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Health Food With a Side of Pretension Makes Me Sick

11/25/2013 05:39 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

First, a daycare worker in Manitoba followed a well-intentioned, if misapplied, policy to ensure that children are given a well-balanced meal and the internet broke. Ritz crackers as a grain?! How stupid is that!

At the same time, there is this New York Times article on rich Manhattanites hiring an exclusive nanny consulting service to teach their nannies how to cook healthier and more sophisticated dishes for little Imogen and Atticus. Mr. Leandro, one of the founders of the service, was quoted as saying, "Some of these nannies already do the cooking in the family, but they're throwing chicken fingers in the oven, or worse, the microwave -- they're doing the bare minimum."

And feeding children the easy way is clearly not good enough for one mother featured in the article who "wanted her daughter to adopt a more refined and global palate, whether it's a gluten-free kale salad or falafel made from organic chickpeas."

So, pretty much: The poor people I pay to take care of my children are feeding them poor people foods!

There are schools right here in Toronto with an economically diverse student body. Many students truly benefit from school-run snack programs designed to help keep kids fed throughout the school day, but there are also upper middle-class parents who throw hissy fits because their children are offered such nutritionally dubious foods as grocery store-variety brown bread and yogurt tubes. In the words of one parent council member I know: "They are complaining because their children have too much food."

You don't need to look further than school lunch boxes to see income disparity at work. There are large macro-economic factors at play in the gulf between the rich and the poor. There are socio-economic explanations, too, for the way we eat that encompass education, access to fresh foods, cultural diversity and simply not having enough money. Many smart people have already spilled a lot of ink on these important considerations. So let me suggest there's another, albeit lesser, factor to consider.

Why you gotta be so crazy?

When you tell me that pasta, couscous, rice and sliced brown bread are no longer healthy food options for my family and that I should be cooking quinoa, steel-cut oats and, I don't even know, spelt or something instead, it makes we want to run out and gorge us all on Cheez Whiz and Wonder Bread.

When you tell me that the most important foods to buy organic are also the most expensive, it makes me want to drop my organic broccoli and apples and high tail it straight to McDonald's. Because if I can't afford free-range, organic, locally farmed meat and dairy, then I might as well get it cheap and fast, right?

When you tell me that all processed foods are the devil, that feeding my children frozen pizzas and chicken fingers and supermarket meat pies is the same as loading them up with who-knows-what combination of chemicals, fats and salt, and that I should instead embrace the idea of slow food, it makes me want to feast on T.V. dinners. Because I don't have time for slow food in my life.

When I hear the choruses calling for, "No gluten! No sugar! No preservatives! No sodium! No trans fats! No food colouring!" it makes me want to throw in the towel altogether. How are we supposed to monitor every piece of food our children eat?

When you tell me that if I really valued health and nutrition I would be growing my own vegetables every summer and campaigning for backyard chicken coops to farm my own bloody eggs, I feel like I might as well rip open a pack of powdered vegetable soup and a sleeve of Ritz crackers and call it a day.

I am lucky to have enough time and resources to not completely give up on nutrition. I do what I can. But the bar for healthy eating is set so high that ordinary, working people cannot realistically reach it, you're doing everybody a disservice. When things like the Canada Food Guide are vilified for including too many refined grains and not enough vegetables, for not going far enough, then those people who only ever get a fraction of the recommended veggie intake tend to give up altogether. Most people want to be healthy. They want to eat well. They also want to know the little bit that they can do counts.

Guys, it's just food. And we are damned lucky to have enough of it.

Originally published on Playground Confidential.

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