On Lunchables

I chaperoned a field trip for my preschooler’s class recently. During the trip, I made the mistake of checking in on Facebook and making a joke that, of the four kids in my charge, the three that weren’t mine all had Lunchables packed for them. Among the many jokes posted were also concerns that there was some sort of judgement being passed on the parents who packed them. There was, of course. What’s the fun of parenting if not judging other parents? But I wasn’t judging for the reason my friends thought.

Let’s pause first to review Lunchable fundamentals. Basically, if there’s a health or social issue you care about, the Lunchable is against it. It’s a highly processed, high calorie, high sodium, high sugar, corporate product. Then, some genius has wrapped these bits of refined flour, cheese product and mechanically separated chicken and beef in an amazing, stupefying, staggering amount of packaging. It’s an Earth-screwing plastic box inside of a cardboard box with each interior component separately wrapped in its own additional plastic pouch. You could probably feed something worse to your kid (though, barring industrial adhesives, I’m not sure what), but you couldn’t kill a baby seal, pave the Everglades, and drive a coal-powered Escalade right into  Al Gore’s big green balls while doing it.  Did I mention that they’re also crazy expensive?

The other fundamental behind Lunchables is that they’re “sure to be fun for your kids.” Not as much fun as the inevitable colostomy bag is going to be someday, but fun. Food marketing for kids is all about  this kind of “fun” – from yogurt in a tube, to fruit in a sack, to chicken shaped like its evolutionary forebears, to all sorts of breakfast cereals, the idea is simple: take something once recognizable, process the hell out of it, and put a friendly cartoon face on it. You could call it the Michael Jacksonization of food – both are mostly about screwing kids.

As a parent, I absolutely believe you have the right to feed your kids what you want. This is America, and you have the right to bear arms and the right to bare arms that look like Christmas hams. The first time I volunteered at my kids’ school, I heard one mother lamenting her inability to find husky sized underpants for her son.* I totally supported this poor woman and, moreover, I supported her poor son and his ass cheeks being cleaved into proto-balloon animal shapes by his ill-fitting drawers. I am much more concerned about what kids who grew up on this crap will be like as adults, and it has nothing to do with their size or health.

The thing is this: Lunchables make your kids into jerks. The kind of jerks who will come to a shared meal or dinner party and turn their noses up at the food. Because they don’t like cilantro. Or they don’t eat tomatoes. Or they think that fish is icky. Or refuse Indian food based on the fact that they heard once it was spicy. I’m still angry about the person who joined my family for some excellent Lebanese food and then said that dolmas looked like poop.  A friend of my father’s once asked for a restaurant recommendation, with the caveat that she didn’t want to eat “Asian” food. By this, she actually meant THE ENTIRE CONTINENT OF ASIA. She didn’t want to be subjected to any restaurant offering the cuisines from Turkey to Japan. She probably ended up at the Olive Garden.

All these kids raised on super salty, super sweet, incredibly rich foods are going to be insufferable jerks at meals with friends and co-workers in the future. They learned as kids that they don’t have to eat anything that isn’t “fun” ; and just like they do now, they’re going to make sure everyone knows it.  Complaining. Picking their food apart. Asking for something different. There is one rule for my kids when we eat at someone else’s house: try everything and be grateful. People invited you to join them for a meal. That’s a nice thing. Be nice.

Crap. I just gave away the phrase that could’ve spawned a bestselling parenting book. I was going to call it “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your Kid to be a Dick.”

I don’t even want think about what a nation of palates raised on processed food are going to do to grocery stores in the future. The poor produce section is already trying to hold its territory against far better organized and funded opposition, like West Bank Palestinians fending off the Israeli settlers of  chips, bottled beverages, and a whole world of brightly packaged sugary snacks “made from real fruit” in the same way that Paul Ryan’s budgets are “made from real numbers.”

Yes, I may indeed be making a little judgement.  Because I believe this: your right to feed your five year old whatever you want directly impacts everyone else’s ability to select, prepare, and -especially -enjoy their own meals now and in the future. So feed them what you will and get ready to be eating with them alone for a very, very long time.

 

 

*Really.

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6 thoughts on “On Lunchables

  1. tolkienista says:

    This is rather lovely, and as one of the detractors, I thank you for it.

    A caveat: as a child, I had lunchables off and on, though they were not at the time as packaged — the contents weren’t individually wrapped, though the whole thing was still more packaged. I think it was less related to my parents wanting to give it to me and more related to the fact that I’d seen the commercials about how fun they were and was a little shit at the grocery store until I got what I wanted.

    And yet I still think dolmas are the tastiest things, can be perfectly happy on a lunch of just cilantro, that is to say, nothing but cilantro stone-cold straight off the plate, and spent this morning shredding my own stewed chicken, chopping tomatoes, and arranging spinach into my reusable bento box for lunch today.

    But everything else is quite well-taken: and the difficulty of FINDING cilantro at my grocery store being connected to the colonialized food product that is a lunchable is taken quite sincerely. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think that you mis-state, ” Food marketing for kids is all about this kind of “fun” “, that simplifies the issue somewhat, it is also about giving kids the illusion of power;
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html
    In what would prove to be their greatest achievement of all, the Lunchables team would delve into adolescent psychology to discover that it wasn’t the food in the trays that excited the kids; it was the feeling of power it brought to their lives. As Bob Eckert, then the C.E.O. of Kraft, put it in 1999: “Lunchables aren’t about lunch. It’s about kids being able to put together what they want to eat, anytime, anywhere.”
    When I asked Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris, about this shift toward more salt, sugar and fat in meals for kids, he smiled and noted that even in its earliest incarnation, Lunchables was held up for criticism. “One article said something like, ‘If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin.’ ”

  3. Maddie says:

    I had terrible eating habits as a child. Soda, LUNCHABLES, delicious McNuggets dipped into that a corn syrup rich sauce, and doritos. (Maybe it wasn’t so regular). I think the biggest difference is–we didn’t have the internet yet. We had to get our little butts moving–play outside, walk the dog, summer swimteam, etc. I like your point about the food habits. I’m still learning that food shaped like poop, vomit, and vegetable can be delicious. All is not lost! They may still be jerks though…

  4. Angry Canadian says:

    I always thought of them as Virginia hams rather than Christmas hams in a more ecumenical spirit but that’s just me, not judging. Okay, judging a little.

  5. Pride/Power/Flight says:

    Let’s talk about something that is actually important here for a second. I made white bean and kale soup last night and I had to use STORE BOUGHT BACON. Oh, the humanity! Oh, the pig belly!

    If we’re not going to talk about something important, I at least want a million props for putting kale in something even if it did contain bacon. I’m a health hero! I’m a health hero!

  6. […] kid a pre-packaged mass-produced lunch? I demand choice! I demand the right to feed my kid whatever pre-packaged mass produced lunch *I* choose, not what some bureaucrat tells me. I know what’s best for my boys. And […]

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