Marlene Schwartz talks about our need to eat junk food. It’s pretty messed up.

Let’s start with rats. Rats are our friends when it comes to understanding the power of junky junk food. When rats have their rat chow and they eat what they need and they don’t overdo it. Give those same rats some Oreos and Cheetos and suddenly they have very little impulse control. They eat and eat and eat. Hello, fat rat! Even when the regular rat chow is available, the rat chooses the high fat, high salt, high sugar snacks.

What does that mean for me as a mom, a woman, a shopper, and a mammal who shares a lot of instinctual tendencies with a rat? 

Apparently, if I have tons of access to healthy food, I won’t overindulge. If I have unlimited ability to snack on every sweet and salty treat in a grocery store then I WILL gobble it up. Shockingly (not really) I will still do this even if healthy options are available.

This may not be a revelation to you, reader, but it does warrant a moment of contemplation. I now really (really, really) know that I won’t make a healthy food choice if I surround myself with less-than-healthy options. So if I buy junk food and hide it in the pantry, I will surely find my naughty nosh faster than the fruit on the counter or the whole foods waiting for me in the fridge.

 Now, what about folks who are confined, sometimes against their will, in a building that only offers unhealthy food? 

I’m not referring to our incarcerated citizens, but rather our school age students in public school buildings five days a week. These little folks are tempted by crazy sweet and salty options next to occasional whole fruits and vegetables. Even if they pick up the fruit and veggies (or the items are put on their lunch tray), students tend to prioritize the processed food items when it came time to eat. Not surprisingly, kiddos drink their chocolate milk, French fries, and pizza before they tuck into a mixed green salad or an uncut orange.

So what? Well according to smart people like President Truman, we are only as strong as we are healthy and our nation is only successful as our food generation.

He says it better:

“No nation is any healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers.” President Truman

Let’s restate this in a dumbed down form: if we don’t provide our kids with healthy food options without junk food as a competing option, they will eat junk and get fat and sick. If we don’t support our farmers who are providing organic crops we will lag behind other nations who do.

Schools fret that they will lose money if they stop serving the addictive foods that we have conditioned our students to crave, but studies have shown the opposite. The Journal of School Health has shown that pilot schools where all junk foods were removed did not lose money on lunch sales.

“Waaaa, but the kids won’t eat healthy food!”

Actually, Schwartz noted in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition that 70% of kids who are offered healthy food say “yes, please” and then 70% of those kids actually consumed the item. The number of students who ate fruit each day went from 33% to 55%. There is a semi-harsh reality here: more students took fruit, more students ate fruit, but more fruit was wasted. T This happened, in part, because more fruit was in play (for the first time ever?!).

My conclusion? If we want kids (and me) to eat healthier, we need to remove tempting junk food completely. Like even beyond “out of sight, out of mind” and have tons of whole foods available to eat instead. We need to be more like rats and stick to the chow our bodies actually need. Having a healthy body will be the reward we all crave.

As a writer and a mom, I went to Marlene’s presentation to get information to share with my readers and with my three sons. I realize now that I needed to hear it for myself, too. We all need more rat stories in our life.