Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Letter from California-March 21, 2005

Here I thought it was just my imagination, but it turns out it’s true: California’s kids are big. Local department stores have installed Batman-style red phone hotlines to the “Husky” clothes factories. The State has spent a fortune doubling up the swingset chains to prevent humiliating crashes. Burger joints near high schools brace themselves at 3 pm for an onslaught like something from a Hitchcock movie, plus acne and bad music. Oh so bad music.

In fact, one of our state legislators, Martha Escutia from Norwalk, near Los Angeles, claims that 25 percent of middle schoolers are overweight. I take issue with those statistics. I’ve been in middle schools, and it looks like a casting call for “Hansel and Gretel” in there. If three quarters of middle schoolers are in good shape, they must be absent every time I drive by a school. Probably out exercising. The whole problem is exaggerated, I’m sure, by the craze for tight low-rider jeans and shirts that don’t make it down to the belt line. Not a world-renowned authority on fashion, I do have one piece of advice that ought to be in a magazine: that look ain’t for everyone. Some things never go out of style, but others, like dangling belly fat, never, ever come in.

So Assemblywoman Escutia has a plan: take the soft drinks out of California’s high schools. In 2001, she led the legislature to get rid of soft drinks in middle schools, and now she’s back for more. At a glance, it’s a pretty sensible idea. California owns and runs these schools after all. Why should it contribute to the porkification of the next generation? Aren’t we the state with the health nut governor after all?

Students predictably aren’t thrilled, and they make a powerful counter argument. Actually, it’s a pretty pitiful counterargument, using the “no way” defense, followed by some cursing. By that point, they’re out of breath, so the argument ends.

It’s pretty clear, then, that the adults, with full access to sugared soda guaranteed by State constitution, will prevail on this issue, but that doesn’t stop them from saying amazingly dumb things about it. For example, the Pasadena Star-News published an editorial on Sunday supporting Escutia’s plan, but warning that “in California high schools, the approach should not be negative.” I guess that means it should be positive. Do tell what you mean, Star-News. “For example, schools should find ways to serve positive alternatives to pizza and burgers.” What are they talking about? Sloppy Joes? Filet Mignon? All-candy lunches? Days of fasting for school spirit? It continues, saying “some schools are already serving healthy fare such as salads, why not all?” Aha! Salad is a positive alternative to Pizza. Well, maybe. What do you think would happen if we polled the staff of the Pasadena Star-News and asked which item they positively would prefer for lunch: pizza or salad? By the way, what kind of salad are we talking about here? Fried Chicken Salad with honey mustard dressing or just some romaine leaves and a dash of vinaigrette. It makes a difference!

I say the Star-News has it all wrong. The right approach for California schools might just be to go negative on this thing. Let them eat endives, that’s what I say. After all, people in California pay top dollar to be abused in just this way at things called “Boot Camp” fitness programs. The idea is that a tough-talking trainer puts you through a high-priced hell so that you’ll actually lose the lard you’ve packed on over the years but were too lazy to do anything about yourself. Even though it’s expensive, it’s really a bargain when you consider that for your money, you don’t just get the weight loss. You get humiliation, abuse, and shame thrown in for free.

So why not just make the California schools an extended fitness Boot Camp? The kids might load up on Krispy Kremes once they get home, but for the eight hours a day they’re at school, they’ll workout like Billy Blanks from TaeBo and they’ll eat like a runway model threatened with job loss for breaking a buck-oh-five on the scale. By the time they graduate, they’ll be so accustomed to lean living that Pepsi will seem like a special occasion dessert, not something to wash down a King Size bag of skittles. They’ll be so used to diced celery and tuna salad with low-fat mayo that the sugar in a slice of chocolate cake with make their teeth hurt. Soon, California will be right back in shape. Heck, we’ll probably challenge Arizona to an arm-wrestling tournament.

Or the kids will go bonkers and eat cans of frosting with a spoon while watching Jerry Springer as an after school snack. It could go either way.


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