Filed under: Art + Religion, Food + Health, J500 Week 10, Justice + Outreach, Local Events + Action | Tags: choices, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, Passover, Ricky Gervais, school lunches, Seder, USDA
When I was little, I dreaded the holiday of Passover. Being Jewish, I was required for a week every year to cut out breads and any leavened foods (generally interpreted as anything with yeast, and any pastas). I thought it would be impossible to survive without cookies, pizza, sandwiches, and all the other basic components of a grade-schooler’s diet. The school cafeteria certainly wasn’t accommodating, leaving me to regularly bring a lunch-bag with matzoh, some macaroons, perhaps some fruit, generally stuff that my friends weren’t going to touch when they could have the rectangular globs of ingredients we were told was pizza.
Over the years, eating during Passover has gotten significantly easier, both as I’ve learned that one can survive without PB&J for a week (unpleasant as it may be), and as I’ve discovered how many other options there are to consume in general. As a kid, I knew little about variety in my diet because two of the three meals I’d eat a day became standard very quickly. Cereal in the morning, something frozen and from a plastic bag for lunch at school (along with the requisite tiny carton of chocolate milk or half-cup of condensed orange juice).
Generally, breaking out of a dietary routine at that age is impossible. A few kinds of cheap, processed foods are going to be regular sights at public school lunches, and there is little that will last in a paper sack in a kid’s locker for four hours before they eat that is actually healthier than the aformentioned pizza blobs I ate in my early years. With government funding to public schools being cut on a regular basis, they really can’t splurge on nicer products, and even the awareness raised by a few well-meaning projects like British television chef Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” isn’t going to do more than raise eyebrows and get a few kids a few better lunches. I really admire the mission statement that “every child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious school meals, and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food”, but culturally, I have to look at what factors have brought about the epidemic of poor nutrition which Oliver is concerned with.
I’ll go far enough, cynical as I tend to be, to disagree with another British TV star, Ricky Gervais, who criticized Oliver’s campaign by saying that American children “know why they’re fat, and they like it.” The problem has been increasingly recognized, and the USDA is becoming more involved in fighting the problem, but parents without the time and schools without the money aren’t going to change how they feed their children.
So, while I now shop for myself, and went to a Seder this year that, to my surprise, served baba ghanoush, somewhere there is a Jewish kid, probably growing up in the Midwest like I did, who dreaded the beginning of Passover this year because they don’t know how easy it is to cut a few things out for a week.
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