Thursday, July 28, 2011

Carrot Sticks

I am not a big proponent of "the good old days" propaganda, in which people gather in misty-eyed reverence to pay tribute to a glorious past that most likely didn't even happen.

But a recent crop of "breaking" news articles about how Americans are obese because they eat too many calories, and about how difficult it is to eat right when you rely on restaurant food, and how everyone is tearing their hair out to figure out a way to make a hamburger on a white bread bun and a little paper sack of fried potatoes into something healthy, gets me thinking about my childhood and the lessons I learned there about the value (or lack thereof) of restaurant food.

Imagine a trip to the beach or a long day of running errands in the old woodgrain-paneled Plymouth Volare. There would be no stops at McDonald's on the way, in part because there was no McDonald's on the hour-long drive to the public beach, but also because there was no reason to waste the money. It was general knowledge that we were not going to stop at a restaurant -- instead, we traveled with cheap and portable homemade food. PB&J on whole wheat (natural no-sugar-added PB of course), the ubiquitous carrot sticks, apples and oranges, and homemade cookies, and a cooler of iced tap water from home, with cups from home as well. For a treat, a watermelon to cut open and eat in the blowing sand, juice running down our chins. It was a meal that didn't take a whole lot of prep, and it didn't cost $25-$50 for the family to eat. Also, notably, very little saturated fat, trans fat, or HFCS. Or perhaps even none at all.

When I was younger I used to dread the homemade food, with its fiber and crunchiness, its lack of sugar, and envy my friends whose parents bought them Happy Meals as a matter of course. I envied them their Chicken McNuggets dipped in Sweet 'n' Sour Sauce, and when they brought lunches from home I coveted their prepackaged fruit snacks, juice boxes, and cans of soda.

Now it turns out I was being trained in a simple rule that Americans are in danger of forgetting, myself included at times -- that there is rarely a situation in which you have to go to a restaurant. With a little planning ahead and an economy-size jar of generic peanut butter, you can face down almost any kind of hunger.

It may not be shiny and glamorous, but neither is overspending and overeating.

Turns out my crunchy-granola no-you-may-not-have-Lucky-Charms mom may have been onto something after all.

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