I WAS RAISED IN A FOOD DESERT, AND LIVED!

I was driving through my old neighborhood last Friday afternoon and saw an old field where my friends and I would meet after school for a friendly game of football, baseball or bicycle demolition derby. What’s bicycle demolition derby? Well that’s where you get a group of idiot young boys together, who then proceed to crash into one another and get to pay for the damages done with their allowances… if they even got one. I was one of the lucky few who did not and as a consequence, shoveled cow manure for two weeks basically free to pay for a bent tire rim. Ah kids… come to think of it, where are all the kids?

It was almost four o’clock and yet I didn’t see the first kid. I drove past several places where my friends and I would hang out and it was a virtual adolescent ghost town. Where do all the kids play now? I posed this question to my mother who was quietly riding shotgun. “Kids… kids don’t play anymore.” I got to thinking about it and the more I thought about it, the more I figured she was on to something. It seems a kid’s version of play, is spending unlimited hours a day playing World of Warcraft in between texts and stuffing their face with Monster energy drinks. I guess opening a can of whoop-ass on the burning legion must take a lot out of you.

I know this is has been a sweeping generalization but for the most part it has some teeth to it, and don’t give me any nonsense about how your precious little “one” is different because he/she plays bowling on their Wii or is a world champion cage fighter on Xbox Kinect…just relax. I’m sure you’re precious little genius will be just fine, as long as they never have to interact directly with other humans for the rest of their lives. As a side, when did it become necessary for every parent on the planet to individually shuttle little Mary and Johnny to the front door of the school every single day. I used to get rides to school from my mother or father, right after I got a butt chewing because I missed the bus.

So anyway, on the two hour drive back home I was listening to the radio and was listening to people jibber jabber about why American children are so overweight, and they talked about healthier choices, government intervention, school lunch program changes, food deserts, education programs and so on and so forth. I turned the channel immediately and thought to myself are these people kidding?! I know exactly what it’ll take to make kids in this country less obese, and it won’t cost a dime. Unless of course the government wants to pay me millions to go on a nationwide speaking tour. I’ve already got the speech written and everything. Being the wonderful person I think I am, I’m willing to give you kind folks a sneak peek… you ready for it… here it goes….hmmm…HMMMM…TELL YOUR CHILD TO GO OUT AND PLAY!

Oh damn you Pav, it’s not that simple. You don’t think so?! I do, and I’ll be sure and cite plenty of examples as to why I’m so right…well on this matter at least, my grammar will always suck.

 Healthier choices, yes that’s right… just like when I was a kid. My parents both worked full time jobs so by Friday night after I had spent a couple hours doing some serious damage to my bike, or breaking someone’s collarbone playing football…I didn’t have enough time to make dinner before my mom got home and as my expertise in cooking was spaghetti and a funky version of chicken cordon bleu I was usually tapped out by Friday.  After coming home late mom would usually be tired from a long week at work. So Friday night was almost always a lay-up of sorts, an easy dinner. We all have those in our repertoire and mom was no different. The upside was my brother Bryan and I enjoyed all these healthy choices dearly. Despite these foods and others, we managed to be fairly fit growing up… then came forty.

Swanson’s Hungry Man TV Dinner, I was a fried chicken man which was heaven on an aluminum tray, except of course for the cake type dessert. Encore Salisbury steak, Encore turkey and gravy (Mom would mash some potatoes for the last two and open a can of vegetables to complete the meal) Encore indeed, besides, who doesn’t like meat flavored salt licks! Chef Boyardee Ravioli with that delicious Kraft cardboard can of Parmesan cheese. One of my personal favorites was the fish sticks and french fries and onion rings, no silly not the whole onion, onion rings, the desiccated onion, onion rings with lots of ketchup.

