As a nutrition therapy practitioner who leans towards paleo, I am used to being an odd duck within in the food consumer pond of my region of the United States. It is not uncommon for me to regularly stump the cashier at the grocery store with the items I find in the produce section (“Is this a root vegetable or a squash?”). Bone broth is one of my five-year old son’s most frequently requested beverages to drink at home, even though I know most five-year olds have never used those two words in combination.
I’m okay with being abnormal. But, as a free-thinker in the normally nutritionally befuddled world at large, please, please, don’t take away my ability to choose what I want to eat. On Friday of last week, the unthinkable happened. As I was dropping off my son at day care (where I happen to provide nut milk alternatives that I carefully select for his consumption at breakfast and lunch in place of cow’s milk), I was pulled aside by the cafeteria lady and told that I could no longer bring in flavored nut milk, and the milk replacement product had to have at least 8 grams of protein per serving. Say what?! I took a moment to get over my shock as she explained that someone from the day care had recently attended a meeting about new nutrient/food guidelines in day cares and learned the USDA is now apparently cracking down on milk and milk replacement products for children, including the beverages parents choose to bring in in place of the standard school offering.
Although she didn’t come right out and say what I should start bringing in, she went on to show me two products in the school’s refrigerator that did meet those guidelines: soymilk and cow’s milk. Gee, how ironic that the meat and dairy industry and soybean farmers are two of the most notorious “Big Ag” players shaping food policy in the United States, not to mention spending oodles of dollars on influential lobbyists working tirelessly to convince our government that their agendas have our best public health interests in mind. And those two types of milk just happen to meet the requirements of this new regulation! Never mind the fact that most of American dairy is now produced in CAFOs coming from cows that not only rarely see the light of day, but are regularly treated with growth hormones and antibiotics (that, yes, do get into the meat and milk we humans consume), or that soy, along with corn, is one of the most heavily subsidized and pesticide treated crops in the United States – and happens to be in just about every processed and packaged food you can find in the grocery store (ranging from veggie burgers to Clif bars to chocolate). Let’s not even get into the phytoestrogens contained in soy that confuse our body’s hormone regulation, or how hard it is for our bodies to break down and extract the nutrients from any form of soy that has not been fermented and prepared properly as done in traditional consumption methods in Asia.
The biggest shocker and most troublesome aspect of this announcement from the cafeteria lady was the fact that my ability to decide what is in my son’s best nutritional interests (at least as long as he is at school) no longer matters according to this new “policy,” and it makes no difference how educated I am on the topic of nutrition or whether or not I could provide a list of credible, research backed reasons as to why it makes no sense to set a policy around flavor and protein content. While we are singling out protein, why don’t we also talk about sugar content too? And who is out there making sure our children are eating enough healthy fat to sustain their energy and growth?! (I find it incredibly ironic that the USDA guidelines noted above also require low-fat cow’s milk to be served in place of the real thing and make no mention of unflavored milk substitutes having as much or more added sugar compared to their flavored counterparts).
Anyhow, I write this blog more from a place of shock, incredible dismay, and outrage that this is the direction our nutrition policies are going within our child care facilities, and it makes me wonder what other public institutions will be hit next. We need more highly educated, expertly trained, non-biased nutritionists, naturopaths and other health care provider/decision-makers lobbying for our public health interests rather than people who have a vested interest in profitability and/or driving our health as a nation towards further disease while couching these new policies in terms of bettering our children’s nutrition. Or maybe we parents of children ages 2-5 can all start by collectively showing up on Monday at daycare with our children and a half gallon mason jar of homemade bone broth (spiked with collagen peptides from grass-fed bovine just to up the protein content) in hand, offer it to the lunch lady, and say “Here you go. The USDA asked for unflavored and at least 8 grams of protein. You got it.”