Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
One of my all-time favorite blog comments was one I received in response to a post I wrote in 2008 about gluttony. I was talking about a book called The No-S Diet that made the surprisingly controversial claim that it's better to cut out snacks altogether, and a woman identifying herself as Red Salamander wrote in response:
I am trying to pinpoint exactly when everyone became brainwashed that we cannot possibly go more than two hours without eating. When I was a kid, in the early '70s, we were rarely given snacks between meals -- everyone knew those led to Cavities, Getting Fat, and Ruining Your Dinner. Also, food was only available from your kitchen (where your mom controlled the source), or from certain food-selling edifices like supermarkets or restaurants, or perhaps a vending machine if you were lucky. Bookstores did not sell food. Gas stations did not sell food. Stores that were not supermarkets did not sell food, except for Woolworth's lunch counter (where you had to sit down and order your food).
Nowadays, you cannot go 20 feet without being confronted with a display of candy, chips, pretzels, etc., positioned exactly at kid height. Snacks are served at EVERY social function; my children would start salivating on their way to Sunday school because they knew their good behavior would be rewarded with copious amounts of Goldfish crackers (thus eliminating any chance that they would eat lunch after church).
I don't generally pack snacks for my kids when we go out, unless we are going to be out, say, at the beach for five hours. Even then, I pack minimal food, because I’ve noticed that picky eating is in direct proportion to how many snack items they have ingested during the afternoon...It drives me nuts when we go to the playground, and other moms start pulling out giant sacks of chips, crackers, cookies, fruit roll-ups, etc., and then my kids stop playing and ask me plaintively what did WE bring. "Nothing…you just had lunch thirty minutes ago!" Then they go and give the puppy-dog eyes to anyone with a crinkly package. Everyone is glaring at me like I'm some sort of child-starving monster, and I’m growing increasingly annoyed with everyone for making what should be an opportunity for fresh and and exercise into an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I doubt there's been a single week in the past four years that I haven't thought about this comment and chuckled. I'll have finally completed the herculean process of getting five young children out the door to go to an activity, and realize with a sinking feeling that I'm not done, because we're required to bring snacks. I sign up to be part of a Bible study or a weekly prayer group, and one of the first questions I'm asked is which days I'll be bringing snacks. My kids walk away from the dinner table leaving plates full of their favorite foods untouched, and I realize that the culprit is snacks.
My feelings about this scourge had been building for a while, and then, earlier this week, I reached a breaking point. I walked into our kitchen to behold what could only be described as a pantry apocalypse: Demolished cereal boxes spilling out the last of their crunchy contents, shreds of Rice Crispy Treat wrappers, the floor carpeted in shards of various artificially-flavored cheese crackers. We had all been happily playing outside, but each child would occasionally come up and request food. I had stayed strong against the first 300 inquiries, pointing out that we just finished our second after-breakfast snack and that we were going to have lunch in fifteen minutes. But somewhere around the 302nd request, I caved, and I just started telling them to run inside and grab something quickly. When I went back inside and encountered my demolished kitchen, I stood motionless for a moment, then wondered aloud what had happened here. My five-year-old responded earnestly: Snacks.
I'm done with snacks. I'm ready to limit my kids to mealtime eating only, and to reject the entire concept of food that is not eaten as part of a meal. Whenever I voice this idea, however, I am met with some mix of bewilderment and concern. For example, shortly after our pantry apocalypse I found myself at the park with some other moms, and I mused that I am seriously considering banning snacks from our household. I explained a vision in which we eat hearty breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and outside of those three mealtimes, the kitchen will be closed. Based on the other women's reactions, you would have thought that I'd announced that I was finally going to implement that longstanding idea about getting a time-out cage. After they determined that I was not, in fact, joking with this crazy talk, they seemed to be wondering whether they should alert child welfare authorities.
Am I crazy for thinking that my kids might be just fine without snacks? Am I the only parent who finds it to be difficult enough to get the kids out to scouts and sports and dance classes without the added responsibility of having to bring food? Am I missing something when I look at evolutionary biology and think that the human body is probably not designed to require a near-constant influx of calories?
Perhaps I am alone in this vision, but I dream of a life in which the Goldfish crackers and chocolate chip granola bars are locked away in a safe, only to come out at mealtimes, and the pantry is protected by laser-guided motion detector alarms. I write impassioned manifestos on the blank next to my name for the Bible study snack sign-up sheet, and when it's my turn to bring snacks to kids' activities, I bring printouts of Red Salamander's comment in lieu of brownies.
None of this, of course, is likely to happen, unless I somehow manage to channel that alternate universe version of myself in which I'm actually assertive and motivated and get things done. But it gives me some amount of solace to at least state for the record that I am officially, adamantly anti-snack.