Thursday, September 04, 2008

Fat-free picnic

My younger daughter and I just came from an all-school picnic at her new school. She's starting 8th grade on Monday. The picnic was massive--800 people milling around the school grounds on a humid, muggy night. It wasn't the kind of event where you meet and really get to talk to people, and that was OK.

What wasn't OK was the food. Oh, it tasted all right, but I noticed there was nary a speck of fat or sugar at the picnic. There were flame-grilled veggie burgers, grilled chicken breasts, and I believe some kind of hot dog (I don't eat meat, so I didn't notice). There was pasta salad in a vinaigrette that was all vinegar. There were grilled veggies, which were very tasty. There was a huge bowl of salad with an array of dressings, every one of which was fat-free. I asked one of the caterers if there was any salad dressing with oil in it, and she said, "Honey, they specifically told us to bring only fat-free dressings."

For dessert there were trays of watermelon, which happens to be the one fruit I dislike.

I just hope this isn't a sign of things to come.


Anonymous said...

Someone needs to 'splain these people that you don't absorb the nutrients in vegetables without a little fat. Yes, that's right, the damn salad is NUTRITIONALLY WORTHLESS other than a little fiber, if there is no fat anywhere in the meal. ARGH.

Harpy said...

And those fat-free dressings are pretty sugary - water, sugar, vinegar, vegetable gum makes up about 99% of the content in those things. They make my teeth hurt. A younger relative of mine has type 1 diabetes and gets frustrated at school and club events that have been catered "healthy" - all the fat-free or low-fat stuff is mostly refined carbs. And when they cater "low carb" it's not that great either, as it's usually weight-loss low carb not diabetic low carb, so it's low fat too and there's aspartame galore.

Salty Rainbow said...

Well, the good thing about that is if there were kids with type 1 Diabetes like my Daughter (and according to the CDC that number is rising fast) has and I can only hope when she goes to school this will be an option for us..

Salty Rainbow said...

Just read Harpy's comment..

My Daughter is usually pretty high in her sugar, we're still getting the hang of this, and sometimes she needs candy or something to raise her sugar fast but most of the time she runs a bit high so I try to find as healthy as possible.

Harriet said...

There are several kids at the school with diabetes. But as Harpy pointed out, fat-free is not necessarily sugar free. And I'm not sure about the message being given with a decision like this. If several girls there had anorexia (which frankly I'm sure they do), wouldn't the same logic dictate a different sort of menu?

I can understand, say, banning peanut butter from school meals if there's someone who's deathly allergic to it in the community. The fat-free picnic suggests to me that there's an analogy here that I don't agree with at all.

Salty Rainbow said...

"fat-free is not necessarily sugar free"

Yes, I've noticed this as well and aspartame is a killer.

It's just frustrating to have to tell her she can't have this or a cherry pie that was cooked with a bunch of sugar or something.

She even hid her eyes away from the T.V. when she saw that ONE part in "Date With An Angel" where the Angel was eating the fries.

I tried telling my Daughter that it was okay and she could have those sometimes. It's still pretty new with us over here.

Harriet said...

I'm awfully sorry you and your daughter have to deal with this disease.

Anonymous said...

Meowser, I don't think that salads are nutritionally worthless without fat -- you miss out on absorbing some key vitamins and nutrients, but not the water-soluble ones, is my understanding. Still a good idea to have some fat with your vegetables, so you can access all the nutrients, but I think you're overstating it a little.

Anonymous said...

My daughter babysits for a family that eats like this. The little girls will eat pats of butter--plain--whenever given a chance. One thing that's so often overlooked is that not only does restrictive eating put vulnerable children at risk for eating disorders, but our diet culture does not seem to be effective in reducing rates of obesity.

Here's a nice article : )

Anonymous said...

It seems to be a catch-22, unfortunately. If they serve burgers and hot dogs and potato salad, then we're giving our children a bad example. But if they chose all healthy foods, then its too much.

I can understand your point - and believe there should be a happy medium of healthy vs. non-healthy foods - however, it does seem like they were trying to provide a healthy meal and the intent was good. It would be nice to go to a picnic with some healthy selections instead of trying to find something that's not a heart attack on a plate to eat.

Harriet said...

Aw, thanks, anon.

My sister and I grew up in a dieting household, and we were both sugar and fat freaks. I remember eating cubes of sugar straight from the box whenever I got the chance. Deprivation typically just creates an appetite for whatever the forbidden food is--especially when it's nutritionally necessary.

As we told our daughter over and over as she was recovering from anorexia, your brain NEEDS fat to work properly.

Rachel said...

I agree with Dolly. I think the school was just trying to accommodate the most amount of diets possible. Given that there were some 800 people there, this was probably no easy task. People who have no problem eating fats and carbs and meat are not harmed by eating low-fat, low-carb or vegetarian dishes. However, people who do have dietary restraints limiting carb and fat intake or are vegetarian, would be unable to consume those kinds of products. As a healthy-eating vegetarian who is routinely left with few or even no options at restaurants, family potlucks and company-sponsored food days, I find the school's approach to be refreshing and very considerate.

Harriet said...


You're falling into a very common trap--dividing foods into "healthy" and "unhealthy" categories. It's exactly that kind of thinking that help trigger full-blown eating disorders as well as the kind of subclinical eating disorders that plague so many women.

