Friday, March 1, 2013

School nutrition: Some things change. Then again, some others don’t

I recall high school, particularly the scene in the cafeteria where there were a pair of lines for food service.

School cafeteria pizza? Some things don't change!

One line was for students interested in purchasing a full meal (for about $1, if my memory is correct – it has been 30 years), which tried to make some concept of a balanced meal with side dishes.

THE OTHER LINE was an a la carte line meant to serve individual items.

As I recall, that line was usually the more popular. I even recall some people who would mock anyone who thought to get into the line seeking a full meal. As though the idea of nutrition was something bad.

Because I remember the types of items that were the most popular purchases – slices of pizza, French fries and some sort of fruit juice (although no soda pop).

The very thought of it makes me want to wretch, particularly since we’re not talking about any kind of edible quality to the food. It was the equivalent of the cheaper items one finds in the frozen foods aisle of the supermarket.

BUT I’M SURE it provided the kinds of starches and sugars that made us feel filled (bloated might be more accurate) as we worked our way through the second half of a school day.

What makes me recall this experience from the era back when we called Ronald Reagan president? Oddly enough, it was a Chicago Tribune story previewing first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Chicago.
OBAMA: 'Mom' telling us to eat vegetables?

She has tried to take childhood obesity on as her pet issue, and she brought various people with her to make herself look like a success.

Yet Tribune reporter-type people worked their way into the schools in Chicago to find that many efforts to put healthier items on the school lunch menus are not working.

MAKE HEALTHIER FOODS available to the student body, and they may wind up pitching them straight into the trash.

One student told the Tribune, “We just like chips with our food.” While another wouldn’t eat the broccoli being served because, “Ain’t no cheese on it.”

This was at an inner-city school of the 21st Century.

Yet it sounds so much like what my counterparts would have spewed forth all those decades ago – had anyone tried to put healthy foods before them on a regular basis.

NOW I KNOW the conservative ideologues of our society like to claim this is some sort of issue involving personal freedom. Michelle Obama trying to push nutrition is somehow an issue of her being a meddling witch (they use much harsher terms) to butt into a person’s right to eat whatever they want.

Which just strikes me as a stupid way to view this issue. It sounds more like they’re not concerned about the health and welfare of those individuals in our society who aren’t exactly like themselves.

Perhaps they think the “different” people will eat enough junk, die off and leave the planet for themselves! That’s a bit harsh. But then again, so are many of the “critics” of nutrition.

It amused me to learn from the Tribune that some teachers working in the cafeterias on “lunch” duty now wear plastic gloves so they can help younger students handle their food – particularly when it comes to peeling fresh fruit and other items that aren’t in their regular menus at home.

BUT MY REAL point in bringing this up is to acknowledge how much of a struggle it will be to persuade certain individuals to behave in ways that are to their benefit – particularly if there are elements in their life that are in opposition.
COLEMAN: A premature crusade?

It actually reminds me of an old episode of that ‘80’s era sit-come “Diff’rent Strokes” – the one in which actor Gary Coleman’s “Arnold” character winds up provoking a change in the vending machines at his school.

Instead of serving sugary donuts and candy, they now will be refrigerated and will offer fresh fruit. The students’ reaction?

They pelted Arnold with trash! A childish reaction, to be sure. But to listen to the ideologues, we ought to give in to our child mode, rather than act like adults – who are supposed to be the ones who set the example for how our children are supposed to behave.


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