Eat right, be at peace

Tougher federal standards on junk food are only a small step toward a healthier America.

Jenna Beyer

It’s difficult to think about childhood without remembering its sweetest treats — those foods we all knew weren’t really foods, but crispy candies in a box that seemed cereal-ish when doused with milk. Like many other people’s mothers, though, mine refused to buy these cereals more than twice a year, making it a special occasion to have a bowl of Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs for breakfast and wash it down with the rest of the milk.

Of course, now I know why I don’t want to eat those cereals so full of processed sugars, creepy colorings and flavoring agents. What little “real food” actually exists in them is likely genetically modified, as I learned in my biology class. As a natural foodie and three-year employee of local raw vegan restaurant Ecopolitan, I’ve learned a lot about food and become part of a community of people who value self-reliance and self-education over the not-so-tried-and-true American diet. That’s why it pleases me that, last week, a federal document surfaced that reveals a proposal for tougher standards for all food products marketed to children.

Crafted by an interagency working group, the proposed standards would mandate a certain amount of “real food” (such as vegetables or fruit, whole grain or lean meat) be present in all foods marketed to those age 2-17, as well as a limit on how much fat, sugar and sodium those foods should contain.

The proposal follows a recent series of attempts by Kellogg’s to skirt current advertising standards by claiming its Frosted Mini-Wheats are clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by 20 percent and that Rice Krispies increase immunity. The company was barred from making incorrect or misleading claims about any of its products by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. One wonders: Shouldn’t this have been the standard to begin with?

Of course, we know we can’t trust major corporations to make decisions in our best interest. We live in a capitalist society, and from what I hear, this means we should be used to having ads shoved down our throats without complaint. So where can we draw the line between fruitful business models and our health?

We as a society are not self-reliant enough to resist advertising, even though we know companies don’t have our best interest at heart. I don’t mean to assert that people should be immune to marketing altogether. It may seem daunting, but we should spend a little time learning about digestion and plant-based foods to give oneself a lifelong gift of health and energy. To value self-education over making a decision subconsciously based commercials is to practice a modern version of the self-reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about in the 19th Century.

Out of all of the customers I meet at work, the ones I respect most are the parents whose commitment to eating well is integrated into their family experience and the lives of their children. “How much work it must be,” I always think, “to take on the challenge of learning a whole new way of eating on top of the demands of responsible adulthood and parenthood.” Though raw vegan food preparation is exciting and fun, the learning curve can be steep — even for 20-somethings with ample time. Parental commitment to the raw vegan lifestyle is a testament to the many benefits it brings.

As potential parents, we must dedicate ourselves to feverishly learn about what we put into our bodies. No matter what worldview one subscribes to, it’s foolish to think the planet won’t soon reach a make-or-break point. We must make only sustainable choices from here on out.

We all know how that old saying — you are what you eat — goes, and it’s true. It’s hard to prove the many benefits of being self-reliant, and at the age of 24, I have yet to know the half of them. The truth is that the benefits of self-reliance are not easy to prove. At the end of his masterpiece titled “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”