The monster in the refrigerator
The New York Times, in their all-too-frequent feature I’ve come to call ‘This Week in Wealthy White People,’ profiles MeMe Roth, an uncertified “health counselor,” and her crusade against unhealthy food served in elementary schools. It’s a noble cause, no doubt, until it’s revealed that Roth’s “crusading” mostly consists of demanding that her kids never eat anything in school other than what’s served for lunch and inundating school personnel and other parents with belligerent, harassing e-mails.
Both parents left feeling they were being pushed out of P.S. 9, which they perceive as exhausted by Ms. Roth’s intense lobbying for, among other things, permission slips for any food not on the official lunch menu. It would not be the first time: The Roths previously lived in Millburn, N.J., where, after Ms. Roth waged war on the bagels and Pringles meal served to kids at lunch, received e-mail from one member of the P.T.A. that said, “Please, consider moving.” That was in 2006, and P.S. 9 has been hearing about its transgressions against healthy eating pretty much ever since.
“The community is very concerned,” the principal, Diane Brady, wrote in an e-mail message. At the meeting with Ms. Moffatt, Ms. Brady said that Ms. Roth “was hostile” and “threw candy onto the table and cursed.” It was not the first time, she added, that Ms. Roth had “displayed this hostile behavior.”
It’s war, you see? War! Because America doesn’t have enough shit to worry about besides kids eating a bagel every now and then. This isn’t the first time MeMe Roth has been featured in the news. As president and founder of National Action Against Obesity, an organization in which she appears to be the only member, Roth rather famously spoke out against Jordin Sparks being chosen as a winner of American Idol in 2007, claiming that the size 14 or so Sparks was too heavy for such an honor. She really hates fat people. Eating in general, too, but mostly fat people. She’s claimed that parents of overweight children are abusive, Santa Claus needs to lose weight and that if the Girl Scouts really cared about young women, they’d stop selling cookies. Most recently, she compared eating to rape, making some sort of bizarre, offensive correlation between the sexual pleasure victims of rape supposedly feel during their attack to the pleasure we feel eating food we know is bad for us. Bitch is crazy, but she also has occasional periods of lucidity in which she’s been able to turn that crazy into a profitable, publicity garnering career, so good for her, I guess.
In the same “eating is just like rape, no, really, it totally is” article, Roth insists that she doesn’t have an eating disorder, yet later admits that she rarely eats more than one meal a day, and often puts that off as long as possible. While that may not be full-blown anorexia, it’s definitely an indicator that she has some serious issues with food, and she’s happily pushing those issues onto other people, particularly her own and, if at all possible, other people’s children. No real nutritionist would be encouraging people to eat just one meal a day, and yet someone who has no training in diet and nutrition is continually given a public platform to express how she thinks people should be feeding their children, when really what she needs is a therapist’s couch to work out her mommy issues.
If childfree people hate people like MeMe Roth, parents hate her more, because she is exactly the type of person that gives other parents a bad name. She is the archetypal upper class yuppie parent who, out of concern “for the children,” constantly pokes their noses into everyone else’s business, because they don’t have anything else going on in their lives and don’t feel complete if they don’t get to be smug and judgmental. There’s one of her in every school district, at every PTA meeting, on every parenting message board online, in every town. They’re constantly “declaring war” on something or other, peanuts, soda, high fructose corn syrup, vaccinations, some book or movie that doesn’t portray the world as a perfect place where nothing bad ever happens, and their favorite tactic to get other parents to see it their way is to insist that if we really cared about our children, we’d fight the good fight with them. These are people who insist that it’s perfectly reasonable to take the word of Jenny McCarthy when it comes to the now debunked link between vaccinations and autism over that of doctors and scientists, simply because she’s a mother, and mothers have some sort of psychic knowledge about everything.
I’m not disagreeing that there’s an obesity epidemic in this country, although to call it an “epidemic” suggests that it’s somehow contagious, like you can sneeze your fat onto someone else. I’m also not disagreeing that schools don’t really need soda machines or candy sales. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s a damn dirty lie that kids eating crappy, overly processed food, both in and out of school, is something new. Teachers rewarding students with sugary treats, dooming them to a lifetime of wearing nothing but size XXXL jogging pants and tooling around on a motorized scooter isn’t new either. I started first grade in 1978, and I clearly remember my teacher rewarding students for good behavior with tickets to buy ice cream sandwiches in the cafeteria. There were also plenty of occasions over the years when we were given candy and other treats for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, someone’s birthday, whatever. This is hardly a new and troubling phenomenon. I grew up in the era when the words “organic” and “all natural” were associated only with hippies who didn’t work or send their kids to school. Regular kids such as myself ate shit like Spaghetti-Os, with its toxic orange sauce. We drank Tang, which had enough chemicals in it to embalm a squirrel. We snacked on wax soda bottles, candy that was literally made out of wax and filled with a viscous, colored fluid. We didn’t know what the fuck was in those things, just that it was sweet and delicious. I’d hazard a guess that my own child eats considerably better than I did at her age.
So why are kids fatter now than they were a generation ago? Why are people in general fatter now? Undoubtedly it’s because convenience has allowed us to maintain a more sedentary lifestyle–let’s face it, Wall-E‘s cynical portrayal of humans devolving into helpless infants who can only get around in hoverchairs might not be too far off the mark. As for kids, I’m more inclined to believe that it’s because they simply don’t get enough exercise. Parents have been discouraged from letting their kids go too far from home, playgrounds are now considered potential deathtraps unless every surface is covered in padding, more and more children are mysteriously diagnosed with asthma each year, which further cuts back on physical activity. Granted, sugary sodas and cupcakes at school aren’t helping, but I doubt that’s the sole reason. I’m really uncomfortable with people like MeMe Roth, or any other supposedly well-meaning parent, attempting to control what other people’s children eat. Force your own kids to be neurotic about what they put in their bodies all you want, but don’t assume that you’re the designated “Food Police” for your fellow parents. In the end, it’s their responsibility to tell their kids not to drink soda or eat chocolate or whatever food you think is the Devil and should be forbidden. We already don’t mind enough of our own business as it is.