Recently, there have been a number of headlines about how pizza is really bad for kids. With headlines like “Pizza is bad for health. But do you know how bad?” and “Experts zero in on pizza as a prime target in war on childhood obesity” and “Pizza cuts into kids’ health, study finds” it is enough to make any parent feel anxious or guilty about how often their kid eats pizza. And while I agree that pizza, especially pizza from a restaurant, is likely full of certain ingredients that we may want to limit, for our kids and for ourselves, I am of the mind that focusing on one food as dangerous is not helpful, and, in fact, may draw attention away from the larger issues involved in feeding ourselves and our children better.
In social and professional situations I am often asked, “what do you think about food dyes/sugars/fats/wheat/insert whatever “bad” food?” And I always give a variation on the same answer: for me, food is not just about health or wellness, it is also about community, about enjoyment, about adventure. Yes, there are definitely certain foods that I avoid and/or don’t bring into our house, but the larger focus both for myself and for feeding my kids is on creating a healthy relationship with food that focuses on enjoying the foods that help our bodies to be healthy and strong, but also allows for the occasional enjoyment of other foods that may not be as good for us, but are still tasty and fun.
I know that oftentimes, after reading an article about the dangers of this food or that food, I will be reluctant or even paranoid about eating it, not to mention feeding it to my kids. I feel guilty about sending my kid to school with crackers made with white flour that are leftover from a party. I feel anxious as I watch my son eat that food dye-filled popsicle. I become paralyzed when picking out a snack in a grocery store because it all seems like “junk.” I don’t want to instill those sorts of fears in my kids and I don’t want to live with them myself.
I am concerned that when we label specific foods as dangerous, bad, fattening, etc., we do two things: 1) we continue to fuel people’s fears, anxieties, and negatives associations with food; and 2) we don’t give enough attention to how to actually create a well-rounded, balanced, delicious diet that brings us health and enjoyment.
So while I agree that there is too much pizza in many kids’ (and grown-ups’) diets, I also think that instead of demonizing yet another food and contributing further to the anxieties that we build up around eating, we should focus on a more productive conversation about the best ways to start encouraging a healthy and happy relationship with food. Let’s focus our attention on fun and innovative ways to get more of the good stuff in, so there is less room for the “bad.”