Hey, let’s start the food craziness as young as we can.

A school in Chicago is actually banning homemade lunches (unless a kid has allergies). If they don’t want the school lunch, oh, well, sucks to be them. If they don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch, but $2.25 a day still seems a little pricey compared to a sandwich and a baggie of veggies, too bad.

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to start. First off, it’s really overstepping the school’s boundaries to say parents can’t send a lunch with their kids. It’s a slap in the face that implies parents are too dumb to properly feed their kids and that teenagers aren’t capable of putting their own lunches together.

Secondly, the fact that they only offer reduced fat dressings and mayonnaise–well, that sounds good, but it depends on the salad dressing. Since it’s a school cafeteria, I’m guessing they’re cheap and not wonderful. A lot of reduced fat dressings are kind of gross, and if that’s the only option a kid has for eating a salad, how many will just pass on the veggies completely? But somehow that’s supposed to be better than eating and learning to like veggies with real salad dressing.

Third, if a school is insisting that its meals are the only thing kids can have, they had darn well better be providing meals acceptable for all religious and ethical food requirements. And not, “Oh, you’re a vegan, you can eat salad every day”–an actual balanced meal with kosher, halal, and vegetarian/vegan options. Something tells me they’re not managing that.

I’m pretty sure that parents and older kids have a much better idea of what would be good for that individual kid to have for lunch on a daily basis than a cafeteria trying to feed hundreds of kids. Depending on metabolism, growth, and activity level, some kids might need a lot more food than others. I worry that all the concern about “not making kids fat” is going to mean not feeding them enough–which can, ironically, screw up their metabolisms and make some of them heavier.

Plus, the main function of school is to have kids learn, not to be their babysitter, dietitian, life coach, and parent. School lunches should support that purpose, but if kids don’t get enough food or are skipping meals because they aren’t allowed to pack their own lunch, their academic performance is going to suffer. And seriously, with budgets getting cut left and right, schools are hard-pressed to do their one main job and do it well. A lot of them don’t do it well. Do they really need to divide their attention by being the food police too?

The other really problematic thing about this is that it teaches kids a restrictive attitude toward food, as well as making sweet and fatty foods forbidden—and all the more attractive. When I was in high school, I remember coming home at 3:45 or so absolutely ravenous, having had lunch around 11:30. And the first thing I wanted was a sweet or fatty snack. Limit kids’ calories and severely restrict their choices at school, and a lot of them will probably tear into the potato chips and Little Debbies the minute they get home. Not because they’re greedy or gluttonous or bad, but because that’s what your body wants when you haven’t had food for a while, and because when you get past a certain level of hunger, your sense of fullness gets out of whack. Especially if, you know, you’re a growing child.

Even worse than this school, though, is a school in Tucson mentioned toward the end of the article. They have a bunch of restrictions on what parents can send with their kids: they can send a lunch “only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other ‘processed’ foods” but the school doesn’t have a cafeteria. Seriously, when you’re not providing an alternative, you shouldn’t get to dictate what parents provide.

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A Little Is Never Enough

Lonie McMichael over at BFB has a good post up about how the odds of diet success don’t change because you’re doing it for your health. Regardless of your reasons, you’ve got a 5% chance, if that. And as she points out, a lot of those 5% gained weight due to pregnancy (or illness, or meds, or a number of temporary causes). These aren’t people who’ve always been heavy, for the most part. They’re people who dieted once, and probably stopped when they came back to their natural set point.

She also touches on the addictiveness of weight loss.

This is the thing: we have a tendency to fool ourselves. We tell ourselves it’s for our health. However, if that were true, then HAES would actually be a better option. We tell ourselves we only want to lose 10%. I have found (a phenomena noted in Hirshmann and Munter’s When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies) that I don’t want to stop until I’m what society thinks is perfect. A little weight loss almost always leads to the desire for more.

I’ve been there. I occasionally want to smack the Kelly of 10 years ago upside the head for thinking I was still “a little fat” or “had 5-10 more pounds to lose” when I was average, not even overweight by body fat percentage. (I don’t know about BMI, but that’s a crock anyway, so who cares?) And while I’m okay with my body just as it is most days, I do wonder if I might be less fat now if I hadn’t dieted so much before my immune system decided to start picking on my thyroid.

But if I’m smacking past Kelly upside the head, I can also smack the folks at the gym, who even as they were telling me I was in the “normal” range for body fat percentage, continued to encourage me to lose.

On Housewives and Househusbands

So, The Fat Nutritionist has an awesome post about her and her husband’s decision for him to stay home and how weird it was to have her friends thinking that he was taking advantage of her, when they wouldn’t think twice about a woman in the same role.

She points out that she’s not good at homemaking tasks, because she can only focus on them for a short time. Her husband, on the other hand, is very good at them.

There are a lot of things I love about this post. One is the way it conveys the importance of homemaking. Cooking, cleaning, organizing, all the stuff that makes a family’s life run. It’s a real job, and its effects are major.

It’s only been two weeks, but already things are better. I have my meals more regularly, there are groceries in the house, and the place is clean. He’s done repair jobs that have gone neglected since we moved in. The cats are, again, spoiled by having their preferred human always around, and I’m slowly regaining the energy and time to write, while also seeing the extraordinary clients who put food on our table.

He’s contented that, instead of helping union-busting assholes make even more profit, his efforts now go toward keeping me sane and helping people, especially women, recover from chronic dieting and fear of food.

Another is the way it highlights the fact that gendered assumptions about who’s good at what are pretty much useless.

One of the conclusions that Matt and I have come to is that he’d make a way better househusband/stay-at-home dad than I would a housewife/stay-at-home mom. Less because of any inherent skills or lack thereof, but more because of personality differences. He’s pretty cool under pressure; I’m easily flustered. With housework especially, I tend to get overwhelmed by the mess and have trouble methodically attacking it one task at a time. I think I’d be an awesome housewife for a month or two, then burn myself out and watch TV and play RIFT for the next month. And I’d alternate between loving it and despising it.

Matt, on the other hand, would plug along steadily, giving himself reasonable breaks for goofing off, but still getting the essential things done. And he probably wouldn’t stress about it. Unfortunately, as long as he’s a computer geek and I’m a language geek, our earning power is vastly different, and if one of us stays home, it’ll be me. (The upside to that is that I have more options for at-home freelance work. You can write and edit anywhere.)

One of the things that I think it’s really important to acknowledge when talking about the stay-at-home thing, especially women doing the traditional “wife and mother” gig is that individual choices are complicated. And the fact that a couple makes a choice that’s best for them doesn’t mean that that choice can actually exist apart from all the complications of living in a sexist society.

One huge example of this is pointed out on Alas, a Blog, here.

to whatever extent some women freely choose to stay out of the labor market, the choice isn’t made in a void. The fact that women – even non-mothers – get rewarded less for wage-work than men means that women give less up if they choose to trade off paid work for motherhood. Women’s lower pay means women have less reason to stay in the paid work market; it also means that when a married couple decides that the lower-paid spouse should give up work for children, the spouse who happens to be lower paid will almost always be the wife. Economists call this a “feedback effect”; it’s likely that women earn less because they work less, but it’s also likely that women work less because of lower earnings.

So, yeah, it’s complicated. People’s choices are limited by so many things that it’s not enough to say “couples should choose what’s best for them” and leave it at that. Of course that’s true, but “what’s best for them” might be different if we actually lived in an egalitarian society. One where men and women got paid the same for the same work, for starters.