As I was reading all the paperwork that ends up in my two older sons’ kindy bags, I came across a two large posters, both called “Healthy Lunches Made Easy”, one produced by the Canterbury DHB, and one by the Fight The Obesity Epidemic food lobby, but both saying quite different things. (For the record, the Canterbury DHB one was the better of the two and made me feel hungry).
As I read it, I became aware of the 14-month-old sitting next to me in his high chair, enjoying the little square of chocolate that I had just given to him because he looked cute.
I’m also laughing at the Fight The Obesity (hereinafter known as FO) poster. My boys are all of healthy weight, healthy height and are active. They love their food, and while they don't overeat, I worry about how we can afford to feed them when they get to teenage years. They eat lots of bread, rice, pasta, fruit and vegetables of their own volition because they enjoy them. But I can guarantee that the advice on the FO poster will be a waste of food. Celery on dry, unflavoured rice cakes??? Would anyone willingly eat that??? We are told in bright red letters, "Sugars, chocolates and giant versions of food have no place in a child's lunchbox." "Water is the only drink recommended for children." "Sugars contribute to weight gain and tooth decay."
My children are doomed!
I'm not convinced that a bit of chocolate, even given daily (which, before any psycho food lobbyists get upset, I don't do, but only because I can’t afford it), is going to give my children one or more of the following: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, anaemia, hyperactivity, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, mental illness (including schizophrenia), menstrual cramps, scurvy, hair loss, hirsutism, varicose veins, impotence, drug addiction, suicide, haemorrhoids, constipation, diarrhoea, or lead to criminality.
Although having just read the list, I wonder if chocolate might be the reason behind some of my afflictions.
The following list is contains the grand total of commonplace diseases that I believe are conclusively linked with sugar/chocolate consumption:
1. Tooth decay.
And it is easily countered by brushing your teeth regularly.
Sugar does not make people fat. Fat makes people fat. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that is quickly converted into glucose energy in the bloodstream. Saturated fats, such as dairy products, meats and fried foods, are more likely to be causing any obesity problems. By this reasoning, it is not the sugar in the chocolate that is fattening; it is the full-fat milk. So, surely the solution is to enjoy it in moderation?
The health lobbyists may have correctly deduced that people prefer high-sugar diets to healthier foods, but they have developed a flawed strategy of frightening people away from sugar in the belief that somehow they will be lured in to healthier foods as a matter of course. It is a desperate measure, doomed to failure, fundamentally dishonest and morally reprehensible, but most public health organisations seem to pursue it as policy.
All this nutritional perversity does is for a child is develop unhealthy ideas about "good" foods and "bad" foods, associating food with punishment and reward, or with body image. Mentally labelling foods is central to the warped logic of people with eating disorders. A more relaxed approach would make everyone happier and healthier. Sure, children sometimes don't have the capacity to understand what is best for them - which is why wise parents care for them - and there may be a need to ration their children's sweets. But it would be better for everyone's psychological health if sweets were given joyfully, as an expression of love, rather than grudgingly and disapprovingly. Sometimes it seems that parents derive a perverse satisfaction from banning or demonising certain foods, because they feel they are taking some positive action in protecting their children, regardless of whether it is doing more harm than good.
The policy of demonising sugar and sweets does not fundamentally improve people's diets. All it does is spoil an innocent moment of pleasure, a balm amid the stress of life. I'm not suggesting that sugar is necessarily good. And there is no doubt that people can end up abusing sweets for the wrong reasons, such as boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. It's just that the public health argument has been made too forcefully against sugar.
Let's conveniently ignore the fact that we are eating more and more sugar, and let’s conveniently ignore that this shows how useless the anti-sugar strategy has been. And let’s conveniently ignore the fact that some cultures in the world - Indian, Arabic, and French immediately come to mind - have consumed the most sugar-laden sweets for centuries and have not wiped themselves out of existence.
My boys like chocolate. As do I. I don't want them to feel deprived of chocolate because I know how ghastly that feels. I would rather they learnt the art of eating in moderation by themselves, not by some fascist rhetoric from bored health dictators.
Why does everyone have to eat well all the time?
Excuse me while I go and report myself to the appropriate authorities now.