Friday, September 23, 2011

What We Feed Our Kids

When my son was in second grade, he managed to get a spiral fracture of his femur. The indescribable need for young boys to jump. On skis. Over nothing, over a bump, over a person, it doesn’t matter. They’ll jump just thinking about it. Needless to say, an external fixator (like a towel bar) was drilled into his remaining bone, and mom got to carry him from class to class till we finally (out of disgust) bought our own crutches for him.

Lucien doesn't need to be encouraged to eat dessert.
During this time, I was advised to carry him into the lunchroom prior to the bell ringing, or we’d be trampled. It was a boys’ school, after all. Every man for himself. It wasn’t like there wasn’t enough food, and they got a choice of anything they wanted. But these were hungry growing children, and don’t get between the fork and the mouth, for risk of losing limb.

The first few times I sat at his lunch table, I was amused. This quickly turned to concern. I sat next to an overweight child that downed 2 apple juice cans and the cream cheese off a bagel. Not the bagel, mind you, just the top. Not that the bagel would have been much better, but the apple juice sugar and yeast was enough to make me wonder how he was able to do any school work. The third or fourth day was even worse. It was ‘burrito’ day. They had wrapped Taco Bell tacos on their plates, those that chose to eat. I picked up the wrapper and read off the ingredients. The kids were all scrunching up their noses, and I think it was the first time they realized they could read the ingredients of what they ate. This was such an eye-opener for me.

At first, I was in shock. I confessed to other mothers I was not at all happy with our childrens’ lunch menu, not the least of which was the cheapest food possible, but the fact that they could choose anything they wanted (only dessert, only cookies, etc) was really upsetting. The more I looked, the worse it got. While it’s true the teachers and other moms would walk around and advise, most kids would choose a healthy looking tray, then toss anything they didn’t want before anyone was the wiser.

Not only did our children eat whatever they wanted, but they ate as much as they wanted. No one said no seconds on potato chips or cookies. Eventually the problem was rectified, but after many months (almost a year) of parents professing disbelief. The class was about 25% overweight, and we moms actually counted the kids we thought overweight as they jogged around the gym perimeter. We came up with 10 out of 40. It was a horrible feeling.

Here we were paying an astronomical figure for a year of  private school, dressing them in expensive clothes, driving them to school in expensive cars, tutoring them in languages of our choosing, raising money for special programs, and dumping the most hideous foods into their bodies. Our precious children, eating so poorly turned my stomach.

After making an appointment with the headmaster, I made up a list of things I wanted to talk to him about, among them the need to teach these boys about nutrition. I mentioned the East Bay school district (PUBLIC school!) doing a great job with Alice Waters - why couldn’t we do that? After all, our kids were worth it too. All I got was a blank look. "Where do you think I could put that in the curriculum?" he asked. "There isn’t any time to teach that." He was obviously obstructionist. He wanted no part of the dialog. I was shut down from the moment I walked in. I had even mentioned the girls' schools teach this stuff in third grade, why couldn't we teach it too? And about how the roof, it would be perfect for growing some plants - lettuce and science experiments, and art class drawing the delicate leaves…there were so many options besides just eating the healthy produce!

Fresh from the garden
As I rose to leave, he asked me to leave my notes. I wondered, ‘why bother?’ He seemed to be completely closed off the idea. Now my son is finishing his second year at college, and I got a call last fall from another mom. She said she just thought I might want to know that the school did end up setting up a healthy system, but they waited till our kids were gone. It’s sad people aren’t more open minded, it really doesn’t matter to me who came up with the idea, it benefits everyone. We are all connected.

Some ways we thought would be better:
1. Grow plants to eat: Start simple, with fast growing foods. Lettuce, arugula, flowers (edible?). There are so many ways to use them as a learning tool. Have the science class germinate them in different conditions. Give them different light sources. Let the art class draw them in different stages of growth. Outside light, inside light. Paint, pencil, charcoal. Talk about soil and it’s importance to the plant, much like fuel in the human being food. How the quality of food makes a difference to the plant.

2. Have a system of dots on the food: Green dots mean you can have as many as you like, yellow means just one or two. Red means you get only one of these, and that’s it. You can’t have 2 red dots on your tray, but you can have 2 yellow. Potato chips and cookies are examples of red dots. This way kids get to know what food is unhealthy in large quantities from kindergarten.

3. Teach the kids in the first 3 years what nutrition means. Calories, protein, fat, carbs. Sugar and its problems, disease you might get from eating poorly. What a healthy body looks like. Activity and why it’s good for you, and what fuels it. Most schools probably already do something like this, but to have the girls’ schools do it and not ours, you have to wonder about sexism!

