Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Are you hungry? Did you eat yet?


That's my new way of expressing dissatisfaction with something. My apologies to Angela Aylmore, the author of Blowing (Making Music) but when you give a book a title like that, you have to figure someone somewhere's going to use it as a comment.

It started when Token Boy Librarian nagged me because I was thirty seconds late relieving him on the children's desk. As I hurried to take over for his suffering self, I noticed Blowing on a display. I grabbed the book and, catching his eye, ever so subtly pointed at the cover and then at him. I totally forget sometimes that some kids can read. They should really never let me be around kids.

So today what's got me cranky is a new book called The Gulps. Written by Rosemary Wells and hideously illustrated by Marc Brown (of Arthur fame) (no, not Dudley Moore, you childless freak: Arthur, the series of books and the animated show on PBS about the aardvark who totally looks like a woodchuck or something), the book is one of those heavy-handed lessons about how delicious healthy food is and how wonderful you feel getting lots of exercise. Plus the plot is nonsense.
Synopsis: Overweight, hyper-consuming family goes on vacation. Their RV breaks down because it just can't hold their weight. They are taken in by the local farmer, and eat healthy delicious food and work on the farm until they slim down enough for the RV to start. Then they decide to take their vacation hiking the National Park instead of going to the amusement park.

Plot problems:
  1. Have you ever heard of a vehicle not starting because there was too much weight on board? A vehicle that is not, say, horse-drawn?
  2. They are staying at this man's farm, and working on it. Are they hostages? Are they paying rent?
  3. After they have lost so much weight, which presumably takes a while, they are still on vacation, and take off to go hiking.
I think there's only one conclusion you can draw here: they are the 21st century version of the Joads, obese city dwellers evicted from their apartment who take to the road in their only remaining possession, an unreliable RV. When the RV breaks down, they are taken in by an unscrupulous farmer who exploits their utter lack of ability to fend for themselves in a non-urban landscape. At last, overworked and underfed, they get the wagon going again and escape to the hills, there to eke out a living selling change purses made from the hides of roadkill to tourists (We actually knew a girl who did this, her name was Madeline but everybody called her Roadkill. Sweet nickname, uh?)

Sermon problems:

I'm getting pretty damn sick of this pious food crap. Don't get me wrong - I am all for the healthy delicious food (it's all one word now, "healthydelicious," I've heard it repeated so many times). We don't own Cheetos. We put nori and cheese and apple chips in lunches as snacks. It sucks, believe me, but it's our responsibility - Bob's and mine. I don't want my kids developing a dependence on high fructose corn syrup - that shit is nasty. It bothers me when I meet children who think McNuggets are a meal.

But let me reiterate: it's our responsibility. Man, you should have seen my kids when I read The Gulps. They started out happy, then confused, then bored. It looks like a children's book, their expressions said, but it seems to be some kind of message to mom, telling her to put more vegetables on our plates.

I think the book is meant to get kids excited about vegetables (and farm work, though how that's supposed to play out in most kids' lives I do not get). And I think the adult reading the book is supposed to feel ashamed and inspired by their children's newfound vegetable boosterism, and run out to buy kale and asparagus and show those children just how delicious healthy foods are.

But in my case, it pissed me off.

Let me tell you something. Every year I grow peas. I like peas. They come up early and they're easy to grow. And every year when the peas are ripe, my children and I sit in the back yard and eat peas. It's lovely, straight out of Beatrix Potter. We tell stories about the little pea people in the little pea boats (or rocket ships, or giraffes) and then all the little pea people meet their agonizing fate in the rocky cave (or wormhole or vacuum cleaner) of a small child's mouth.

So for two weeks out of every year, my children eat, oh, 4 ounces of peas a day, and they rejoice in it. And ALL IT TAKES is ordering the seeds, tilling the garden, adding compost to the garden, planting the seeds, putting up supports for the plants, and watering and weeding for three months. Fuck that.

Well, no. Not fuck that. I like gardening. And I have the time to do it. But if I didn't, should I be obligated to feel bad? What if I was a single mom who worked two jobs and couldn't get to the farmer's market to buy fresh local produce so my children could have healthy delicious blabla - then should I feel bad? How about if I had a large family and a few foster kids, and my food budget allowed me to buy 5 pounds of Velveeta for every pound of fresh spinach - if I chose the processed cheese, should I feel bad about filling more stomachs with less nutritious food?

Rosemary Wells and Marc Brown say yes, I think.

Fuck them, and fuck everyone who would imply that the healthydelicious food is simply a matter of "making healthy choices". Piety and sneering comments about "priorities" overlook the economic realities of food in this country.

Instead of reading The Gulps or Hubert the Pudge (not as lecture-y, but with plot holes a 5 year old could spot), try Edward Miller's The Monster Health Book, which actually explains such concepts as energy and food groups to kids, without trying to dumb it down into a clunky parable. Instead of reading Barbara Kingsolver's new book, read "The (Agri)Cultural Contradictions Of Obesity", Michael Pollan's recent article on the Ag Bill in the New York Times Magazine. It explains why healthydelicious food isn't always (or often) a matter of choice.

Dinner tonight: brown rice, peas from the garden, locally caught bluefish. God, I could just strangle myself. It's a thin line between love and hate.