Children in Ireland are bearing the brunt of the economic recession on this island. That is the truth. As the amount in their parents’ wallets shrinks, so too does the level of care Irish children are receiving. And I don’t mean trips to the apartment in Spain, or a weekend away in Disneyland for your birthday. I mean basic things. Like shoes that fit properly. And food.
We Irish have a funny relationship with food. We can’t shake off our ‘famine mentality’; which tells us we need to gobble every morsel laid in front of us because if we don’t, we’ll be starving tomorrow and then we’ll be sorry! Before the Celtic Tiger prowled the land (swiping at everything in his path and, ultimately giving us all septicemia) we were told to eat up our dinners and that it was a sin to leave food on our plates.
‘Poor black babies,’ we were told sternly ‘are dying in Africa and there you are, wasting food.’
I remember being force-fed to the point of vomiting because I couldn’t stomach what my parents deemed ‘enough’ food. I’m guessing they weren’t too concerned about food and the possibility of forming unhealthy relationships with it.
My eye is always drawn to anything in the news related to children, and this week, I have read two pieces which alarm me. In the first, I read of how – because one in five Irish children is obese – children in Ireland will be weighed when they start school. Now, aside altogether from the ritual humiliation of this kind of action, I wonder what the follow-on will be? What will be done with the information that’s collected this way? And, in these belt-tightening times, where will the funding come from? Would money not be better spent promoting healthy eating? Starting with breastfeeding, which has been shown to have a positive impact on obesity in later life (and is free!) ?
The second piece which alarmed me was this one. It tells of how five per-cent of children in Ireland has self-reported going to bed or to school hungry. Now, while I couldn’t help but notice that the statistic is the same for both groups, I don’t for a moment suggest that the 5% that’s going to bed hungry is the same 5% that’s obese. But it’s possible.
Obesity, we all know, is caused when there is a huge surplus of energy (in the form of fats and sugars) going in compared with the amount of energy going out (in exercise). The only way to avoid obesity is to either eat less or exercise more – or both. Avoiding obesity is also connected with avoiding empty calories and eating healthy nutritious food. And guess what? Healthy, nutritious food is more expensive than rubbish food. And the empty calories – the ones that are all energy with little or no nutritional value – do not keep you feeling ‘full’ for longer.
For people on a very low income – for people who are living in poverty – buying food that is full of nourishment is harder than you might think. A sliced loaf – bread made with good quality ingredients and low sugar and low salt and whole grains – costs €2.25 in a regular supermarket. A sliced loaf – thinly sliced, with very little nutritional value – in one of the low-cost German supermarkets will set you back a mere ¢75. Obviously, Mammy On A Budget is going to plump for the latter – because she can’t afford the former. But the cheaper one is a less healthy option.
Ditto fresh, organic fruit from the Farmers’ Market. Waaay better for you than the cheap stuff in the supermarkets – which are sprayed on the outside with goodness-knows-what, which does goodness-knows-what to your insides. Poor people have no choice but to buy the cheaper version and feed it to their kids.
The poor can’t afford to feed their children properly. The result? Fat, starving children.