Monday, April 01, 2013

Industrial Eaters

I've been reading some despairing Facebook posts by parents who are trying to get their kids to eat good food. The biggest difficulty is, that the kids are getting showered with junk food every time they're out of the direct supervision of their parents. You'd be surprised -- if you're not a parent -- by the number of kids' activities that are punctuated by rewards of candy, chips, and various foul corn syrup concoctions that manage to bill themselves as "healthy" (because they're fruit-flavored or low-fat, usually; some vague gesture of that sort -- "low-fat pudding," "gogurt," that crap.) In the rare schools where they're trying to hold the line, there are thriving black markets in junk. And once most kids have tasted this stuff, getting them to eat real food can be a Herculean task. The food industry has us right where they want us. By the time most kids get through school, they'll be habituated to this stuff. A 1,500 calorie meal will seem normal: the blast of pleasure, the chowing down while the leptin and stomach-distension feedback circuits go dead -- these will be their experience of eating, and if they don't get those experiences, they won't feel that they've eaten properly at all. That's what happened to me, a bit early in the industrial-food wave; probably what happened to you, what almost certainly will happen to your kids, unless -- as one of my Facebook friends said -- you home-school on a remote ranch.

These are combined effects of political decisions and the market: our heavy subsidies for certain kinds of industrial farming make the raw materials of sugar/corn syrup, fat and salt (without which junk food just don't go) absurdly cheap. You just need to squirt flavorings into it, maybe texturize it, and Bob's your uncle. You can even then go about mouthing pieties about obesity and healthy living with the odd scraps of your advertising budget. Keep 'em confused; keep 'em feeling guilty about their crappy eating; They'll show up at the 7-11 or the drive-up window: you can bet on it.

And the beauty of it is, that to eat any other way requires establishing half a dozen habits, layered on top of each other. Getting rest, cleaning, planning food, shopping, coordinating meals, cooking: no one of the habits very complex or onerous, but practically nobody is going to have the vision and persistence to build them up step by step and actually de-industrialize themselves. They're exhausted, they're hungry, the kitchen's a mess, and you have the food they grew up on right there, in any easy-open package in the kitchen, or at worst, at a drive-thru. You think you have to worry that they'll go shopping for whole foods instead? Don't be silly. You've got 'em.


Phil Plasma said...

It is indeed a chore to get our kids to eat healthy snacks, we're mostly managing okay.

Bananas, Apples, grapes, cherry tomatoes, yogurt - these tend to be their snacks for the most part. Occasionally a granola bar, ritz crackers or fishy crackers.

Dale said...

I have a vague impression that it's a bit easier in Canada than here. At least you have Yoni Freedhoff going to bat for you :-)

mm said...

Good post. It's insidious how much a part of our culture junk and convenience food has become, and I have been in thrall to its siren song on and off for most of my life. Your third paragraph hits the nail on the head.

Recent experience has forced me take drastic action, start cooking and eating well and to think long and hard about how I'm going to feed myself going forward. In other words, a major health crisis. Nothing less dramatic would have done it. That's the worrying part.

marly youmans said...

Even if you do okay, they go off to college and become addicted to coke etc.

Rouchswalwe said...

The older I get, the luckier I feel having grown up in a family of people who loved to cook. My favourite snack as a girl was spinach with a few slices of Frankfurter Würstchen. Nowadays, I grow vegetables on the fire escape, brew my own ale, and walk past the aisles in the middle section of the grocery. I have to admit that after years of cooking, the smell of fast food and microwave meals has lost its appeal. No doubt, I am a very bad consumer in the food industry's eyes.

One of my neighbours is an interesting case. While he is dating a young lady, I notice delicious aromas coming from his kitchen. But when the love affair has ended, his bin is filled with fast food bags and frozen pizza cartons. One day we bumped into each other as he was coming back with a sack of vegetables and other items from the local farmer's market. I praised him for getting back in the swing of cooking real food and couldn't help but ask how he could stomach burgers and pizza at all. "Oh, when I have a broken heart, I just want to wallow in feeling bad," he said. Interesting response, one that took me by surprise.

Zhoen said...

I got so badly hooked on cola because the OR had a pop machine with the branded syrups. And oreos. Hungry, tired, with a couple of minutes to do something, I'd have a small cup of the stuff, and a package of cookies. Repeatedly, every day, for years. Took me a long time, away from that place, to stop buying the sugar water with the caffeine, because it was easy, and it worked. I still raid the candy drawer for chocolate kisses, for exactly the same reasons.

Elisa said...

lol it's not very different to eat without that stuff, it doesn't always feel so great during the stopping though, different DTs!

People in my house now, while they might eat out at fast food or attempt a packaged non organic snack, tend to spit it out and make a lemon face. They say ewwwwwwwwww tastes like chemical. That's even cookies made by hand using 'normal' flour and sugar. I've had entire floors of dorm student requesting that I make VERY LARGE batches of snacks and to send them, they offered to PAY! :)