Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bon Appetit!

Having a brand new kid has made me reconsider a lot of life choices that I have been taking for granted for many years. I suppose it's only natural to second guess myself now that my decisions more directly affect someone else. While it's not so crucial that I make hard-and-fast, life-changing judgments immediately, it seems appropriate that I initiate some basic considerations. There are many areas of my life that reflect values I have held consistently and consciously for a long time. But other habits have developed as a result of perceived necessity, fleeting preference, and/or convenience. When it comes to eating, my behavior has been influenced by all three of those factors.

It strikes some of my friends as odd that I should be so particular about "consuming" certain things (books, films, music), yet when it comes to food I am rather indiscriminate. I have often admitted that I have an extremely unsophisticated palette. At home I make very few meals. I do sandwiches, spaghetti, or some basic version of quesadillas. That's really about it. If I want something different, I generally have to go out to some sort of restaurant or order for delivery. I've only had those options on a regular basis for the last decade or so, due to financial constraints before that. Because of these long-lasting limitations, it should probably be no surprise that I stick to the conventional offerings.

The problem with all of this is that the typical American diet is unwholesome, and a bit gross. This is a meat-and-potatoes nation, and even those standards are usually cooked in an extremely unhealthy manner. Just about everything is fried. The United States loves its french fries, wings, onion rings, cheese sticks, burgers, donuts, eggs, fried chicken, and cheese steaks. Hell, this is the only nation where one could reasonable expect someone to develop a fried OREO. And if it's not fried, then it's invariably smothered in grease and oil, filled with sugar, or jammed into pockets of fat. I think I read somewhere that three-quarters of the menu offerings in every eatery in the US are virtually identical. If it's not true, it sure seems like it. The vast majority of what we eat is a corn byproduct.

I would think that the situation outside the home closely mirrors what's happening in private kitchens across the country. Generally businesses cater to the lowest common denominator. What else are "the people" eating? Another indicator of the unfortunate state of our national cuisine is the typical public school lunch menu. If you haven't visited your local school lately, you would be stunned to see what the government allows cafeterias to feed the kids. How about mini corn dogs, nachos w/cheese, fruit cup, and 2% milk? Sound pretty nutritious to you? OK then, try ribbie sandwich, chips, baby carrots, and chocolate milk? They usually just put "cook's choice" on the schedule when they serve up stuff like this. It's better public relations. And believe me, whatever it looks like on paper... it's different when it's resting there in slabs on the little styrofoam tray.

To make matters worse- this stuff is invariably the lowest quality product from an uncaring, mechanized, nationwide, corporate agribusiness industry. It is engineered to meet the basic standards of a national government board for the absolute minimum cost. I don't know all of the ins and outs of the policy procedures for mandated nutrition, but I can say without reservation that the system is broken. Not long ago a huge amount of ground beef was judged by the USDA to be substandard, and was belatedly recalled. Much of that meat originally found its way into the nation's school lunchrooms. It was consumed by children. I don't know why the American public tolerates such a disgrace. The youth are being trained to eat offal. I wonder who will be held responsible. I guess we'll be packing lunches for Baby E.

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Blogger Dagrims said...

I decided a number of years ago to not try to fight the school lunch battle. The boys eat what they like for lunch, and we monitor their breakfast and dinner more closely. If we packed a nutritious lunch, chances are high that they'd simply trade it away, or throw it out at school.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I can understand that logic. I suppose that I am going to increasingly realize the necessity of choosing my fights very carefully. When the kids are at home, do they clamor for the type of food that they eat at school? How do you explain that they are allowed to indulge themselves at lunch, but not when they are with you?

2:24 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

I look at the bright side. For years, kids wondered what school lunch, "mystery meat" contained. I'm so glad it was beef that we were eating!!

10:58 PM  
Anonymous marc said...

i still get a kick thinking about how the Reagan administration had ketchup classified as a "vegetable" in the school lunch program guidelines....

12:29 PM  

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