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Jack Zaleski, Published August 11 2012

Zaleski: Better to get ’em off their fat butts

New school lunch requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture don’t have a chance of succeeding. It’s not that cutting down on meat, bread and other calorie-laden goodies is not an admirable goal. It is. It’s just unrealistic in the headwinds of food culture, family ethnicities and lazy habits.

The nation is raising a generation of slow-moving porkers whose parents seem to think it’s OK for Junior and Janey to waddle rather than run. Bad food habits don’t begin in school. They begin at home. Bad food habits consist primarily of eating and then zoning out in front of the TV or computer, getting a pass from Mommy and Daddy when it comes to gym class or putting on pounds while texting nonsense to other on-their-way-to-fat “friends.”

Don’t believe it? If you’re older than today’s pampered chubs, consider family history. For me, Polish and Italian heritage guaranteed that when I was young, the table was a feast of dishes that would make the USDA’s food police faint dead away. One day it was Polish pork-based soups and stews, kielbasa with fried eggs, pirogis swimming in heavy cream and thick-textured breads smeared with butter and sugary black current jam. The next day it might have been Italian lasagna piled deep with layers of cheeses and pasta, topped with sausages and drenched with red sauce made rich and tasty by simmering in the kettle with pork, chicken (skin on) and beef.

And heavenly pastries, including apple pie with lard-made crust, a heap of sugar in the apples and topped with real whipped cream.

I’m sure it was the same for kids who ate at grandparents’ and parents’ homes where German, Scandinavian or Irish food was served up every day, and where no one counted calories, obsessed over nutrition or dared to suggest grandma’s fat-filled delights were unhealthy.

Sure, we had vegetables, but not as substitutes for the Old World fare that tasted oh-so-good because of marbled meat, whole milk, cheese and magical pastries; and potatoes fixed every way one can imagine, including deep fried in some sort of oil or fat, or pan fried with butter and slices of salt pork.

We had television, but it was not a baby sitter. After eating politically incorrect ethnic food, we routinely got off our skinny butts and went outside to (omigod!) run and jump and climb and otherwise burn off the calories we’d just consumed. It kept our skinny butts skinny.

USDA doesn’t get it. Food is culture. Food is family. Food is ethnic heritage. No rules, requirements or nutritional hand-wringing can cook those imprints out of our psyches.

“Eat your vegetables!” was good advice when I was young. Still is. But the key to avoiding youthful fatso status was not necessarily what we ate. It was how much we ate, and how we treated our young bodies after dinner. We moved a lot, every day. Exercise (we didn’t call it that) became a habit that carried into adulthood for me and many of my friends from that time.

So, USDA and schools trying to sell the newest iteration of nutrition to kids: good luck with that. Better to get them off their ever-widening rear ends and make ’em move.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.