Call Me a Party (Pie) Pooper But the Kids are NOT Alright…

When it comes to kids, I love the following story relayed by my teacher and mentor a couple of years ago at one of his nutritional lectures. The subject was food and children. One theory is, do not feed your children starchy produce before the age of three – they cannot digest it. Interesting when you consider that one of the first solid foods we are encouraged to feed our babies is rice cereal. Secondly, before the age of five, it is much more important to say no to junk. This is because when our immune systems are developing, it involves macrophages working out what should be treated as something detrimental to the body and destroyed, and what actually needs to be there. The suggestion was that whatever your system has in place by age five is unlikely to change. This then, has the power to affect your health in the future.

My teacher was accompanying his four-year old daughter to a party when the birthday cake came out, an array of bright green, blue and other intense rainbow colours. Alarmed, he whispered to his daughter quietly that he had some organic mango in his pocket but he didn’t have enough for all the other children. How would she like to come and sit under the tree with him quietly and share it with him while they were busy? She loved mango, so willingly obliged. When they walked back to the group five or ten minutes later, the cake was gone. Mission accomplished.

However, the mother of the child whose birthday it was took umbrage and reacted angrily. She told my teacher he was cruel because, “it was only a “treat”. Cleverly, my teacher responded by suggesting that in maybe 10 years time, when the kids were around 14 or 15, perhaps they would have another party where he might offer the same kids some alcohol or some illegal drugs. After all he said, I could argue the same thing and say ” but it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s just a treat!”.

His point was, that synthetic food colouring, additives and preservatives might affect a young child’s system permanently- albeit perhaps less obviously – in the same way as illicit substances are likely to affect the system of an older child or young adult.

Around 15 years ago when I began to take steps towards teaching yoga after a few years of consistent practise, I attended my first anatomy and physiology workshop with my teacher in Sydney. Apart from learning dry stuff such as the Greek and Latin names for all things bodily, these workshops have always had a strong focus on our modern Western diet and the problems with the many common foods that we tend to eat. This has included “the truth” about certain “health” foods such as cows milk, soy milk, rice, grains, bread, animal protein yadda yadda blah; the problems associated with cooking food in traditional ways as well as the usual (but perhaps not so well known back then) stuff about additives that we take for granted (such as fluoride to water and toothpaste for example).

There were many things I stopped eating after that first workshop. It made me think. I became thinner (I was already thin. I didn’t need to be thinner). And for a while there, I may have even become a teensy bit boring. Thankfully Facebook didn’t exist in 2000 so I didn’t end up boring most of the world with my newfound knowledge. And things changed a little when I headed off to Bali for a two month yoga teacher training workshop in 2001 and shared meals with other healthy people – including my teachers. Most enjoyed a balanced, veggie oriented diet but still tucked into dessert (if they felt like it). I relaxed a little. Three hours of Astanga Yoga a day. Yep. I needed to eat.

It also reminded me of other interesting points my A&P teacher had made sure to state often during his lectures. Basically, humans are social creatures. If you enjoy having friends in your life and you like to go out for dinner and be social, then think seriously about what makes you happy before adopting a stringent eating plan. Happiness is just as important to our health as nutrition and exercise. In short, if you are boring about your diet and so rigid in your life that you get worried if you cannot Stick To The Plan, people will think you are boring. The invitations may stop.

And this is exactly what has happened. Just as some of us imagine (without checking) that those friends with their new baby won’t want to come to our latest dinner party (so no point in inviting them), it is also the case, on occasion, that we have not thought to invite blah and blah to (for example) a curry night (since they are raw vegan). And now that paleo is all the fad, those guys would probably be off the list too since they seem convinced rice is poison (in spite of the fact that the traditional Japanese diet was found to be one of the healthiest on the planet). Paleo man did apparently have the skills to cure yummy, fatty, salty bacon though (huh?) so maybe those guys can come for breakfast instead (as long as the eggs are organic of course). And would any of you paleos out there like a slice of black pudding (congealed pigs blood) with your eggs? Perhaps a couple of pigs trotters? No, I didn’t think so.

Yes, everyone is now a quasi nutritionist or a food activist. Each day we find out something “new”. For example; did you know there was “hidden” sugar in low fat yoghurt. shop-bought muesli bars and other so-called “health” products? Um yep. I read labels – but hey, thanks for the movie.

A few weeks ago I went to a catered awards event for a kids’ sporting activity in the community where lunch was served by the local cafe. It isn’t a health joint but has a reasonable menu with some healthy options. Most of the parents and volunteers were relieved once our new venue was completed because we no longer had to have our annual event hosted by one of the local clubs. In previous years the kids had been treated to a sea of beige when it came to their meal. The kind of crap that I personally wouldn’t serve up to a dog; party pies, sausage rolls, nuggets and chips. Now when it comes to food, this is the kind of stuff that really freaking winds me up! It’s lazy for a start, but importantly, why are kids’ healthy menu options deemed less important than an adults? I just don’t get it. Some of us parents got on board and tried to change things. The next year the kids got a lasagne which I guess was a little better (to go with the party pies and nuggets…) but still no veg or salad. Still beige! Far out!

And yet, despite everyone’s seemingly obsessive diet plans and nutritional standards of late, despite our new venue, I was sickened this year to see the same old crap being dished up to feed Our Children. Not even homemade pies and sausage rolls. Nope, it was plates of frozen party pies and their standard freezer friends. Aggghhh! Beige! This is what we had paid for. This rubbish was fed to our kids despite the fact that we were all there because we believed in the importance of healthy pursuits and keeping active. And not many parents seemed to be as bothered about it as me. This made me feel like I was some crazy mumma on a high horse who was just making a fuss, when the truth is, I have a healthy relationship with food. I understand the importance of nutrition without being overboard. A few people I discussed it with later said they too were a little cross, some for similar reasons and some just felt cranky because they had paid a particular amount of money for food they could have fed their kids with themselves – but for a fifth of the price. When it came down to it, the hungry hordes surged forward and filled up their plates nonetheless.

So, my question is, where is everyone? Where are all the loud food activists that are on Facebook every day? The nouveau nutritional bores on Instagram who post a photo of their freshly-sliced breakfast melon and neatly arranged activated nuts each day? Trying to convince me to follow the latest diet fad? To get rid of my belly fat? To be a little more Like You? Announcing something you are sure is a fact because you saw it on another activist’s Facebook page? I didn’t see or hear many of you that day. In fact, I never see or hear many of you at other kids’ sporting events where sausage sizzles, lollies and soft drink are the standard fare and the kids are wearing Tshirts with McDonalds logos emblazoned all over them. Where are you all when it really counts?

Come on folks. Let’s say it loud and say it clear. Let’s not just talk about it on Facey. It’s time to actually Live It. It’s time we all made an effort to cut the crap from kids’ menus once and for all by refusing to eat it ourselves, refusing to let them eat it, and to really practice and actually “be” what we all suddenly seem well able to preach.