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Marc My Words 9 December 2005

Marc My Words 9 December 2005

Political comment By Marc Alexander

Food is an important part of a person's life.but so is personal choice and responsibility.

The battle of the bulge begins anew! In the left corner we have the self-appointed campaigners for more government intrusions into our lives; their latest crusade is to curb the size and sales of certain foods deemed injurious to the waistlines of Kiwis. In the right corner we have those who consider themselves capable of working such things out for themselves. The epicenter of the debate seems to be focused on the fare available at schools. So what's it really about?

There's no denying that, on average, our school children are getting bigger. But before we start wagging a disapproving finger at McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Cadburys and all the other 'fast food fiends' conspiring to hook our kids into a bad lifestyle, we should take the time to look at all the facts. Food may well be a matter of hunger and availability for some but it is the sedentary routines of children that is the real culprit. As parents we might be better off to focus on the hours our kids spend huddled over a Game boy, or the time watching mind-numbing trash on television, in preference to the healthier alternatives of playing sport, climbing a mountain, or going fishing with friends.

Organizations like the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) claim that we need Government regulation because the companies that peddle the offending food items can't be relied upon to be accountable! Sue Kedgely, a killjoy with a history of tilting at windmills, is adamant that "the food industry cannot be trusted with the country's hearts and waistlines.

" While she may be correct that breakfast cereals have ridiculously high sugar content; that fizzy drinks have close to zero nutritional value; and that a diet of Big Mac's and a side order of fries don't lay the groundwork for a long and healthy life, she misses the point by an organic country mile. Consumers have choice.

And like our arms and legs, we should be empowered to exercise it. Nobody forces us to buy anything detrimental to us unless we allow it. To appeal to government to interfere with that choice is yet another abdication of personal responsibility. As for the schools? If parents forced the issue with the teachers, the Principal, and the Board, nutritionally inadequate fodder would be gone by.well, lunchtime.

We don't need government regulation; we need parents and schools to use their collective intelligence to work together. Case in point: My son goes to the Rudolf Steiner School in Christchurch. It is part of the distinctive character of the school that parents and teachers are expected to collaborate in the raising the children. That means frequent parent/teacher contact, limited access to the deleterious effects of TV and stupid computer games in favor of other more rewarding calorie burning pursuits, and no fast-food or sugared fizzy drinks at school. And it works!

Christchurch East Primary has followed suit; banning fizzy drinks and promoting fruit and vegetables and in the process winning a National Heart Foundation accolade. No government department is involved, no law, no passing the buck. In the end it's about parents who do give a damn, accepting their responsibilities for raising the children they brought into the world, working with teachers who also give a damn. The lesson here is as obvious as it is simple: we do not have a valid excuse when we shift blame onto companies for marketing their products as if that absolves us of parental responsibility.

It may seem inconvenient at times but we if we care enough to accept the responsibility of being a parent in the first place then we should care enough about what they eat. If that means foregoing the expediency of fast-foods, then so be it. Besides, fast food was never intended to be a life-style choice anyway, but only part of a sensible diet. And while we're at it; does it really make sense to chastise against McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Coca cola when the Number One fast-food is fish and chips?

Sue Kedgeley's carping on this issue sounds more like corporate bashing to me. But that doesn't surprise me; these companies epitomize the very things I suspect she detests: they are successful private enterprises who provide bucket loads of employment, provide better satisfaction to their customers than any state provider ever could, and they are American. But I digress.

We may have to re-acquaint families with the skills of the kitchen. Our fast paced lives and the seductive lethargy of easy cooking may need a make-over. Some people only use the hotplate to light a cigarette, the microwave as a coffee warmer, and the smoke detector as a timer! Instead of balancing a cold pizza on the lap with a side of garlic bread flopped on the couch like entrails in front of the idiot box, why not get the family to sit at the table like civilized human beings, talking together over a proper home cooked meal? This will reduce the size of the girth and as a bonus bring the family a lot closer as well!

Portion size? One size doesn't fit all. Being nearly two metres tall I happen to eat more than a six year old. If I jogged, pulled weights and worked as a sheep shearer (not very likely I admit), I would need a higher calorie count to keep me going than a bank clerk whose daily physical exertion could amount to little more than getting in and out of a car and walking three paces to pick up the remote. The sourpusses who spend sleepless nights worrying about everybody else's diet would do better to inform people about better nutrition and how to cook. They would then be empowered to make enlightened culinary decisions, and halt their silly war on companies that meet market need.

Not only do we have a government that legislates away the right to fail, requires school camping trips to adhere to a telephone books' weight of Occupational Health and Safety standards, but is now called upon by some to pontificate over our eating habits? Will there be any decisions left for us to make?

The major food industry players are starting to provide some healthier alternatives (and should be encouraged) but it's up to consumers to exercise their choice. When food companies sponsor activities and teams to create brand awareness as much as the promotion of sport - good for them! An occasional Moro bar doesn't condemn us to coronary hell.

Truth be told, if all we did eat was a few leaves of lettuce and a carrot stick, our health wouldn't be that great either - and why is it that the unhealthiest looking specimens seem to be vegetarians working in health food shops anyway?'s all about balance, meeting the nutritional needs of our body, and getting in some regular exercise. It's using our grey matter in a sensible compromise between what we should do to be healthy, what we want to do to be happy, and accepting that it's our life and our responsibility.

You don't need a government department for that.


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