sodium schmodium -                                                        cfsg by charlz koskinen
 
I don't think anyone – aside from Ronald Reagan – has ever claimed that children voluntarily pick healthful foods. Even on their best days, most kids I've met would pick a McNugget over brown rice without an iota of hesitation. Can we really blame them? I didn't start to like what I considered "health foods" until I was about 17. But to be fair, I also never liked school lunches. From Kindergarten through 9th grade (when I got sent off to boarding school and thus no longer had the option), I had a sandwich assembled by my father to take to school every day, as did my siblings (he estimates he's made 9,900 school lunches). The flaccid squares of pizza and crumbling burgers that my classmates ate never appealed to me, and I think I'm better off for it. However, being a picky little butterball, my choice was solely one of taste – not one of health. In the 8th grade, I visited McDonald's about twice a week (in stead of attending a last-period study hall. What angsty tween would've chosen otherwise?). It was at my 2nd boarding school/wilderness program that I chose (read: was forced) to eat healthily. I was fed lots of quinoa and whole grains and no red meat. Defecating thrice a day and munching on TVP is an interesting adjustment for an adolescent to make, but I was eating well and I felt great.

Uhh... Oh, right! School lunches! One of the biggest charges in school lunches as of late is to lower sodium. Salt, being of course sodium chloride (NaCl), is virtually the only source of sodium in the human diet. It also just happens to taste great (not on its own, however). School cafeterias load up their French fries and breakfast pizza with salt because it's a cheap way to feign quality and stimulate the taste buds. From experience throughout my various dietary cycles, once one gets used to salty foods, it's hard to cut back. Selling out our kids like this could send them down a salty path, from which there may not be coming back. Excess salt intake can cause a stroke or cardiovascular disease, hypertension (that is, high blood pressure), and has been linked to edema, a gross fluid buildup beneath the skin. Blaah! Scary!

About a year ago, Michelle Obama launched Let's Move, a campaign aimed at getting kids to eat healthier. Since then, Barack Obama passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, among other things, aimed to increase the nutritional value of school lunches being served in cafeterias. To read more about that, click on one of these words. Or this one. Wait, why is this in my opinions section? Oh yeah, I think it's good.

Back to sodium. Over the next ten years, the HHFK Act will reduce the amount of sodium in school lunches by almost half. When school systems immediately overhaul the entire menu, students start selling candy and soda in cafeterias, and making the kind of money of which their teachers would probably be jealous. Sure, it's great practice for a lucrative career in drug dealing, but I think we could do without that mess going down in 4th grade. It makes sense to de-salinate our cafeteria's menus gradually, but it kind of sucks for all the little fatties cramming their faces with coronary disease for the next few years. And needless to say, improving school lunches is just a first step. There'll still be zillions of people ordering Domino's or swinging by Burger King every night, getting enough sodium to kill a horse. Me? I just want everyone to feel great. I know that I feel great when I eat well, and I used to be quite a little chunker. I believe that physical health in super-duper important and stuff, and I hope other people are as happy as they can be. Personally, I don't think gorging myself on Big Macs and dying at 40 is the best way to spend my life, but if someone else genuinely believes that, more power to them. As long as they know their options and their decision is informed. I don't believe in serving crap in public schools, because that's unfairly stacking the odds, but I'd also hate to understate the importance of teachers and parents in the matter.



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