Occasionally Friday night meant going out for dinner, my brother and I chose ethnic food, more specifically… Italian, as there was no Mexican food and only one Chinese restaurant that I wouldn’t darken the doorway of until I went with my buddy Mikko when I was about seventeen. Nothing is more Italian than Papa Gino’s…uh….right?! Hey back off, it is all that Keene had in the way of Italian food back in the day. Yep, we would either order spaghetti and meatballs or a big honking pizza with everything on it. So yeah, healthy choices are a great idea…I’m sure none of the meals I just mentioned were a starlite mint less than 800 calories and yet somehow I wasn’t fat…hmmm…interesting.

The meals during the rest of the week were better although almost never light. There was always a vegetable or two and some kind of starch, mostly in the form of casseroles or your typical meat and potato type meal. I was no dummy; I ate the meat and potato mostly and gave the gratuitous nod to the vegetables by taking a spoon of each.  This all said I was taking in some serious calories as a kid.

Keep in mind I wasn’t a small kid, but not obese in any way either. Then again I was in football, baseball, scouts, hockey and weightlifting and I knew what it was like to see the light of day, not to mention I saw and interacted with other people on a daily basis as Walkman’s (no IPods kids) which had just come out and required a good supply of batteries or a small hydroelectric plant, plus texting was another almost twenty years away, so you didn’t have much of a choice except to be with people.

Better school lunches, I’m not ancient but when I went to high school a lunch ticket cost sixty five cents and this entitled you to such delicacies as turkey chunks and gravy on mashed potato, spaghetti and meat sauce, tuna surprise, pizza and the hits keep on coming. There was always a salad available if you consider chopped lettuce and the always favorite “reddish orange” dressing that wasn’t French or Catalina, but went on everything up to and including the salad.

 Then there was milk…What’s that…did we have milk choices?! You bet your sweet ass we had choices, chocolate and regular… how’s that for a choice?! Skim milk was something I only saw in the grocery store at that time. We also had Ice Cream sandwiches available for twenty five cents apiece. When I was lucky enough for dad to forget to ask for change back for a twenty dollar bill after running into the grocery store for him and buying a 99 cent package of hot dog buns, while he sat in the car and listen to the Red Sox…I was Mariana’s Trench deep in ice cream sandwiches for the whole week. I loved everything about my high school lunch program… maybe chalk it up to no taste buds, or a seventeen year olds appetite.

Today I’ve been to high schools and looked at what these kids have to choose from. Vegetarian options to pizza and calzones and almost anything you could want in between. I’ve also been to some Whole Foods and Golden Corrals that don’t have the variety and selection that some of these high school programs have. Sure we had choices when I was a kid, eat or don’t eat… how do you like those choices?!

Government involvement, I hear of states passing laws forcing schools to take vending machines off from the property. We used to have a snack bar and vending machines at my school for kids that did after school activities and there wasn’t an apple in the place. When my activities didn’t involve sports, I usually entertained myself in detention… but I understand there were other activities as well. I guess the key word here is activity, learning to balance a paperclip on the end of a pencil in detention may not be considered an activity, but most everything else you did after school was.

Food deserts, for the love of dirt roads where do I even begin with food deserts. I grew up in a small rural New England town and I was more than ten miles away from the closest grocery store. Holy Toledo, I grew up in a food desert, and lived! I knew some kids that lived a half hour or forty five minutes from any kind of store…what silly name would the government give that? My parents used to, without the help of public transportation, government agencies, safety harnesses, crash helmets, car seats (Dibs on the rear window deck… I called it!), child safety locks, or portable DVD players… drive to the store and buy groceries every week and bring them home. Astounding isn’t it?! Was this the equivalent of sending a man to Mars now? I think not… it’s what you do to get food.

