The Sleepover Lesson
The social structure of a teenage girl’s sleepover can be complex to say the least. From a middle-aged man’s perspective, it appears to be perilous at best. My daughter’s recent experience at a friend’s house confirmed my suspicions.
Gwendolyn, my fierce and beautiful 14-year old daughter, is approximately 80% plant-based. She eats her cereal with almond milk, opts for Violife grilled cheese sandwiches, prefers nice cream to ice cream, and cooks up her own vegan Ramen at least three times per week. Her brown-bagged lunches at school will often consist of a veggie sandwich on homemade multigrain bread, carrots with a vegan ranch dip, apple slices with cinnamon, and possibly a slice of homemade wholegrain vegan banana bread. I say that she is 80% because when she is with her friends, she eats what they eat.
However, at this past get together, Gwendolyn was labeled a vegan. It was uttered by the handful of her classmates/teammates (they all play volleyball, basketball, and soccer together) as a derogatory term. You see, what Gwendolyn eats at school, isn’t the Lunchables with a side of Chips Ahoy packed by their moms, it isn’t a steak sandwich from Subway, nor is it whatever overly-processed, nutrition-lacking tray served up by the school. Because of this, my daughter is considered odd.
I am not too worried about Gwendolyn’s psyche, she can handle most anything thrown her way. What concerned me is the message that these girls were getting about food and what a normal diet should consist of; they were trying to put my daughter down while they were eating pepperoni pizza and fried cheese curds from Culver’s. Incidentally, my daughter was eating that, too!
The idea that these girls at the sleepover have about what they put in their bodies is what they have been taught by their parents. It is the exact same thing that I subscribed to until 2019 when I was presented with better information. Hell! I was a district manager for Arby’s and would bring that food home regularly for my family to eat. They subscribe to the notion that they are not harming themselves by eating fast food, processed meats, dairy, copious amounts of sodium, white sugar, white flour, chicken, and fish. In fact, they believe in it to the point that if they see someone choosing to eat healthy, plant-based foods, they deride them.
I do not blame the girls for being uninformed. Government programs mandate that milk is served in schools. Nutrition classes in grade schools teach that protein equals animal products. Commercial messaging shows image after image of people enjoying their lives, at a healthy weight, while eating 2,000 calorie meals from fast food restaurants.
As someone who spent years in the fast food industry, I know some of the gruesome numbers. Nearly 25% of all Americans eat fast food daily. Daily! I know that there are almost no healthy options in the fast food game, as even the things that might pass as nutritional are usually packed with sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and enough chemicals to choke a horse. I am also keenly aware of the BMI’s of the clientele that I used to serve, and it is frightening to know what they were doing to their bodies.
With the current employee shortage in the industry, I recently spent a 10-hour day working in the drive thru of one of the half dozen stores that I oversaw. I marked down the number of cars that came through for the day, and also noted how many drivers had bellies that rubbed against the steering wheel. Of the 212 cars that passed through for the day, 111 had drivers so obese that their midsections actually touched the steering wheels of their cars. That’s over 52%!
That’s why I applaud my daughter for making the decision to eat a predominately plant-based diet while standing up to the verbal slings and arrows of her peers. It is not easy to do. In the meantime, I have reached out to her school to also teach the class that protein is plentifully found in nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables. I’m proud that the principal has agreed to add that to the curriculum. It might be a small step, but it’s a step closer to sleepovers looking a lot different for my future granddaughter.