Friday, September 21, 2007


My health class in high school was taught by a woman with a whole mouthful of false teeth. I guess that’s not so odd considering the existence of husky gym teachers and brutal irony, but it still lead me to believe that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She gave us the basic food pyramid thing and lamented about the importance of a good breakfast, but no real insight one would expect from a health class.

Before taking the class the class I knew that brown rice was better than white rice, fruit punch was not fruit juice and that candy at 7:30 am is not the breakfast of champs. Why? I come from a middle-class family and I learned these things from my nutrition savvy mother. It’s not common sense -- healthy eating is a learned lifestyle.

I relied on neighborhood coffee when I first started teaching here to give me that perk a teacher needs from 7:30-3:10. I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t get it with skim milk, but was surprised at the bodega at 7am: kids buying every type of sugary candy they could pick up for a buck.

It seemed like a woebegone Wall Street where, instead of traders frantically trying to buy stocks of Intel or Apple, kids were frantically calling for x amount of Now-and-Laters or Swedish Fish. It’s quite a scene.


A co-worker and I once had a chat on how wrong this was and attributed it to why our kids were so wild in the morning. Of course! They get that initial rush of sugar and then crash at around 10 a.m. I don’t need some toothless health teacher to help me out with that one. It’s common sense.

But this oppressive cycle makes sense to me now. It’s easy to blame the kids or parents for this, but the NYC schools are poor models of healthy eating.

Every now and again, I’m exiled from my room (one of the more sizable rooms in the school) for parent teacher conferences. We recently had our first one of the year and I helped with the planning, which mostly involved setting up a few rows of chairs.

At the conference, the parents were served a platter of Twinkies, cupcakes, cookies and doughnuts. There was also orange juice, but the fruit platter apparently cost too much. Twinkies at 10am? SURE! Everything was gone by noon except for a bit of cranberry apple juice that I managed to swipe. Trickle down ignorance at its best.

I can give a few more vignettes about how bad it can get. If I don’t have a coffee by around 10 am, I usually wander to the vending machine to get something to keep me going. Ya know, a bag of peanuts or a diet cola or whatev.

Co-worker: Diet soda, Francis? You’re so healthy!
Francis: Not at all - just need that lil perk. It’s still bad for you. Nahmean?
Co-worker: I hear you
Francis: Truth.
Co-worker: Truth.

But once you have the knowledge of how to eat from the tree of life, come to Brownsville for some of the local cuisine.

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