Friday, February 12, 2010

She Blinded Me With... Nutrition?

I was watching Arthur just now and something about it bothered me. No, not the Dudley Moore movie with the lovable drunk, the kids' cartoon series on PBS. (Yeah, I watch Arthur! And so what if I like to come home from work, eat Spagghetti-O's and watch iCarly? What's it to you?!)
Anyway, this was something that bothered me the first time it aired, and still does; to the point where I start shouting at the TV. The episode in question is called "Desert Island Dish".

This was around the time that the series started getting preachy. They had already done the episode about how Arthur was fat so he had to exercise to not be fat. They even gave all the kids in the class pedometers to wear (it's a third grade class. come on.). This episode focuses on nutrition, at least that's the idea. Mr. Ratburn gives the class an assignment to choose one food to live on indefinitely on a desert island. Each of the kids picks something ridiculous, and Ratburn says they can't live on just that. "Man cannot live on yellow dye number 5 alone!" This is all well and good, as it leads to a discussion of healthy food and ultimately variety. And that's where the episode falls apart.

The story ends with the kids realizing that no one food gives them the benefit of all the food groups, so they had to combine their efforts. The message of the episode is you cannot live solely on one food. And it is there that I cry "Shenanigans!" There most certainly is one single food that combines all of these things: pizza.

It frustrates me to no end that not a single kid in that class suggested pizza. You want carbohydrates? Pizza crust. Dairy? Cheese. Fruits/vegetables? Tomato sauce and any topping you like. Protein? Again, any meaty topping you like. It seems to me that pizza was conspicuously absent from the discussion precisely because it so obviously fulfills the assignment, thus negating the episode's message. With an endless variety of pizzas, you could truly survive indefinitely on a desert island.

What bothers me most about this scenario is that simple logic is thrown away to blind kids with a lesson in the third iteration of the food pyramid. Remember when there were just four food groups? And that worked fine, and we had no national obesity emergency. Then somewhere along the line during my elementary school days they came out with the first food pyramid. Then a few years later they shuffled it around a bit. It used to be built from the base-up; your diet was built on a foundation of carbohydrates, and capped with a cherry of fats. But then all the fad diets started kicking in. "Carbs are good! Eat only carbs!" "No! Carbs are bad! Never eat carbs!" "Eat some carbs in moderation, but eat not a trans-fat, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die!" Because of all this, it seems, the food pyramid was revised yet AGAIN, this time with catgories in columns, so no food was perceived as "foundational". At this point, I don't see why we even stuck with the pyramid structure. Just call it the food pie chart, that would be more accurate. Anyway, the whole episode was to essentially teach this food pyramid because there's this idea that if we just drill that into kids' heads they will be healthy.

Look, I agree that for the most part your diet should be varied. That's just common sense. But the assignment wasn't to have a varied diet. It was to eat one thing forever. Essentially, Ratburn gave an impossible assignment; it was a trick! Can you imagine if you went home from school when you were nine and spent a week of homework trying to come up with an answer, then came back to school and were told it was a trick? Wouldn't that annoy you? Besides which, again, there WAS an answer to the riddle! You just eat pizza. If you become so slavish to the idea of separate food groups intake, you may be blinded to combinations of food. Each of the kids ended up bringing separate dishes, and that's fine. But so much more of this can be taken care of when foods are combined. Banana pancakes take down two food groups. Throw on some butter and syrup and you cover your dairy and sugars. You see? And that's one food! Has any of this supposed education helped our children? Please tell me, Michelle Obama, are our children any healthier??

My old friend Katie ended up becoming a nutritionist (at least she was when last I saw her). Now, I'm kind of fat, and no poster child for nutrition. I generally don't eat anything green. I wonder what Katie would say of all this. I think she'd have to agree that pizza is the answer. Yes, children, you should eat a variety of foods. Yes, children, eating nothing but cocoa puffs is unhealthy. And yes, children, even pizza if eaten in excess would get you fat and constipated. But there's a lot more nutrition found in a well-made healthy pizza than in a box of cracker jacks. Pizza is often considered "junk food" around small children, in the same league as thickly buttered popcorn and Coca-Cola. This is a stigma we must remove! Eat your pizza children! Enjoy your pizza! Eat in moderation, of course, but should you ever be stuck with it on a desert island, eat like your life depended on it.


  1. Pizza was literally what I was thinking of while reading the beginning of this post. And seriously? Ask any 3rd grader what their favorite food is and half of them will say pizza.

    Besides, pizza is good for you. As a side note, you could also live on milk and beer almost indefinitely, but I guess that's two things, and neither of them is "food".

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this.

  2. Dang, I can't edit. I meant to say, "ask any 3rd grade class"