, , ,

So how does one go from eating movie sized boxes of candy, Doritos, and liter bottles of soda for lunch to eating food, mostly plants and not too much? It happened to me in stages.

Through my childhood, my brother and I didn't eat too much junk food. This was the early and mid 80s, so high processed food was still coming into the mainstream. Having a Twinkie or a CapriSun in my lunch bag was a big deal. We never got to eat bologna in out sandwiches and to add insult to injury, we had to eat wheat bread. No Wonder Bread to be had. Dinner was cooked every night when we got home from school. Typical American meat and two veg plate. We also generally didn't have dessert. The sugared cereals were around, but we were restricted on how much we got. A soda was a real treat and only had when we went out to dinner.

I can recall products in the grocery store being marked as "imitation". Cheese Whiz, Cool Whip, and margarine come to mind. I'm sure there were others. Over time, memory of those labels fades out, as imitation was replaced with words like spread, non-dairy, and heart healthy.

I can remember the joy of a McDonalds Happy Meal on a Sunday outing with my Dad and brother. I remember trying to negotiate for an adult cola drink, rather than the child orange drink I inevitably got. I recall when McDonalds introduced Chicken McNuggets, begging Dad to go to McDonalds that weekend, standing in line as I bounced up and down, anxious to sample this new treat. I remember the first dunk into honey, and that first bite. I ended up with a chunk of dark chicken part that slid out of the deep  fried shell in an strange lump. You know you're old when you recall the "parts is parts" Chicken Nuggets. At least I knew there were chicken parts in there.

I grew up through a complete change in how Americans ate. I can recall the slow slide away from  healthy foods. I'd throw the apple in my lunch away, or toss out the carrot sticks. There were frantic negotiations for the cool lunch desserts like pudding snacks, and Twinkies. I used to joke that if I ate a Twinkie a day I'd never die because of all the preservatives.

Even then, I knew that there were things I was eating which contained chemicals not found in nature. Kids would joke about Wonder Bread being usable as erasers. Heck, we did use them as erasers. It's obvious that we kids were getting this information from our parents. Yet there was no real comprehension of just how pervasive these things were becoming.

Olestra coming out was a big deal. The fake fat was there to save us from the real thing. Right up to the point where it gave you huge stomach cramps. We all knew aspartame gave cancer to rats, yet the pink packets of Sweet n Low were on tables all over the place. 

Somewhere along the line how we ate at home started to shift. Going into high school a lot more dinners came from the pizza place down the street. There was a lot of pizza, and soda to go with that pizza. Since we all knew about the cancer ridden rats, we drank regular Pepsi. There was chicken from KFC and some trips to McDonalds. While my preteen year recollections were marked by memories of eating home cooked food, the teen years marked the years of mall eating, pizza in front of the tv downstairs, and buckets of KFC.

The one thing that didn't change was lots of physical activity. There were limits on television, and an insistence on engaging in athletic activity of some sort. There was pretty consistent play in the neighborhood as kids wandered from house to house. Backyard baseball at the Muellers was a summer staple. Snow fort building was a regular winter game, and countless weekends were spent ranging around, exploring alleys, riding bikes, and generally getting into interesting trouble. Summers as I got older included swimming and softball. High school brought lacrosse and martial arts. It was enough activity to keep ahead of the increasing calorie intake. Even senior year lunch trips to Taco Bell were not enough to tip me into the realm of fat kid. I remained around a size 8 into my freshman year of college.

At that point, things started to change.

Tomorrow- College, the Freshman 15, and the Green Bottle Collection