Before I became a parent I had a plan. For many things, really. But one was that my children would not be getting heavily processed or sugar-filled foods for the first 5 years of life. I'd met other parents who'd done the same, and I desired equally vibrant, healthy children. I looked forward to nursing my babies for a normal duration of years - allowing them to self-wean in their own perfect timing. I'd taken numerous nutrition and child health development courses throughout my graduate studies, and was certain this was one easy task I would not fail at.
Arrive baby #1. And I learn a big hard lesson: Life rarely goes according to 'plan.'
Our (first) son was exclusively breastfed until 10 months of age. Our initial goal was 12 months, but by the time he crossed that 8 month mark he was walking, and by 10 months he had 8 teeth ready for chewing. Needless to say, he walked over to that first non-breastmilk item (which happened to be steamed asparagus), picked it up with his chubby-baby-fat fingers, and ate like he'd been doing it all along... I'm all for baby-led weaning, and this is exactly what took place.
Until the age of 18 months his diet primarily consisted of momma milk with an assortment of wholesome vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. He became famous for eating all the tomatoes, beans, and broccoli available - and likely would ask for yours as well if you dined with us. He was healthy, happy, and still, my chunky monkey. But despite what people said about his baby fat (and being off the charts in growth - wearing 4T clothes by the time he was 2) I was comforted to know that anything and everything that had gone into his body was pure and good. Up to that point.
And then came the lecture tour. I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to guest lecture at several universities in various states each year, and fortunately, my toddler likes the thrill of tagging along. But unfortunately for us both, this venture resulted in an end to his 'perfect' eating. With time restraints and travel, in and out of hotel lobbies and airports, I did the one thing I said I'd never do: gave my child McNuggets to eat for supper.
And so, by the time his second year of life rolled around, I'd already fallen short of my original aspirations for an ideal diet. This is a subject that weighs heavily (no pun intended) on my mind - always wishing to do not just a mediocre job at mothering, but really, truly, setting my children up on a path that leads to their optimal wellbeing.
There are likely two reasons, then, that this McDonald's ad (above) caught my eye. First, it mimics the act of nursing at the breast - truly a human being's most perfect and vital food for a lifetime of wellness. And second, because it reflects the exact antithesis of human milk and healthy consumption for babies and children.
I'm not entirely certain what the goal was for this ad - surely it is eye-catching in a distorted sort of way. I've heard others suggest that it could be read as "what mom eats, baby eats" (although I doubt that was McDonald's intention). Possibly, it portrays the burger as loving, gentle, and nurturing - filled with goodness and all the nourishment we could hope for - an item we've securely attached to, one that we long for, and depend on. Even as a baby is sustained, with all needs met, at his mother's breast, so are we by McDonald's hamburgers.
I'll leave the ad dissection up to the media lit gurus, but the film in which this advertisement is highlighted (presented as an example of how media images can hurt, rather than help, our children) is worth watching. Killer at Large was released two years ago, but I first viewed the film recently, and was impressed that the authors take it beyond the "eat healthy, exercise more" cliche. They give due time to media outlets and advertising which tends to prey on children's desires, but also zero in on how stress - and the fear factor in America - is intertwined with our growing waistlines.
Hormones are monumentally powerful factors in our lives - controlling and impacting everything from sex, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding to eating, wellness, energy, and death. Still, there is very little we understand about hormones, and the more we learn, it seems the more we realize how much there is still left to discover. This is especially true when it comes to women's health (as hormones flux drastically on a day to day basis, monthly cycle, and over the course of life change events). Killer at Large includes discussion of cortisol, a stress hormone, and how it has, for all of human history (including the present day), sent messages to the brain to EAT and messages to the gut to STORE. The survival of the fittest depended on it through most of human history - my body, for example, seems to be built to withstand even the most troublesome of famines! And here we see a bit of insight into the complexity of this 'killer at large.' All the healthy eating and exercise in the world may not be enough to save you if you are stressed beyond belief and your cortisol (and other stress hormones) are through the roof.
But I'll let you go give the film a view for yourself... and come back to share your two-cents with me here if you like. The trailer below does not do the film justice, but I include it anyway with links for further investigation, additional good films on (food) related subjects, and some excellent books for checking out.
As an aside - before you click the email button to send me a message reminding me that McDonald's is not 'evil' - let me say that yes, I know this. No one corporation damages the world (although a few may come close...). And, it is my responsibility to nourish my children with hearty homecooked meals and fill their days with outside adventures, or my choice to microwave processed frozen dinners in between t.v. commercials. However, there surely are things in society which make one easier than the other. And the U.S. seems to have perfected this (the hard way) to work out against mothers, and against a healthy population of children. So, for this reason, I believe it is a subject that demands our attention.
Killer at Large DVD
Killer at Large Homepage
Professors/Teachers: Get a free, abridged, 26 minute version of this film to show in your classroom. The contents include enough to give a bit of background on the subject and spur class discussion. Request your DVD copy here. Also on YouTube (second video).
1) Fast Food Nation
2) The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids
3) The China Study
4) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
5) Food Inc.: A Participant Guide
6) Food Rules: An Eater's Manual
7) The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight and Saving the Planet
8) Diet for a Dead Planet
9) Second Nature: A Gardener's Education
10) Stuffed and Starved: The Battle for the World's Food System
11) The Future of Food
1) Food Inc. ~ Movie Website
2) Fast Food Nation
3) Corn Kings ~ Movie Website
4) The Cove ~ Movie Website
5) Super Size Me
6) The End of the Line ~ Movie Website
7) Food Matters ~ Movie Website