From the February 13 & 20, 2012 edition of The New Yorker
In November 2011, I published an article on Technorati called Misguided Eating: The Nose to Toes Food Trend, which promptly sank into oblivion. But I’m not finished with the topic. And that’s because what inspired the Technorati article continues to inspire me: our fascination with meat. This time around my inspiration comes from a local (and I mean, a very local) paper. The kind of paper that has lots of photos of junior high sporting events and interviews with 95-year old veterans celebrating birthdays at the retirement home. Don’t forget the crime reports of petty thefts and break-ins. There’s all kinds of interesting information to be gleaned from small town newspapers. For instance:
A few days ago while I was preparing lunch, Kel was entertaining me by reading aloud from the newspaper. He came across the meals menu for the local school area and he knew I’d get a kick (i.e., my blood pressure would soar) out of it. Sample Breakfast items included: cinnamon roll, strudel, a variety of (dairy) milks, breakfast pizza, sausage. Sample Lunch items included: breaded fish, Frito pie, beef stew, cheeseburger, grilled cheese, cheese sticks. Two things struck me: the menu has changed little from when I was in school; and it is still spectacularly unhealthy – heavy on meat and cheese, sugar, refined grains and oily, fried foods. Even the vegetable items are cooked with meat (lima beans and ham, for instance) or battered and fried. Each day there is the “main” menu item and an alternative. Maybe something for the non-meat eaters? No. The alternatives are as wretched as the main items. Couldn’t schools at the minimum provide a few healthy alternatives? How about, for instance, a vegan option?
What we are very successfully doing is raising the next generation to eat as poorly as we now do, to place animal products at the center of their diets and to learn to tolerate vegetables only if they are fried in fat or cooked with meat. We are grooming our children for a litany of health problems (some of these kids already have Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) long before they reach middle age. They will become, like us, dependent on pills to “manage” their entirely diet-controllable diseases. We are teaching them to view vegetables as side dishes and animals as products. We are encouraging them to be ignorant of the origins of their food and to be senseless to the pain and suffering from which their chicken nuggets and hamburgers are produced. It’s unnecessary, willfully ignorant and short-sighted. And PS: We can easily figure out which industries are subsidizing the school lunch programs. Money is more important than health and ethics. The following excerpt is from the March edition of the Nutrition Action Health Letter:
School Meals. In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed long-overdue improvements to subsidized school meals, requiring less salt, fewer fries, and more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
That spelled bad news for sellers of pizzas, fries, Tater Tots, and the like. So they quickly got their pals in Congress not only to block the USDA’s plan to limit how often kids could be served potatoes, but to classify pizza as a vegetable. (Isn’t it amazing what a shmear of tomato sauce can do?)
Despite a roar of outrage from the media, members of Congress once again sided with their campaign contributors.
The question is: why do we as a nation remain so short-sighted? Is the overwhelming evidence for adopting a plant-based diet over an animal-based diet not enough? I haven’t even touched on the environmental impact of “food” animals – nor the horror of the miserable lives and senseless deaths of these same animals.
I am not one to advocate that the government dictate what or how we should eat – they’ve spectacularly botched the job thus far and frankly, the less government intrusion in my life, the better. And I believe strongly in personal responsibility. But since they have claimed the job of feeding our children while those children are in school, shouldn’t our government do so more responsibly – with the goal of raising healthy, strong, informed citizens? We are an educated nation. We have an infinite amount of health information at our fingertips. There is no excuse to continue to eat the way that we do – to continue to compromise our health and the health of those too young to understand how the food they eat affects their growing bodies. We must do everything we can from inside the home and within the community. Children must be raised to respect not only their bodies, but to respect the lives and bodies of those that lack the voices and means to speak for themselves. Start in your own home. Vote with your shopping list – and send your kid to school with a healthy, cruelty-free lunch.