Saturday, January 21, 2017

On Sugar and Socialization

An Agenda discussion on sugar use is timely for me. I typically let students eat something small and healthy in class to tide them over until lunch, but, in one class this semester, I ended up having to police their choices. A few shovelled candy into their mouths before I'd tell them to put it away on a daily basis. I'd sometimes comment on their nutritional decisions even though it's not a health class, and then I'd immediately wonder if that's crossing a line. Sometimes my mom hat slips on when I should be in teacher mode. Or is that possibly a teacher's prerogative?

Gary Taubes provides a compelling argument for refined sugar being the primary cause of obesity not because it provides empty calories, or calories at all, but because it "creates a hormonal milieu that favours fat accumulation." This isn't entirely a new idea, except he goes a bit further with it, insisting that sugar has probably killed more people than tobacco. See the documentary Sugar Coated (currently on Netflix) for more thorough arguments.


My school board already removed the sugar-laden foods from the vending machines. That's a good first step, but it led to a different issue. Sugary drinks have been replaced with aspartamey drinks and fried chips with an array of baked chips, as if these are healthy choices. It's a half-measure that avoids the root problem: basic eating habits. Students can still leave the building to buy what they want for lunch, but should continue to sell them pseudo-healthy fare?

We don't want to be the bad guys that demand healthy behaviours in our buildings, so we just make a superficial attempt to eradicate one ingredient. It's not dissimilar from the recent twitter issue at my board wherein a jokey threat about students complaining about snow days included a meme of a kitten with a gun. A spokesperson for the board explained, "The best communications happen with a voice that people want to hear. If you're too dry on Twitter, then people are turned off by that, and they don't desperately want to hear that from you." It feels like we're no longer the adults setting standards of behaviour; we've become too concerned with being popular. But school is a socializing institution, and perhaps we shouldn't accept that responsibility too lightly. It's a tricky issue, however, with a slippery slope argument waiting to attack: Where will it end? What kind of moralizing forces or maybe even questionable nutritional data will teachers unleash if they believe delivering advice is permitted while delivering curriculum? What if a teacher is sold on raw-foods diet or believes in God or doesn't believe in the holocaust? What will happen to the children?

I'll just leave that concept hanging there. I'll think about it more another day. Back to sugar:

My concern with junk food isn't just with obesity or diabetes or tooth decay, but with pleasure in general. If we get candy whenever we want it, then it's no longer a treat. We've shifted to a hedonism so extreme with an attitude that suggests if something's pleasurable, then we should have it as much as we can to the point that it's no longer satisfying. It's a mentality that has adults unable to eat vegetables without dipping them in sugar-filled dips, and children starting to dip pizza! Why shouldn't we eat treats with every meal? Restraint is only exercised once we become adversely affected by the excess and not a minute before.

Life is like art. We need areas of restraint or it all loses focus and impact. Pleasures are less enjoyable if we're saturated with them. A bit of pleasure delaying isn't just good for our health, but good for our happiness. Now, am I allowed to say that in class?

3 comments:

  1. True, Marie. But we live in a society that does not see the value of delayed gratification.

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  2. I like how you thinkaboot things

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  3. Yup. I think the only way to get that back is to re-teach people that it really does increase the intensity of pleasures. If we can get it back at all, that is.

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