My response to "Parents can't just say no."Published 9.13.2012; reformatted 9.21.2015
Yoni Freedhoff has written a series of posts devoted to the idea that it is too difficult for parents to "just say no" to all the ultra-processed crap that is available. His position is that the government should regulate the type of foods offered (especially at publicly owned spaces), but in a recent post he extends this idea to a privately owned theme park.
The outrage stems from the fact that patrons are not permitted to bring their own food into the park (said food is healthier, of course, than what's sold at the park). This is not an uncommon policy. The park exists to be profitable, and part of the profit calculation is the obscene prices charged for food and drinks. Another part of the calculation is cheap cost of prepping the obscenely priced food. Park owners want the margins on the food to be as high as possible.
As the previous paragraph should indicate, I'm not unaware of the quality of the food in amusement parks, nor how the parks work to gain a profit. I don't disagree with Freedhoff (or the doctor/father whose post he includes in his post) on that score. Where I disagree is the notion that a day at an amusement park eating crappy food is somehow a tragic event worthy of outrage and governmental action.
If you eat healthy most of the time, why does a trip to a place where you know (or should know) that the food is going to be uniformly processed and high in calories be an issue? Do food doctrinaires really think that they will be able to keep their kids from eating processed foods? Wouldn't that be the definition of creating "forbidden fruit?"
I've read "paleo" parents' weblogs wherein they detail how they restrict what their kids eat then rail about the "SAD" (standard American diet) and the stupid parents who allow their children to eat it. I think these paleo parents are fooling themselves, and are setting up greater future issues. Childhood parties and school activities become major traumas for these folks. How dare someone bring cupcakes (gluten, sugar, grains) into the classroom and offer them as though they weren't poison? And so forth. Of course if there are food allergies or other medical issues that's one thing, but for many of these people it's a lifestyle choice, rather than a medical necessity.
I cheerfully call myself a "food Nazi" and exercise complete control of what is served in my home. It is my home, after all, and I make the rules. Making your own food is, at base, all about control. It may or may not be healthier than what can be purchased, but if I make, I know exactly what's in it— and what's NOT in it.
However, outside my home, I do not (and I accept that I cannot) control what is produced and offered. I am no different in this respect than any other parent. So upon exiting my home and choosing to eat, I can either refuse to eat what I find and refuse to allow my kids to eat it (the only option that permits me to retain complete control), or I can get over myself and accept that that occasionally life (and the food available) is less than perfect.
I understand the complaint that there aren't enough "healthy" choices available in the world at large, and that parents are surrounded by poor options. And I get that to avoid these options, parents have to deny their children exposure to some fun stuff. I disagree that imposing a health standard from on high should be the answer. I also disagree that denying kids access to all things deemed "bad" by the parent is a realistic answer either.
Choosing to enter a private establishment brings consequences. In the case cited, the consequence was that only food and drink sold in the park could be consumed in the park. I guess I don't see why one day of "junk" food (absent any medical issues relating to food) should be the cause for so much concern.
I cooked for my kids, easily 20 out of 21 meals during a typical week. I know that isn't typical for most families, but it's the choice I made. But when we travel or visit family, I relax and don't stress about it. My kids learned proper nutrition, and learned that "junk" food could be occasionally eaten without harm.
Were there conflicts on occasion? Sure. We didn't eat like the other families and we didn't go out to restaurants as often. But both kids are normal weight as they approach adulthood, and both recently admitted that they both preferred eating "real" food over processed food. And they can visit with friends and family who make very different food choices with ease. Because they have a healthy baseline, the occasional "junk" meal, of even a week or two of "junk" meals, doesn't derail their health.
Freedhoff works with obese families to whom he tries to teach good nutrition. His clients are used to buying packaged and processed foods and accepting the health claims made by manufacturers. I understand his frustration and I support his effort to expose food processor falsehoods. But parents have more power than he seems to recognize, if they would only choose to use it.
It doesn't have to be all or nothing. There's a glorious middle ground where many live happily and healthily.