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Our Fat Starving Children

Children in Ireland are bearing the brunt of the economic recession on this island. That is the truth. As the amount in their parents’ wallets shrinks, so too does the level of care Irish children are receiving. And I don’t mean trips to the apartment in Spain, or a weekend away in Disneyland for your birthday. I mean basic things. Like shoes that fit properly. And food.

 

We Irish have a funny relationship with food. We can’t shake off our ‘famine mentality’; which tells us we need to gobble every morsel laid in front of us because if we don’t, we’ll be starving tomorrow and then we’ll be sorry! Before the Celtic Tiger prowled the land (swiping at everything in his path and, ultimately giving us all septicemia) we were told to eat up our dinners and that it was a sin to leave food on our plates.

‘Poor black babies,’ we were told sternly ‘are dying in Africa and there you are, wasting food.’

 

I remember being force-fed to the point of vomiting because I couldn’t stomach what my parents deemed ‘enough’ food. I’m guessing they weren’t too concerned about food and the possibility of forming unhealthy relationships with it.

 

My eye is always drawn to anything in the news related to children, and this week, I have read two pieces which alarm me. In the first, I read of how – because one in five Irish children is obese – children in Ireland will be weighed when they start school. Now, aside altogether from the ritual humiliation of this kind of action, I wonder what the follow-on will be? What will be done with the information that’s collected this way? And, in these belt-tightening times, where will the funding come from? Would money not be better spent promoting healthy eating? Starting with breastfeeding, which has been shown to have a positive impact on obesity in later life (and is free!) ?

 

The second piece which alarmed me was this one. It tells of how five per-cent of  children in Ireland has self-reported going to bed or to school hungry. Now, while I couldn’t help but notice that the statistic is the same for both groups, I don’t for a moment suggest that the 5% that’s going to bed hungry is the same 5% that’s obese. But it’s possible.

 

Obesity, we all know, is caused when there is a huge surplus of energy (in the form of fats and sugars) going in compared with the amount of energy going out (in exercise). The only way to avoid obesity is to either eat less or exercise more – or both.  Avoiding obesity is also connected with avoiding empty calories and eating healthy nutritious food. And guess what? Healthy, nutritious food is more expensive than rubbish food.  And the empty calories – the ones that are all energy with little or no nutritional value – do not keep you feeling ‘full’ for longer.

 

For people on a very low income – for people who are living in poverty – buying  food that is full of nourishment is harder than you might think. A sliced loaf – bread made with good quality ingredients and low sugar and low salt and whole grains – costs €2.25 in a regular supermarket. A sliced loaf – thinly sliced, with very little nutritional value –  in one of the low-cost German supermarkets will set you back a mere ¢75.  Obviously, Mammy On A Budget is going to plump for the latter – because she can’t afford the former. But the cheaper one is a less healthy option.

 

Ditto fresh, organic fruit from the Farmers’ Market. Waaay better for you than the cheap stuff in the supermarkets – which are sprayed on the outside with goodness-knows-what, which does goodness-knows-what to your insides. Poor people have no choice but to buy the cheaper version and feed it to their kids.

 

The poor can’t afford to feed their children properly. The result? Fat, starving children.

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3 thoughts on “Our Fat Starving Children

  1. m says:

    You raise some really interesting points in this article, and the price of bread is an abomination here as well — but there are tricks. Some foods are inherently brilliant and consistently cheap, e.g. porridge. Over here in the UK, at least, we have a lot of processed, packaged cereals that contain the ‘goodness of oats’ while flagging a massive price hike for the healthy privilege, while our cheapest cereal — oats — occupy the bottom shelf. Likewise, we have sugary “fruit” (read 5% fruit) yoghurts in pots that are more expensive than plain, ‘value’ yoghurt and a bag of apples. That food prices should be an issue in the age of Wii is a telling issue and one that needs to be addressed, but for me, I think the quickest solution lies largely in education. It sickens me to the stomach that our schools and government promote “healthy, low fat” foods — as if low fat means healthy — while failing to talk adequately about quick, cheap, nutritious recipes and sensible apportionment. It’s good to see other people voicing the same concerns; it makes me think we can make a difference.

    • Hazel Katherine Larkin says:

      I cannot disagree with you, Martha. We’re vegetarian and used to live in Asia – so I know how to use spices (which can be good for health as well as being tasty!) as well as how to cook lentils and other cheap food. I think education is a problem – people don’t know enough about food and how to cook it.

      We don’t explore, experiment or engage with food in this country. Lots of people wouldn’t know what to do with a lentil and, like you point out, cheap foods are regarded as food of the poor – no matter how nourishing they may be. My youngest has just discovered the joys of porridge made with almond milk – added vitamin E! And I only buy natural yoghurt, to which we add our own honey/fruit/seeds/nuts. Ninety-nine cents buys me half a kilo of the yoghurt. Yum. I used to make my own – maybe that’s something I should start doing again….

      • m says:

        That sounds wonderful. We have a mixed relationship w/ nuts — my kids aren’t keen so I eat them all and get fat — but we make a handy lentil soup — handful of red lentils, bag of carrots, an onion, boil and blend (Baby likes it unseasoned). I think the cooking puts people off, as a culture we’ve lost the habit of cooking in bulk and freezing portions for a quick microwave later — as if cooking has to be immediate or complicated. I was veggie for the best part of a decade so if we eat meat at all now, it tends to be in small quantities (mostly local fish).

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