Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No More Cookies: Why Healthy Eating Habits Start at Home

One day, while sitting in the cafeteria at the casino where I used to work, I happened to overhear an argument between two coworkers that made me laugh fit to bursting. Joe, a dyed in the wool Republican who could have given Dick Cheney lessons in far right conservatism, and Frank, a man whose liberal leanings ran somewhere to the left of Lenin, were sitting at a table, loudly debating whether Ronald Reagan was, “the best dang president this country has ever had the brains to elect” or, as Frank would opine, “a senile old fascist who increased military spending at the expense of public school funding and whose administration tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable to keep the costs of school lunches down.” Frank went on to blame Reagan for the sorry state of affairs that is our nation’s public school system including its “nutritional and physical decline”.

                “We’ve raised a nation full of fatties thanks to that buffoon,” Frank stated adamantly, “and it gets worse with every generation.”

                It was this latter assertion that had given me a case of the chuckles. Not because I didn’t believe a politician or government organization could do something as stupid as classify a condiment a vegetable. Live in southern Louisiana long enough and you’ll get an education in bureaucratic ineptitude. Nor did I disagree with him over the fact that children are less physically fit today than they were when I was in elementary school. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980. No, what had amused me was the belief that nutrition was something that can be learned in a public school setting, and the idea that a healthy diet could be legislated. Personal experience has taught me that a well-balanced diet is not something that can be picked up in an academic setting along with reading, writing, and arithmetic—at least, not by that alone. Healthy eating habits start at home.

                I grew up eating my elementary school lunches during the Reagan administration. Back then, according to the laws set up by the USDA, a well-rounded school meal was supposed to consist of at least one meat or protein—usually Salisbury steak or soy burger, one milk—whole or chocolate—one bread, and two servings of fruit or vegetables. “Fruit” was usually a tiny cup of fruit cocktail and “vegetables” was almost always spinach or steamed carrots. I detested both. This was back in the day when they served you what they had whether you liked it or not, as opposed to choosing what you wanted. I remember sitting in the cafeteria, stuffing my spinach into my empty milk carton, hoping the eagle eyed lunch lady didn’t spot me. I’ll be the first to admit this diet of mystery meat, chocolate milk, and fruit drenched in sugar wasn’t exactly a meal built for champions, but even sans spinach, my school lunch was better than what I ate at home.

                A typical breakfast in the Griffin household consisted of a bowl of some sugar coated cereal drowned in whole milk and a cup of coffee—I’ve been drinking coffee since the age of five—with at least six teaspoons of sugar. If my mother could be bothered to cook, it was either a plate stacked with syrup drenched pancakes or greasy cheese omelets, fatty bacon, and a big bowl of grits mixed with huge pats of butter. When mom was in diet mode, she ate oatmeal topped with cinnamon with wheat toast on the side, but she never forced that stuff on me or my sisters. If we ran out of cereal and all else failed, there was usually some left over pizza from the night before.

Did I mention my family was big into ordering take-out? Our drug of choice was pizza covered in pepperoni and enough cheese to choke an elephant. We ordered Chinese if we wanted to be fancy. We went to McDonalds if we just wanted something quick and convenient. There were also one or two restaurants nearby that had “call-in ordering” and “curb-side take away” when I was a kid. I’m sure there are more now what with the fact that Americans today spend 48 percent of their food budget on restaurant food, according to the National Restaurant Association, compared to the 23 percent spent in the 1950’s.

And, of course, there were the snacks. Our cupboards were filled with boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes, cartons of cookies—Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip was one of my all-time favorites—and huge family-sized bags of potato chips. These food items were never regulated by my parents. My sisters and I could eat them whenever the mood struck. It was more like grazing than snacking. The American Academy of Pediatrics Handbook, suggests school age children eat three meals a day with at least one snack in the afternoon. This varies depending on the time between meals. Also, these snacks should be rich in nutrients, not full of empty calories like the snacks of my youth. My parents hadn’t read that book, apparently.