4. Have a person assigned, possible surreptitiously, to keep an eye on the eating habits of the kids. If they take a healthy tray, it doesn’t mean they’re eating it. Watch for kids that consume other kids’ leftovers, throw away good food, and don’t eat well, and I guarantee you’ll find a child with attention problems, performance problems, or social problems in school. We don’t eat in a vacuum, it reflects in everything we do.

Twenty years ago doctors didn’t believe food made a difference in our health. How wrong they were!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sitting With Being Down

What do you do when you're down? What brings you back, a smile on your face? I'm still looking today. Maybe it's the temperature reaching 100 as well as all the other myriad problems. If I can't find some solace here in this Eden, I don't think I'll find it anywhere. A sadness has taken hold, and I'll just have to sit with it.

The Moon's Bellybutton
The last few nights, I've been experimenting with photographing the moon with my camera, through the viewfinder of my telescope. It's amazing how much detail is there. I am intrigued with the ridge. I've named it 'The Moon's Bellybutton.' It cheered me up for a little while. I shared it with some friends.

Splash is hurt. He limped past my door sometime in August, and a few days ago, in the near 100 degree heat, he was standing in full sun, in the middle of the road. He's a beautiful horse, and it was sad to see him inching off the road, as if to say, 'is this far enough?' This morning I met another neighbor from down the ridge. She was out walking like me (but only one of us was in pajama shorts). I was on my way home from dogsit feeding. Feeding sat dogs? Feeding sit dogs? I fed the darn dogs this morning and was on my way home with a few lemon cucumbers that jumped off the vine at me while I was checking the vegetable beds. I figured they could be my lunch, along with the kale salad I made yesterday. Where was I? Oh, yes. She said she and her husband had seen him (she calls him Oreo, very appropriate as well) coming up the hill to their house, and had the same experience.

They hadn't noticed his limp, but they wouldn't have looked. It took him a long time to move off the road, since there wasn't any room on either side. I did see him a few nights ago, but had Rio in the car. Rio would have harassed him, so I didn't stop; he was like a ghost, I wasn't really sure it was him anyhow, it may have been Raven.

This morning I packed an apple full of homeopathic remedies, stuffed into the core, and replaced the piece I'd dug out. I set it on the tree stump close to the top of my neighbor's driveway on the way down to feed the dogs, around 8:30am. There's a ridge where they often catch the breeze when it's hot. They're not usually there in the morning. But in the evenings, it's like you've seen in the movies, the way you usually imagine wild horses; there are the 5 boys standing with the breeze blowing through their manes and tails, while they face the sunset, it's very beautiful. But he wasn't there, none of them were there.

 I just came back to feed the dogs at 6pm and it's still there. Bright red pink lady. At least the deer and squirrels haven't taken it. Hope he finds it and eats it. They don't eat from us, and I think they give me a wide berth since I tried to give them arugula. I have since tried to make it up with apples and carrots, but the carrots stay put, and only the apples disappear. Don't know what animal ate them, I can only hope Splash gets his medicine. Thanks to all the friends that helped me figure it out. Splash doesn't know how lucky he is.

Halfway down my driveway
My Meyer lemon tree in the green house has leaves the size of my hand and larger. I let the clover get out of hand, and now the thing isn't producing any blossoms. Today I see ants all over it, and realize it's got bugs. As if that weren't bad enough, there are tent caterpillars everywhere this year. Really ugly looking blights, and if you get close, there are more than a few hungry munching machines inside that tent. It must be a periodic thing - hopefully only once in my lifetime. Thankfully the gophers have given up. I was getting tired of peeing in the holes when it's so hot outside.

Out at the bird feeder there was a lot of commotion this evening. I heard it for over 30 minutes. Couldn't figure out what it was all about; there were only 3 birds at the feeder, and one of them, from my upstairs loft, appeared to be either stuck to the tape on the screw substituting for a perch, or had some kind of wing problem. Hauling myself off my yoga mat (I was just staring out the window, I have to be honest), I went down there and the finches flew into the oak tree above. The darn thing was still chirping away insistently, sticking next to another finch that had been at the feeder. I asked what seemed to be the problem, but the finch just kept flapping away making a loud racket. Finally I saw what was going on - it was a fledgling wanting food from its parent. I never will understand how the fledgling gets bigger than the parent and still gets food. Oh, wait...I have one of those!

Still morose, and not feeling like cleaning up, I did some reading and took a shower. Didn't help. Maybe I'll find something to do tomorrow that will cheer me up. Yes, I know...Caddyshack. Maybe it will make me laugh. Maybe it will make me cry.