Last year, former FDA Commissioner David Kessler came out with a book in which he posited that the food industry, somewhat like the tobacco industry before it, has perfected the ability to make consumers crave their products through the excessive use of salt, fat and sugar. I haven’t yet gotten around to reading the book, but I remember hearing an interview with Kessler on NPR in which he seemed to blame his weakness for various foods - and his subsequent weight gain — in large part on the companies that created them.
I have to confess that at that time I was pretty harsh on poor David. Oh come on, I thought, listening to the radio. You just have a weight problem – you lack self control. Food companies are giving people what they want and it’s your job as a responsible adult to just say no.
But all of that was before I met Stacy.
Maybe I should’ve been tipped off by that come-hither name — “Simply Naked” – but I swear I brought her into my home innocently enough, just a necessary dipping vehicle for a daughter who happens to like hummus in her lunch box. But then one day I absentmindedly brought Stacy to my lips — and gasped aloud. Never before had I encountered such a perfect trifecta of salt, carb and fat on my tongue, with just a teasing hint of sweetness lingering on the palate. Every synapse in my brain started firing like a sparkler on the Fourth of July and at that moment my mind could contemplate only one simple truth: Stacy and I were made for each other.
These days, when I think no one in my family is looking, I like to slip discreetly into the pantry to pay Stacy a little visit. I’m in control here, I tell myself every time. I’m not going to let things go too far. But then later, many long, delicious moments later, I emerge from the pantry — guilty, ashamed, and with salty crumbs all over my face and shirt that are as telltale as any lipstick on a collar. Yes, there will be an extra five pounds on my hips by the pool this summer, but that’s a small price to pay for a love like this.
So, what does my love affair with Stacy have to do with kids and food? Whether your own personal weakness is a Double Stuff Oreo, a Flaming Hot Cheeto, or maybe something more upscale and exotic, like a wasabi pea, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s only the processed foods that come from factories (or restaurants)– and not the whole foods produced in farms and fields – that cause that particular crazy swoon, that weakness in the knees and complete abandonment of self-control.
And now we have a generation of kids who, according to my guru Janet Poppendieck, “are eating more and more highly processed foods – fabricated foods, food prepared in factories . . . . and less and less whole food or minimially processed food.” They’re also, according to Poppendieck, doing so on an almost non-stop basis: 98% of kids between 6 -18 report eating at least three snacks a day and half of them report eating five or more snacks a day. A recent NPR story had similar statistics, describing children as eating virtually continuously during their waking hours.
Today’s kids – my kids – were handed little snack cups of cheesy Pepperidge Farm goldfish (or, if you’re from a certain demographic, Veggie Booty, aka “crack for babies”) from early toddlerhood. They’re now surrounded by delicious, tempting processed food options everywhere they go. As one parent who commented on this site wrote:
The problem is so ubiquitous… I find myself pausing before taking my kids to the carwash, for example (of all places), as they inevitably clamor for doritos; gatorade; sprite, etc., prominently displayed as soon as you enter the waiting area! Even as I walk my son from the parking lot to the baseball field for a Tuesday night practice, we have to pass a temporary stand set up to “fuel” the players with cookies, M&M’s, and James Coney Island hot-dogs. Sometimes I just want to scream with frustration.
So how do we get our kids weaned off these foods and back onto the path of orange slices and carrot sticks? I know it can be done, theoretically, but there are days when I feel terribly pessimistic about it all.
Do you think I’m being alarmist here? Overreacting wildly? It’s entirely possible that I’m not thinking very clearly right now. That’s what happens when you’re in love.