Some will take a look at this list of diet no-no’s and blame the food and beverage industry for my appalling lack of childhood nutrition. Some will go further, suggesting that we should be less concerned about legislating school meals and more worried about regulating the guys in charge of making and selling our food. It’s easy to see why. The industry has been using faulty health claims (makers of POM and their claims that their product can prevent cancer, heart disease, and erectile dysfunction) and misleading marketing lingo (Low-fat, all natural) to confuse shoppers for years. And while I’ll agree they can be a sneaky bunch, the food and beverage industry didn’t do my parents’ shopping and I’m pretty sure they didn’t tell them it was okay for me to eat pizza for breakfast either.

And I can’t entirely blame the USDA or those in charge of public school nutritional guidelines and education. Even with the problems of a dwindling budget, I can’t say they didn’t try. I remember the day my second grade teacher, Mrs. Guidry, took it upon herself to teach her students the importance of a well-balanced meal. She showed us pictures of all the food groups and explained the necessity for moderation and smaller portion sizes. Puppets were used as a teaching aid in the hopes of drawing in our impressionable young minds and oh so short attention spans. It was a lost cause for me. By then, I had already learned how to reach the snack cupboard by climbing on top of one of the kitchen chairs. The first time I was caught doing this by my dad, he asked me to get him some Oreos while I was up there.

I am now a grown woman with control over my own shopping list, and I am literally trying to unlearn years of bad behavior to keep myself from ending up dead of a heart attack by age forty like my father, or stricken with a chronic, life threatening disease like type 2 diabetes, a disease my mother is currently struggling with. It’s a daily battle, one I am slowly, grudgingly beginning to win with hard work, patience, and a twelve-step-program mentality.

Looking back, I knew I was eating the wrong things. I didn’t need Mrs. Guidry’s puppet show to tell me that. The fact that I was growing wider faster than I was growing taller told me all I needed to know, and my parent’s own declining health showed me what I had to look forward to in the future. No, I didn’t need puppets or pictures of the food groups. What I needed were parents who cared enough about my health and their own to step up to the plate—pardon the pun—and tell me, “No more cookies!” I didn’t need the school board to increase its budget and install a salad bar in the cafeteria. I needed boundaries on what I could eat, how much I could eat, and how often by the people in my family in charge of the grocery shopping. It is the responsibility of every parent to instill healthy eating habits into their own children. Without the parents acting as the gatekeepers to the kitchen pantry, the school board, the USDA, this entire generation of “fatties”, are all fighting a losing battle, and the nation’s children will be the casualties.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cheri's 50 Book Challenge Book Report

As mentioned before, I am attempting to read 50 books by the end of the year and I've just made it to book #10. Here's a list of all the books I've read so far including their descriptions:

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, a book about a lazy, apathetic brat who is transported to a magical land called the Kingdom of Wisdom (kind of like Wonderland, but with more academia and less allusions to trippy mushroom drugs) through a mysterious tollbooth he finds in his bedroom. Because why not?

2. John Dies at the End by David Wong, a book about the inadvisability of accepting strange drugs from fake Jamaicans.

3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Bland characters. Slow plot. Sparkly vampires. The plot can be summarized as such: Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Bella gets in trouble. Edward saves her. Rinse. Repeat.

4. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy. A clever retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story that takes place in Nazi occupied Poland during the second world war.

5. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. The Great God Om is brought low and becomes trapped in the physical manifestation of a small and powerless tortoise when he loses all of his followers save one lowly novice. Satirical tale about the dangers of believing more in the church and all its trappings than the God who is supposed to be worshiped, as well as the dangers of the people who believe more in the church and all its trappings.

6. I, Claudius by Robert Graves, a book written in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius. Born with a limp, a stutter, and mistakenly thought to be a half-wit, Claudius survives political intrigue by not being considered a threat to anybody. It's like Survivor, only for ancient Roman times. 468 pages chock full of death and debauchery.

