You learn a lot at the supermarket. Recently, I waited behind a family of five—the children elementary-school age—as they unloaded their cart. Like many Americans, they were generously proportioned. I shy from the term obese, which now represents not only a medical condition but also a pejorative. The products they chose gave a clear reason why.
Their list was heavy on potatoes, pasta, boxes of mac and cheese, processed cheese, rice, frozen fries, frozen waffles, whole milk. Not that there wasn’t protein. But the bacon, hot dogs and packaged corned beef were all high in fat. No wimpy skinless chicken breasts for these folks. Large bottles of sugary soda? Of course. And dessert: ice cream, cookies, apple pies and whipped cream among others.
As the checker scanned their goods, I placed my own groceries on the conveyor: broccoli, green beans, a red pepper, oranges, bananas—and yes, skinless chicken breasts. Although I’d made no comment, Dad turned to me, pointed to the paper bags being filled at the end of the counter and shrugged. “What can you do? It isn’t easy feeding a family of five on a budget.” I nodded.
“It’s the kids,” said Mom. “Sure, they should be eating fruits and vegetables like you’re buying, but every time we say that… that they’ll be healthier… they throw fits. It’s just so much easier to give them what they want.”
“I understand,” I said. “Went through fits with three kids of my own. But don’t you worry that your kids will suffer from their own shortsightedness? There’s the future to think about. We’re parents. We know better.”
“You got that right,” said Dad. “But we have to live with these kids every day.” He eyed a box of donuts. “And they’re still young. How bad can their cholesterol be? When they’re older, they’ll have plenty of time for fruits and veggies. And to go to the gym. You’re only a kid once.”
Interesting how much families and Congress have in common. Both prefer to kick the can of fruit cocktail with heavy syrup down the road. It’s easier to keep sugar and fat on the menu and toss the lean meats and produce. If Americans in need of education, job training, healthcare and childcare go without while our infrastructure crumbles, so what? Voters like me—not all or even most seniors by any means—who can stand a ten or fifteen percent cut in our Social Security payments or fork over a few bucks more for our Medicare coverage will continue to fatten our wallets. We’re entitled! Touch our benefits, and we’ll drive our Mercedes and BMWs straight to anti-government rallies and raise hell. We’re entitled! Why else do we pay a volunteer military if not to protect our democratic rights?
I saw the family again in the parking lot. The kids seemed quite content as they finished packing up their very large SUV. I empathized. It’s hard to feed a family of five on a budget.
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