Why I’m So Passionate About Improving School Food (and a Plea to All Naysayers)
|February 14, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Healthy eating at home, Junk food in school|
Since Valentine’s Day is about love, I want to share a personal story about someone that I love: my sweet mom.
I will be spending this Valentine’s Day on an airplane en route to visit my mother, who recently turned 80. She is still alive but only in body. You see, she suffers from vascular dementia. She began to show signs of memory problems (misplacing her keys, forgetting names, repeating herself) at the age of 69. Her decline was gradual but not without drama. Over the years, her car keys had to be taken away. She began hallucinating. She grew deeply depressed. She wandered out of the house at night. She stopped recognizing my dad and began insisting (quite vehemently) that he get out of her house. She then forgot me. And then my sister. She doesn’t know her grandchildren. At this point, I’m not sure that she knows her own name.
Needless to say, my mom’s illness has taken an enormous toll on our family. Despite the fact that she has a devoted husband, daughters, grandchildren, siblings, and other loved ones who care deeply about her, her quality of life is very poor and has been for awhile. It’s heartbreaking to think that my book-smart mom, a Cornell grad who studied under Vladimir Nabokov and later became an award-winning advertising copywriter, has spent more than a decade (over 10 percent of her life) in a diminished cognitive state. To sum it up, it is a horrible disease.
I’m not telling you this to make you sad or feel sorry for me. But it is my story. It is part of the reason why I’m fighting so hard for healthier food for my kids. I happen to have an extremely crappy (excuse my French!) family health history. My maternal grandparents died at the ages of 46 and 52; my paternal grandparents at ages 53 and 74. I never met any of them. My dad began exhibiting stroke symptoms and was found to have a blocked carotid artery at age 53, inspiring major lifestyle changes, including giving up fried foods, trips to the gym and a stop to his two-pack-a-day habit. Thanks to those changes, he is still kickin’ at the age of 85.
Our kids are not immune to the ill effects of poor eating habits. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics found that 15 percent of American adolescents have diabetes or pre-diabetes; 22 percent have high or borderline-high LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol; 14 percent have hypertension or pre-hypertension. It is a well-documented fact that many devastating illnesses can be prevented with a healthy diet. I can’t say for certain that my mother’s disease is directly related to her food choices. But if she had it to do all over again, with the benefit of hindsight, I can guarantee you that she’d be more careful about what went in her mouth.
So here’s what I ask of any Naysayers. Before calling parents like me Food Nazis or saying things like “We ate all this stuff as kids and are all OK!,” please stop to consider our personal reasons for wanting our kids to eat well. I’m not depriving my children or looking to ban cupcakes (though a monthly cap for treats and parties would be nice!). And I’m certainly not criticizing anyone’s parenting choices. I’m just a mom trying to give my kids the best shot at leading a healthy life and attempting to save them from developing a lifelong battle with food. You may not agree with me. But try to remember that everyone has a story. And in my case, it includes an amazing woman and mother named Sally.
What’s your personal reason for wanting to fight for a healthier food environment for kids? If you don’t mind opening up, I’d love to hear your story. Please scroll down and leave a reply in the comment box!