Food is food. We are omnivores meant to eat a varied diet. Eating way too much of one kind of food or another may not be optimal, but there is nothing intrinsically unhealthy about burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad, as part of a varied diet.

There IS IMO something extremely unhealthy about demonizing certain foods. I've got no problem with serving up a meal that everyone can eat; but I do have a huge problem with serving ONLY fat-free salad dressings, for instance. That sends a clear message: dressings with fat in them are bad. And it's that kind of dichotomy that is so very harmful to so many of us.

Anonymous said...

Dolly, I think you're missing the point that fat and sugar are part of a healthy meal, that a meal stripped of these nutrients is as unhealthy as a meal entirely of them. Not offering a selection of foods will mean that in any large group there will be someone who cannot eat what is right for them, because different people have different needs to be met.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'd argue that there is *definitely* something intrinsically wrong with hot dogs! As well as Twinkies, and other "foods" which are not really made of food.

Last week, I was on a beach in Saugerties, NY, at the same time as a local arts group was holding a free art studio for kids. Post-studio, they handed out cupcakes. There were a few left over, so they offered them to those of us just there for the beach, not the arts. I was happy to see that none of the parents declined a cupcake for their kid.

Anonymous said...

Fat is an important. Our bodies and brains can't run without it. Even recommendations for low fat diet (and the merits of a low fat diet are still being debated) suggest that about 30 percent of calories ought to come from fat. Nuts, oils and other fats are not "bad" or "unhealthy" or a "heart attack on a plate."

Throughout most of human history people have been feeding themselves and their children without categorizing, labeling and nutritionally analyzing foods. Are we, on the whole, healthier (or even thinner) today because of this zest for labeling? I would argue no. If anything I'd say the over-emphasis on nutrition has made us as a society a little crankier, little heavier and a little more boring than we would have been if we left well enough alone.

Fruits and vegetables are carbs (not that there's anything wrong with carbs).

Harriet said...

That phrase, "heart attack on a plate," is one that I find particularly upsetting. It's meant to inspire fear and that's what it does. I think that's part of how we got into such trouble in terms of our eating. Food is not dangerous or something to be feared. Food has a crucial role in our lives and should be celebrated, in its place--not demonized or sanctified.

mary said...

It sounds like it was pretty inconsiderate to me. It shows a lack of respect for the different needs and preferences we have, not to mention the ignorance it shows. Why limit the foods and control what others bring to a gathering? That's the best way to share new things. It seems that control is often what an ED does and the person who controlled the diet food list may have too much power for their own good. I'd have brought the brownies and I bet they'd have been gobbled up! ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't think the fat-free craze as bad as you think. This anti-obesity hysteria that you speak of sounds like more of a Northern phenomenon. We have the opposite problem in the South. I went to a picnic several weeks ago and they did not have any vegetables or low fat foods. They served fried chicken, red beans and rice, baudin sausage, Hubig's pies, and gumbo. I honestly haven't noticed a fat-free craze or an anti-obesity craze. Every time you post stuff like this I scratch my head and go, "Huh? What anti-obesity craze?" That just shows how diverse America is and how people can have wildly different experiences.

I don't agree with the attitude at your daughter's school BUT I still think obesity is a major public health problem. I've seen too many people suffer from diabetes complications. We need to find a happy medium.

Anonymous said...

Balance! It's the key to everything!

The picnic should have had ALL food groups present... even with obesity prevention, a well balanced diet is key.

So if I were to have coordinated the menu, well there would have been a bit of everything from each food group!

Fruits and veggies, a variety of protein sources, starches, and LIPIDS!

Harriet, you should have just brought a few devilled eggs and threw them into that salad ;)

I can't wait for the day when all of these "fat-free" crazies realize that your body needs all nutrients to work at its optimum.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the attitude at your daughter's school BUT I still think obesity is a major public health problem. I've seen too many people suffer from diabetes complications. We need to find a happy medium.

Being fat isn't a health "problem." And fat itself does not cause diabetes. There is not one shred of evidence that adipose exclusively causes any of the health problems that get linked with fat people - the same problems that thin and "normal" sized people get too. But in those cases, it's always "genetic." With fat people, it's because we're fat.

Harpy said...

I think there can be a happy medium. I've been to catered event where there were several salads, eg, mixed green leaves, potato, Greek, - and separate dressings like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fat-free French, English salad cream - and you could mix and match as you needed; grilled or cold meats from pork sausages to lean chicken breast; and some kind of vege protein like marinaded tofu cutlets, felafel, etc. Maybe I've just had a really good run of catered events that were flexible to as many dietary considerations as possible. :) I'm a vegetarian, too.

Anonymous said...

"This anti-obesity hysteria that you speak of sounds like more of a Northern phenomenon."

Well, we get a lot of the OMG Obesity! hysteria in California. A lot.

Sounds like the school is reacting the way many organizations are these days regarding the panic: overcompensating to a certain extent.

Doctors do it as well. I have to get weighed at my doctor's office everytime I go, even if I'm picking up a prescription for an antibiotic and then the later consultation after completing the course. Seriously. Such is the obesity scare here--take a course of antibiotics and ZOMG we must make sure you didn't get fat in the process!

Pamalamb said...

Harriet - Sounds like a lousy picnic to me!

kpod - you need to read this:

Harriet - you have a great blog - I've been reading it for awhile but never posted. Keep up the great work.

Niika said...

Veggies and salad without dressing? How lame. :(