Now I’ve been avoiding the eight hundred pound gorilla here because I just know I’m going to hear about it so I saved it for last…A little parent involvement in what their kids are doing. Not just eating, but what they’re doing as well. Yes, I’m talking about that awful thing called personal responsibility. When I was a kid and made a poor decision I got my butt chewed by my parents, and got a talking to about personal responsibility. Then I’d hear how my actions have consequences that could change the rest of my life. I also heard about Bob Stanley, the relief pitcher for the Red Sox, was gonna get the Sox a World Series ring… but dad may have been listening to the game instead of the butt chewing I was getting from my mother at the time. (Guess you were wrong about that one dad)  Why can’t people do that today instead of looking to the government to fix a problem that a little fresh air and some activity could solve?

Let me give you a scenario…If you go to McDonald’s every day and eat two Big Macs and large fries plus the bladder buster sized coke and when asked if you would like to super-size it and you say “hell yeah” every time, AND, If you proceed to not do anything to burn those calories off, you will get fat…I guarantee it. So after doing this, would you not look at your actions as the cause of your obesity? A lot of people are now hiring lawyers and blaming the Hamburgler as though he’s some kind of evil subliminal advertising demon forcing them to eat crap every day. Now tell me, who deserves a break today?

So why should it be any different with kids? Kids are no different today than they were when I was a kid. They aren’t smarter, they aren’t better, they aren’t more stylish and they certainly don’t have any different nutritional needs than they did a hundred years ago…they just need to put down the video controller, the IPod, the cell phone and get outside. Helping them make smart food choices when they’re young is not the job of the government, it is the job of the parent/parents/guardian and the last I checked the school has a class that teaches nutrition. Of course it was four food groups when I was a kid so basically a square, then it was a pyramid, now it is… hell I don’t know a truncated icosahedron?!  It doesn’t take any special training, it doesn’t take a village, and it doesn’t take a government funded program.

Not all kids are obese, but it sure seems as though it is a higher percentage than when I was a kid and data seems to support this. I look back at grammar school pictures, and aside from the fact I didn’t seem to own a comb and was also missing at least one tooth in every picture…I was pretty normal looking in comparison to other kids, yet I got razzed by some because I was a bit heavier than they were. I grew up about five inches my sophomore year in high school and the teasing stopped…the hair never got much better but I did get a comb as this was something that females did seem to care about.

So what can we do to help the kids that are obese? It’s simple, do like my dad did and say… “Go outside and play, it’s too nice to be in the house.” My brother and I would say “there’s nothing to do outside” to which my father would respond…”I’ll find you something for you to do”(which loosely translates to stacking cord wood) and this usually ended the conversation. In the end it’s not the total answer, but it sure seems like a good start at the very least.

What do the kids do when they get outside you ask? Well when I was a kid we had something called an “imagination.” You know, when you make up games?! You think of fun things to do and then you do them…One such game that comes to my mind was in grade school that involved running around with a group of friends from your imaginary fort to another group of kids imaginary fort and we would beat the hell out of each other with sticks, out of sight of the teachers….ummm…. on second thought… tell them to Google it…
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5 thoughts on “I WAS RAISED IN A FOOD DESERT, AND LIVED!

  1. I don't remember a single sunny day when I was a kid that I wasn't practically voted out of the house to go play. My play certainly changed over the years (from tying towels on like capes with my friends and searching the town for evildoers we could fell with our superhero powers to later years, lying on the beach, slicked up and spurning the advances of the army guys always hanging around. I never see kids outside just playing anymore. And you're right, it's done something really weird to their socialization skills.

  2. 1%99, like I said in the post buddy, it's a sweeping generalization but there seems to be a lot of this type of behavior. I guess also what I failed to mention, is that "healthy" food and awareness of healthy food is everywhere. Unlike when we were younger and eating margarine because it was "better" for you than butter, TV dinners, canned and processed food, etc…If anyone should have been fat it should have been our generation not this one. Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it. Next story will be a fluff piece…literally!

  3. IMHO you hit the nail right square on the damn hear here Pav.Most parents today wanna lay any kinda blame elsewhere,and kids today do nothing but stare at some kinda screen for most of their waking hours.It's no wonder child obesity is on the rise.

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