Wednesday, April 21, 2010

School lunches called a national security threat

Posted By on Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 9:49 AM

We used to joke about this sort of thing. Of course, now that I look back, I remember how the food served at my school got progressively less and less, um, food-like and more food-like substance-like, as Michael Pollan would say.

My classmates and I loved snack time, which was instituted mid-way through elementary school. For, if I remember correctly, 40 cents, we could get chocolate milk and a bag of chips. By junior high, we had soda machines. By high school we had a full-on junk food buffet every day around 10:30 a.m. Most of my friends spent their lunch money on an array of candy bars, soda and other miscellaneous crap. And, so did I.

But that's not all. Other organizations were constantly selling food. The baseball team sold Hardee's sausage biscuits every morning. The marketing club, of which I was a member, baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies right before classes ended for the day, filling the halls with the irresistible aroma of fresh-baked cookies. Other groups sold candy bars, doughnuts or other junk. And, there was zero real food available at school sporting events.

At the time, I thought it was great. My parents were, and still are, health food nuts. All of the junk at school allowed me to break away from their controlling ways and eat what I wanted. It was a socially acceptable way to rebel without trouble. Problem is, I didn't really understand at the time that my cute, curvy high school body would never last eating that way ... and I've struggled with my weight ever since, and probably always will.

I also didn't understand that, as a junk food junkie, I was putting my health, and my life, at risk. Now I think of junk food diets as socially acceptable suicide.

On top of all of the junk food that was available, starting in the 6th grade, my classmates and I were also able to opt out of physical education classes in favor of band. During my senior year, an early release program that allowed me to leave at lunchtime and go to work. (P.S. That usually included a stop inbetween at a fast food joint.)

Because all of that junk food was available at school, the same place where I was constantly told to plan for my future and prepare for college, it seemed, to some degree, harmless. Why would the people who seemingly cared so much about future intentionally mislead me?

The answer, I now understand, has everything to do with money. No doubt my rural Alabama school made plenty off of me and my junk food addiction.

Fast forward — oh, geeze — 15 years, and U.S. military leaders are starting to complain that kids are too fat to serve in the military. No kidding.

School lunches have been called many things, but a group of retired military officers is giving them a new label: national security threat.

That's not a reference to the mystery meat served up in the cafeteria line either. The retired officers are saying that school lunches have helped make the nation's young people so fat that fewer of them can meet the military's physical fitness standards, and recruitment is in jeopardy.

A new report being released Tuesday says more than 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. Now, the officers are advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier.


Also, chew on this:

Today, as I attempt to repair my relationship with food, Michael Pollan — author of several books including Food Rules, The Omnivore's Dilemma: the Secrets Behind What You Eat and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto — has become one of my heroes. Here is an interview with him, conducted by Bill Moyers, from 2009:

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