Don’t take it out on the kids

So yesterday I went to Chick Fil A for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t even realize my visit coincided with the possible end of the chain’s support of gay-hate groups, but that’s fine by me.

I wrote recently about why CFA should be a smaller part of my life, and it wasn’t about politics or religion at all – purely about health. But yesterday I was jonesing something awful for the spicy chicken. So I rationalized that going every six weeks to two months isn’t going to kill anybody, and the small amount I spend there (usually under $15) isn’t going to make a dent one way or the other in their business. I fulfilled my craving without guilt, and made my children extremely happy by finally relenting to their near-daily demand for the place.

After we ate and they were safely ensconced in the playground, I noticed that the kids had automatically been given the under-3 toy with their meals. At first, I assumed the restaurant must simply be out of anything else. But then I saw every other kid in the place had a different and cooler toy (some kind of cd…not sure if it was for listening or computer). Since my house is already littered with those little board books, I decided to go ask for the other toy.

Here’s what I was told: “You didn’t buy the right meal to get those. You only bought four nuggets. You have to buy six nuggets to get the over-3 toy.” I’m like, what? I’ve always only ordered four…because that is all my kids eat. The woman patiently responded that this was a new policy: to give an under-3 toy with a 4-count nugget, and an over-3 toy with a 6-count nugget (never mind that I bought two 4-count meals, and therefore 8 nuggets…but I didn’t think of pointing that out at the time).

This concerns me because it raises a health issue. Basically the store is taking the position either that a) only toddlers eat 4-count meals or b) an older child with a reasonable appetite should be treated like a baby.

My children often eat only three of their four nuggets, and that is because I make them first eat their fruit and pouch of applesauce, all the while drinking milk (fries, if any, are last after nuggets). When they load up on the healthier stuff first, then their little tummies are pretty much full, and the nuggets are just a protein chaser.

But CFA is penalizing this behavior, and insisting that if I want my children to receive an age-appropriate toy, they have to have what they consider an age-appropriate appetite.

Is anybody else thinking about childhood obesity? Could this maybe be such a problem because we assume that a “normal” child portion is six nuggets plus fries plus (refillable) soda?

I realize that an older child probably does need six nuggets to feel full (though she will get fuller if she eats fruit and milk on the side instead of fries and soda). But my kid is four years old. And skinny. And frankly, I have no desire to force feed her extra nuggets.

CFA has tried (successfully, in my book) to position themselves as a healthier alternative for kids, offering grilled nuggets, applesauce, fruit, milk, etc. They used to upcharge for these items but stopped that practice a few years ago, which indicated to me a positive move towards caring about kids’ health – making it easy & cost-neutral to give your child something better for him. Now I feel like their commitment is declining…worse, I feel like they are cutting costs at the expense of kids.

And I do not know one parent who doesn’t go there because their kids beg for it. So really, children are among their most important customers. They should be bending over backwards to keep kids happy!

Yes, I know it is ironic to talk about health, especially to complain about it, when it comes to fast food. That was the point of my previous post. But the fact remains, sometimes your kids will want it, sometimes you need a fast and cheap lunch. That’s just a reality of parenting. And I’d rather go there than other places where I really don’t trust the food at all (and have bigger problems with their labor practices than I do with CFA’s charity practices). Finally, I appreciate the fact that at CFA I have several healthier options to choose from.

I just wish my kids wouldn’t be punished for making a choice that is better for their bodies.

[UPDATE: I’ve recently learned this might only be a local policy – if you find that this is not the policy at your CFA, would you mind posting a comment to let me know? Thanks!]
[SECOND UPDATE: OK Now I have been officially shamed by Food Babe and will probably give up CFA for good. Dammit.]

Why I should have stopped eating at Chick Fil A a long time ago

“I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.” (Dan Cathy)

“Of course, it’s perfectly OK to have the audacity to re-engineer God’s chicken design to make them 95% breast meat, and then drop a couple of strips of bacon and cheese on top of those bad boys, cuz you can’t take everything in Leviticus like it’s the word of God.” (Jon Stewart)

But smarter people ask where it comes from

I haven’t been to CFA since the whole Cathy Kerfuffle, though I probably will not stay away forever. But I have had to ask myself WHY I suddenly stopped eating there, over of all things a man’s personal opinion, when for years eating there has resulted in my participating in or supporting many other actions which I find repulsive, such as:

  • Growing ridiculous numbers of chickens, who are at best living their lives in a crowded dark warehouse eating feed not suited to their bodies, and are at worst genetically modified to produce the type of meat I want.
  • Consuming fats which are likely poisonous to my body and processed food with dubious nutritional content. Oh, and also, meat glue.
  • Eating produce which was almost certainly picked by an immigrant laborer who was paid maybe a pittance, or maybe nothing at all, for his or her work, all the while exposed to dangerous chemicals and backbreaking labor in any sort of weather.
  • Supporting a level and type of farming that requires altering natural processes, damaging the environment, and widespread use of fertilizer, pesticides and their ilk.

Why have I not questioned any of this before?

Granted, these are problems with almost any fast food – scratch that, almost any food you eat outside your home, period. And since reading Fast Food Nation several years ago I haven’t patronized the major fast food chains on any sort of regular basis. But I make excuses for my favorite places, either by virtue of knowing they treat their staff decently (In-N-Out), or because they give my kids books instead of toys and fruit or applesauce instead of fries (Chick Fil A), or because I know they source local and somewhat cleaner meat (Freebirds, Chipotle). I don’t have an excuse for why I eat at Five Guys (someone know something good about them?) but I only go there 1-2x a year anyway.

