I don’t eat processed foods but for once, I needed candy. I waited all day for a senior I’ve been trying to convert to healthy eating, because I knew she’d have junk food. I lurked around corners and told her friends I was waiting.

Finally, she arrived at class.

She had an entire backpack, and was honored to share a candy bar. They’d never seen me eat candy. They stared. I meant to eat a piece, but when I looked down and the entire thing was gone.

It’s not a self-control issue, nor is it a weight issue. It’s just that I never quite feel good after eating processed sugar and food from boxes and bags. My stated mission is to rid the world of such things. This candy bar didn’t represent empty calories or breach of diet. It was much worse. I was breaking a commandment of my food religion. I’d be able to gloat just a little bit less in public.

But maybe I wasn’t doing something that bad for my body. Maybe I was helping a teen. In effect, I’d stolen candy not from not babies, but pre adults who should be eating better anyway. They have their own money, and with that comes backpacks filled with Doritos, Monsters, Pop Tarts, Skittles, and all sorts of nutritional travesties.

“Miss, you want some M&M’s?” Another girl pulled out the big bag–the one that in my day used to be a pound but is now ten ounces, because food manufacturers think the shrinking bag will fool those of us who can read. If I were a teen spending my first paychecks, it’d just make me buy two bags.

Normally, I’d cringe at that much bad food, but I had to confess I wanted some. I sat down and snacked, moving from group to group among laptops, graphs, and economic equations representing the projects they had due in one day. The work was outstanding–maybe the junk food was helping?

I remember eating a whole bag of M&Ms when I first made my own babysitting money. But then, I began reading hard-core vegetarian freak cookbooks and propaganda, like the Moosewood Cookbook, Francis Moore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet,” I think grows her own food before she eats it, and every single Hare Krishna recipe book I could get my hands on. They gave out free vegetarian literature, which was tough to get at the time.

Vegetarianism wasn’t mainstream back then in a community without Indians. We had Indians, but they were Native Americans before political correctness–they weren’t vegetarians but they were waiting for their time in society after years of oppression, too.  It wasn’t until college that I met entire religions of people who were vegetarian like me, and who cooked a lot better. I was in my element.

Now, I’m horrified by the food choices I see.

Every day I look see my students. I watch them eating meal after meal of garbage.

I snap and declare one day a week to be devoted to healthy eating. “Health Food Friday,” I proclaim. I say I want someone in the class to make clean eating their senior project–maybe we could make people go cold turkey on the sugar and film confessional videos like a really bad TV documentary, I don’t know.

I want to see fewer teens eating things out of boxes and bags and more learning to cook healthy things they won’t hate. After all, food expert Michael Pollan declared we could eat junk food if we made it from scratch. There are still options available.

Yes, indeed, this is me imposing my freakish food values on my minions, but I don’t care. They don’t have to agree with me, they just have to listen. Isn’t that what education’s about? I learn from them, too, they can deal with me.

The Vegetable Challenge has begun…


[photo credit: Wikipedia commons]