7. The Victorian Domestic Servant by Trevor May. 32 pages. Short, but a good starting reference for Victorian fiction writers.

8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Adapted by Tony Lee. Illustrated by Cliff Richards. This book is full of balls. People throwing balls. People talking about throwing balls. Lots and lots of balls. Apparently, balls were very popular back in the day. Oh, and zombies too. Zombie balls. Heh.

9. Midnight in Death by J.D. Robb. A short novella from the "In Death" series, a futuristic cop drama. In this story, Lieutenant Eve Dallas tracks down an escaped serial killer she helped put behind bars.

10. The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, by Max Brooks. A graphic novel describing major zombie attacks from the dawn of humanity to 1992. There are no mention of "balls" in this one, but still a good read.

If anyone has any suggestions as to what I should read next, leave a comment. Just be aware that I'm trying to limit my graphic novel and short novella reading for the next couple months since I'm finally ahead of schedule. It feels like I'm cheating when the book is barely 100 pages long and full of pictures. Also, any suggestions regarding books written by Stephenie Meyer will be dismissed. The perpetrators of said infraction will be tracked down and summarily beaten for their impudence.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Saturday, February 02, 2013

No More Free BOOBS

Being of a sagacious turn of mind, I sense some of you are reading this blog entry scratching your heads and wondering to yourselves, "Something's...different. Wonder what it is?" Unless you have a Y chromosome, in which case you probably took one look at the title and started thinking something along the lines of, "Boobs? Where? I have to pay for them now? Can I have some please?"

To answer the first question you need only look to the right of your screen to spot the funky yellow PayPal donation button I recently installed. It's towards the top. It might be hard to find what with the numerous other link buttons cluttering up that half of the screen, most of which I no longer have a clue what they all do. But trust me. It's there. Somewhere. Declaring my shame.

This newest addition is the result of dwindling finances. As mentioned before, I'm going back to school to get my English degree and my checking account is suffering for it. The books alone are a small fortune, never mind the cost of tuition. To make matters worse, my classes are cutting into my work schedule during the week, forcing me to take any stray chair massage jobs I can find on Sunday, my one day off. Chair massage is hit or miss. My boss may need someone. He may not. And even when he does, there's no guarantee that I'll make enough to cover my losses from missed work at the spa. I'm working Superbowl Sunday at the casino, by the way. If you happen to be there between 6pm and God knows when, you might spot me there. I'll be the chick clutching onto a purple cushion with a face filled with despair and exhaustion. I realize I've just described half the clientele so...never mind.

I was discussing my financial woes with a coworker the other day, a fellow massage therapist who, like me, had been interested in going back to school, but was also stalled by her own money problems. I made a remark about changing my name to Charity and maybe standing outside with a tin cup in my hands begging for alms. I also mentioned I was thinking of putting one of those "tip jar" donation buttons on my blog, though I had serious doubts as to its profitability.

"I'd probably have to threaten to show MY BOOBS to get anything out of it," I said, jokingly.

We both shared a good laugh over that, but the creaky wheels inside my head began to turn and I had to ask myself, just how much is my dignity worth? Is it worth paying off the $600 I owe in tuition? Is it worth the $200 a month hospital bill I will probably be paying off for the next two years? Is it worth my monthly rent, food in my fridge, and the inevitable bill I will have to pay when my car breaks down yet again? Why, yes, I said to myself. Yes, it is.

So that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to sell a little bit of my dignity. Press that PayPal button and make a donation. Trust me. It's there, beckoning you, whispering in a sultry voice for you to press it. Give a little. You know you want to, you coy minx. Any amount will do. In return for your kind generosity, I promise to show you MY BOOBS. We'll make the goal $50. I don't think MY BOOBS are worth any more than that, and I realize you only have my word that I will actually go through with this outlandish idea of showing you MY BOOBS. Therefore, as an act of good faith, I'll go ahead and show you half of the goods:

Bow chicka bow wow!