Anyway, all this to say that there are so many good reasons not to eat at any fast food chain that none of us should be doing it regularly. Certainly not up to three times a week, as I’ve been guilty of doing in the past with CFA (it’s my kids! I blame their addiction to nuggets! And the play structures that keep them amused while I avail myself of free wi-fi!).

This week I’m going to talk about just one aspect of this post: justice. Particularly in relation to the people who tend and pick the crops we eat. And I mean the stuff we buy to cook at home, too, not just what the major restaurant chains have to demand to meet their supply quotas. So if you’re not inclined to think about or change the way you eat, you should probably skip these posts. Because I’ve learned some seriously disturbing information, and I’m about to get all lady justice up in big ag’s ass.

Raising a Foodie, Part 2

Yesterday I blogged about how I’m trying to train my kids’ palates to enjoy real, good food. But I have to admit: I live in a place of tension about this. I simply can’t be perfect in what I feed them, and it is only going to get worse.

At first, we tried very hard to only feed the children exclusively organic food. Then that kept getting messed up – sometimes accidentally, sometimes because we couldn’t afford otherwise. Plus you go to grandma’s and all your good intentions go out the window; or you eat out, and God only knows what they’ve been doing to the food (the one thing you can count on, according to Anthony Bourdain, is that your food is swimming in butter).

So I do my best: they mostly get organic produce and meat, but I’ve had to compromise on most grains. I try to only buy conventional of the safer produce, and with dairy, if I can’t get organic I at least get it without rBST and other hormones. Of course, when we were on the government WIC program, we couldn’t get any organic dairy (though we could get organic produce, and even shop at the farmer’s market).

One thing I tell groups when I speak is that the most important change you can make in your family’s diet is to switch to organic dairy. This is the consensus based on the hormones and what-have-you added to cow’s diets, not to mention the treatment of the animals. And the fact that dairy makes up a huge portion of most kids’ diets. So if you only can do one thing, switch your milk, cheese, butter, and ice cream to organic.

It’s a constant struggle, a constant compromise. I did what I could when we were poor: I found a store that took WIC and only sells cage-free eggs: voila! I even used food stamps at Whole Foods…did you know you can do that?

I used to work at – and get food from – a pantry that had a lot of organic. I’ve researched the dairies providing our stuff and found the ones whose methods I can live with. And nowadays I try to get our meat only from either a local ranch or the farmer’s market, or occasionally Whole Foods (because at least they have some standards).

Yeah, it’s a hell of a lot of work, and I wish I didn’t have to do it, but I’m not going to trust the government – or the industrial food complex – to provide the highest level of nutrition as well as protection for animals, farmworkers, and the environment. That just ain’t gonna happen: it’s a business, first and foremost. A business, I might add, whose co-opting of the words “natural” and “organic” is driving me insane!

But anyway, back to feeding our kids.

Beyond the issues of organic vs. non and all that trendy green stuff, I live with tension about nutrition. Of course I would love for the kids to only have a taste for vegetables and whole wheat bread, and only want to drink water (and eventually, wine). I would be so relieved if they didn’t have to struggle with extra weight. I would be proud if they ate for maximum nutritional value.

But you know, there’s a lot to be said for taste as well. And I don’t care how you dress it up, tofu or seitan are never going to be remotely like a steak swimming in butter and blue cheese. Whole wheat pasta is hard and chewy. There are times in life that call for ice cream and cake. Would life be worth living without french fries and potato chips? (I don’t mean the fake kind, I mean fresh and homemade)

Plus, I’m a big old hypocrite if I don’t let them eat some treats now & then. Lord knows only my Haagen-Dazs has gotten me through several dark periods. I sometimes get a craving for fast food (that I can usually quell) or a snack cake (which I try to feed with real cake instead). But I have my major weaknesses, and there’s just no way I can explain away the fact that I love that horrible hydrogenated grocery store bakery white cake, with extra frosting. I have been known to eat it for breakfast on my birthday, and every day thereafter until it is gone.

I live in Texas, where Chick-Fil-A is ubiquitous, and my kids love their nuggets (at least I always get a fruit cup, and the nuggets are actual meat). I love salt and vinegar Kettle Chips. I love cheese fries (but not queso aka Velveeta!). I love things that taste good and aren’t good for you. Sure, lots of delicious things are good for you too…but that’s not all there is.

And really, how can I give my child fruit-sweetened cake with no topping? What about the time-honored tradition of the child smearing the frosting all over himself? How would we have the appropriate first birthday photos? This isn’t just fun in my family of origin: it’s a bona fide rite of passage. It’s tradition.

The fact is, Halloween candy is part of life nowadays; so, unfortunately, is Valentine’s and Easter candy. I’m surprised there’s no Fourth of July candy, although I suppose we’re all to busy stuffing our faces with hot dogs and potato salad that day.

Anyway, I’m just not going to be one of those parents who denies their kid sugar. They’re not getting it often or in large quantities, but I agree that there’s no better way to set up bingeing than to deny. I know this from personal experience.

So it’s a balance, and it’s moderation. That’s how I see it. And I also believe strongly that I simply can’t live my life one way and not allow my kids some measure of it. Not that they get to eat exactly as I do, since I hope for better for them.

But birthday cake in our house will always be real cake (they get homemade) with lots of frosting, you can bet on that!