“Noooooooo, Daddy!” screamed my six-year-old son the other day. With the level of angst in his little voice, you’d think that I was about to wander off of a cliff or get swallowed up by some ghastly mythical beast with giant fangs and breath that smelled of decaying flesh. But no. On this particular occasion, I was about to oil my grill grate for a backyard barbecue of pork chops and skewered, parboiled red potatoes.
But my son would have none of it.
“Oil and donuts and fried chicken are not good for you,” he argued, before laying into some explanation of the various food groups. “Michelle Obama, the President’s wife,” he continued, “she said that kids were eating donuts, greasy stuff and too much stuff from the fats and oils. But now they have a new thing. They didn’t invent a new pyramid. They invented My Plate.”
Oh, brother. The First Lady’s controversial new anti-dessert, anti-potato chip, anti-obesity agenda had trickled down to my kids’ charter school in West Philadelphia and, as a result, onto the small grassy yard where I keep my Weber, hallowed ground in the Culture Wars.
I advised my son that I was only using a bit of oil for the grate (as opposed to my old practice of oiling all of the food), that I was using canola oil (I thought of explaining to him why this was a “better” oil but then realized I had no idea why it was), and that, in general, our family had a pretty well-rounded diet. After all, these are kids who frequently request carrots or cucumbers or a piece of fruit as a snack and have never had a soda in their lives, although this particular parental decision is more about tooth decay and less about getting fat.
We could afford a little oil on the grate, I proffered, hoping that he didn’t remember my Le Creuset dutch oven half full of burbling oil from the recent fried chicken dinner. And when he wouldn’t relent, I pulled some version of the “because I’m the daddy” argument.
Every day since our little barbecue, there’s been some child-initiated discussion of health and nutrition. Last night over dinner at Pica’s Italian restaurant in Delaware County, we debated the virtues of the pizza and rigatoni and meatballs that were on the table. “Pizza is greasy, Daddy,” said my son. As for the rigatoni: “I would say it’s OK as long as you don’t eat too much of it or put too much cheese on it.”
And just this morning, he questioned the value of sweets. “If you eat sugar all the time, you won’t have energy,” he said. “You’ll have diabetes. Sometimes you may get a shot”—pointing to his belly button—”or you’ll need a pump or something. So we shouldn’t eat candy. That’s what my teachers said.”
The school already prohibits candy bars and sodas on school grounds. Next thing you know, they’re going to tell us that we shouldn’t feed our kids ice cream. Children’s ice cream! These folks must be Communists.
I’m normally pretty sensitive to people—namely schools and the government—telling me how I should raise my family. When my son came home from kindergarten last year saying that his teacher told him that he would get a “red light” for the day if he ever drew a picture of Jesus again (the school uses a green/yellow/red light system to denote how much of a pain in the ass he was on a given day) believe me, I fired off one of the sternest imaginable letters to his teacher and principal and stopped that insanity before it got anywhere.
But this is different.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, America is fat. We’re officially the fattest developed country on Earth. And we’re only getting fatter. This isn’t part of some liberal agenda with sinister motives or the product of some think tank’s skewed study. And it’s not about shaming people into skinniness. These are big fat facts. It’s about changing the mindset of a nation beset by morbid obesity but oblivious to it as it bellies up to the Old Country Buffet.
And whose fault is this? It’s not our kids’ fault, that’s for sure. They don’t come out of the womb asking for Twinkies and Lunchables.
Whenever I am at my local ShopRite, I want to shake the obese parents whose obese children barely fit into or on the carts, which are, invariably, filled with high-calorie processed foods. Or the parents on the SEPTA trolley or Market-Frankord El, who sit there as their kids down Mountain Dew and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (the latest scourge, according to ABC News) for breakfast en route to day care or kindergarten.
I once witnessed a young mother on the Route 10 trolley shove a handful of barbecued potato chips into her mouth, take a swig of Pepsi (no, not Diet), and proceed to remove the mixture from her mouth and finger it into the mouth of her hungry infant child. What are the chances that her baby is going to grow up to be a healthy adult?
Americans like to say, “I know what’s best for my family.” But maybe—just maybe—you don’t.