Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: fast food

What About The Kids?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 11, 2017. 

A few years ago, when my sons were still in public school (now homeschooled), we would get a lunch program to peruse and choose from if we wanted to. We chose nothing, not because we’re fussy, but because the options were deplorable.

One of the options was called taco salad. ‘It’s a salad made of tortilla chips, Mom,’ my oldest announced a couple of weeks later, rather bemused, when he got to see the very dish. No matter how you turn it, that is not food.

Feeding children can be a wild adventure at times, given occasional pickiness and all, but that’s no excuse feeding them junk food or low-quality ingredients as part of the school lunches. Not when we live in the middle of a farm-rich country and there is an abundance of fresh, wholesome foods that could be worked into school lunches.

I am willing to say that more parents would sign up for the program if there were healthy options, and would welcome the break from figuring out next day’s lunch. There is a high chance that many kids would learn about healthy food and be better for it. Which could be amplified if students would have a garden to tend to right on school grounds. You see, gardening invites to more than planting and picking, with the occasional weeding in between.

Gardening means learning about soil and all its wondrous components, from chemical compounds to bugs of all sizes that keep it healthy; it opens the door to learning about how liquids travel through soil and how they get absorbed through the roots. It involves delving into the biochemistry of the cell and if you add a microscope to the mix, you can get hours of intense studying, which will be followed by more curiosity. From there, you get to how fruit and veggies grow, and from there on, it moves into the realm of eating good-for-you foods.

Which isn’t anything that I saw in the school district’s lunch program I happened to come across. Chicken bites, chicken burger, chicken nuggets, all served cold, followed by some fruit slices and either juice or chocolate milk or plain milk. Fruit juice is empty calories that do not benefit children or anyone else for that reason. Eating the whole fruit is where it’s at.

Again, this is happening right here where we see ripe fruit that falls on the ground all summer and fall too, from cherries to apricots to plums, apples, and pears. On top of it, we have a farmer’s market so plentiful this time a year, that it would only make sense to use some of that to provide good food for children. Just imagine connecting local farmers to the department that organizes school lunches in the district.

That being said, there will be a chorus telling me that many kids prefer junk food and they would scoff at healthy (deemed boring by some) food options. Be it so, it should be part of a school mandate to educate about healthy food options. In an age where child obesity and chronic health issues starting in childhood are on the rise, that would be a moral duty, to say the least. That’s one of the reasons why I never refer to junk or processed foods as ‘treats’, but call them by their name.

Living a long, healthy life involves no magic.  Eat wholesome meals, mostly veggies, and never until full, get outside, get moving, and connect with people. In a nutshell. To keep with the scope of this piece, I will ask this: how many kids nowadays are doing all or some of the above?

There are too many processed food options (with attractive advertisements), there are devices that make them sit in one place for hours on end, there is the culture of fear where parents do not want/dare to let their kids play outside on their own, and there is, at society level, for the most part, a growing and deeply worrying trend of living life in an isolated, often self-centered way.

Many of our children are anxious, depressed, obese, or plagued by other eating disorders; some are bullied, others are bullying, at war with the world around them. They all start out eager to learn about the world around (healthy foods included,) and then somewhere down the road they become self-conscious, bored, tired, fearful, addicted to screens and drugs. Reclaiming them becomes the hardest task.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Fixing a generation (or more) is no easy thing. As always, one step at a time is where we can start. No drugs can ever fix what healthy food, free play, and time spent together can.

Hippocrates once said, ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ Let’s start with that. Make every bite, treats included, count. As for the rest of the issues, perhaps we should go back to forming the village needed to raise a child. A connected community is where better things happen. When it comes to our children, no effort is too big to make that happen.

Rethinking Our Eating Habits Can’t Happen Soon Enough

Originally published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News. 

20150913_103721Whenever we happen to have a meal out, we opt for water instead of any sweetened beverages. Often enough we get an extra question regarding the boys. ‘Them too, water?’ Yes, them too. Water does it. I saw a cartoon today depicting a potted plant with a jug of water next to it, and for comparison, a child with a can of pop. The message was something along the lines: you give water to your plants, why give pop to your children?

It is often assumed that children’s well-being is closely linked to them sugary drinks and treats. I include fruit juices in that category too, since the content of sugar is high enough to make them a treat rather than a healthy option. And no, the vitamin C content does not matter when there is so much sugar hitchhiking a ride through the body too.

On October 11 on World Obesity Day (sad that we have something like that nowadays), the World Health Organization proposed a 20 percent tax increase on sugary drinks. That’d be a good start. The same should apply to fast food though, and soon. Perhaps followed by an objective-thinking fellow or group of (meaning someone with people’s well-being in mind) who would put the brakes on the increasing amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup finding their way into foods that are not even considered sweet to begin with. Sounds crazy and backwards simply because it is.

That does not affect children and teenagers only, but all the age groups. If you think the WHO proposal is a tad exaggerated, take a look at the obesity stats: worldwide 600 million people are obese. For comparison, approximately 795 million people do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.

Almost 100 million children in developing countries are underweight due to continuous hunger (I find it very cynical that we call these countries ‘developing’ given the raw situation people face there) and 3.1 million children die of starvation yearly. The number of obese children worldwide reached 233 million this year. Numbers are truly stunning.

As for Canada, we have nothing to brag about. One in four adult Canadians and one in 10 children are clinically obese. That means an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer, to name but a few. Not to mention a decreased self-confidence and even more serious psychological issues in case the of teenagers and children. Yep, it’s a mean world out there and the flow of perfect bodies, many advertised by the very companies that make us fat, is a never ending one too. Which is why rethinking the way we eat and feed our children has to happen, and soon.

In that context, the news that we are about to see yet another fast food place getting built right by a school (McGill and Columbia, right next to the new Stuart Wood Elementary) sounds like a bad joke. If anything, school curriculum should be focusing quite a bit on what healthy food is and why it is important that we eat that instead of junk food.

That should work hand in hand with government subsidies to the small farms, with education sessions on healthy eating which can include cooking classes too (imagine your doctor writing a prescription for that!), and with city halls being adamant about not allowing fast food places to pop up near schools.

It may seem otherwise, but we are in the driver’s seat. We can make choices and with our choices we can influence the way businesses come and go in our city. As long as we keep in mind the big picture and the reason for giving up on sugary, rich-in-everything-but-nutritionally-poor foods, there is hope yet that obesity and the health-related issues threatening children and adults alike will slowly disappear.

An argument I hear often from people who hold onto their bag of candy or cookie box is that you only live once so might as well live it up. Yet the thing is, when we choose nutritionally poor foods we live it down and our quality of life and overall health levels are decreasing, despite the momentarily immersion in gustatory bliss.

That bliss can also be achieved from a different direction and with much better outcomes by reminding our taste buds of the foods intended to keep up both happy and healthy. As for side effects, I foresee only good ones: eating less (nutritionally adequate foods are satisfying in smaller amounts) while appreciating food more. That will also take care of the indecent issue of today’s western society, which is food waste.

Worth a try, don’t you think?

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