in this country on a daily basis while so many people go hungry all over the world.  One plate of food at some restaurants is enough to feed a family of five in many countries.  Heck, there are many people in the US who don’t have enough food from what I hear.  I must admit that I have a hard time believing that since we spend over $60 Billion of our tax dollars on the food stamps program each year.  Where is all that money going?  But I’m sure it’s true.
So why do we need to eat mounds of food?  Why are there TV shows like Man vs Food where most challenges involve consuming large quantities of food?  Why do so many people, when asked about a restaurant, immediately tell you “their portions are nice and big”?  Quantity overrides quality.  Why is it that when I order a chicken marsala, for example, I am served three breasts of chicken instead of one along with a one pound side of pasta with generally no vegetables unless ordered separately?  I could never finish that!!  And if I am not going home that evening I am forced to throw the leftover food away.  It breaks my heart.  One thing my parents taught us as kids was to always finish everything on our plates.  This is always doable as long as I can control what I put on my plate.  I have now gotten into the habit of asking restaurants how much food they will serve and ask them to serve less to which the immediate comeback is “I still have to charge you for the whole thing and extra for the vegetable you want to substitute for the mashed potatoes”.  Are you kidding me?  But I say nothing and pay the extra money because at least it’s better than wasting the food.  Why can’t restaurants offer three sizes of a meal at three different prices?  That would make everyone happy and perhaps waste less food.
My son and I were recently in Florida on vacation and on the last day we went for brunch at a hotel restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.  My son ordered the banana pancakes and I got my usual order of two eggs over easy with whole wheat toast.  When his pancakes came out we could not believe the enormity of the plate.  There were three pancakes each about 10 inches in diameter covering the entire plate.  And this is my one and only photo for this blog post because you have to see it to believe it.  My poor child worked very hard to make a dent in it – you see I have the same rule as my parents on finishing everything on a plate.  Since we usually go to smaller restaurants, this is not an issue particularly when we share the meal.  But in this case I told him that he was absolutely not expected to finish.  But he felt guilty and tried to eat as much as possible.  Unfortunately the sheer volume of food overwhelmed him so much that he became ill and vomited on the way to the bathroom all over his clothes and shoes and got very upset.  Luckily I had a change of clothes and shoes in the car and all was ok but the experience really upset him.  I think it will be quite some time before he orders pancakes again.  What a shame because they are his favorite breakfast food.  I would love to know who can finish that plate of food.
So what does this all mean?  I don’t really have a solution for the obesity problem any more than Mayor Bloomberg or anyone else.  I do believe that it cannot be solved through government control or nutrition education for our kids in schools.  I believe that good eating habits begin at home with the parents.   If parents teach their children to eat crap, then the children will not eat healthy foods even when offered.  I also believe the higher cases of ADHD and allergies are directly related to our poor diets which also factors into our lack of immunity for illnesses.  It is time for us to take responsibility and stop blaming the fast food chains, and other organizations for our lack of parenting skills.  They are only providing what we are demanding and consuming.  I suggest we take back control of our consumer buying power!!!
Stay tuned for part two all about kid’s menus……..
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