Lunchbox Patrol

Nobody’s lunchbox ever
From time to time, a story pops up about how a childcare centre or kindergarten has taken it upon itself to assess the contents of a child’s lunchbox and found it lacking. A note, commonly pre-printed and often featuring frowny faces, animated fruits and/or other helpful illustrations, is sent home with the child advising that an item or items in the lunchbox is ‘unhealthy’ in some way and that in future a ‘healthier’ option should be chosen. Outrage ensues.

I seldom lend my voice to the chorus, but not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject. In fact, I feel quite strongly about it, although not necessarily for the same reasons that others do. The usual arguments cluster around (a) parental rights; (b) nanny state interference with those rights; and (c) what constitutes ‘healthy’. You may also find discussion of fat-shaming, socio-economic privilege, judgmental attitudes, power-tripping teachers and hyper-competitive parents, depending on the forum. At some point, inevitably, ‘political correctness run mad’ will make an appearance.

My take? Lunchbox monitoring is an exercise of limited utility, because it can only ever be part of a bigger picture which the carer or teacher does not see. Lunchboxes are only part of a whole day’s food, and that day’s food is part of a wider week’s food. Add in variables such as development stage, behavioural management strategies, family customs and gatherings, parental working hours and out-of-school activities, and the picture is much more complex than a career or teacher can hope, or be expected, to be fully across.

My son, for example, went through various lunchbox phases. He first started attending childcare as a toddler, with only three other small children and a carer with access to crockery, cutlery, fridge and microwave. He had a lunchbox which reflected that: foods of varying tastes and textures, things that could be heated or chopped or combined, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and certainly nothing packaged. Even his jelly and yoghurt were carefully homemade and minimally sweetened (and only then with fruit and fresh unsweetened fruit juice).

When he started school, things became more challenging. Not for nothing does every school year begin with an explosion of articles about what to pack in your child’s lunchbox (usually illustrated with photos laughably removed from the reality of an actual lunchbox). My son, after a little while at big school, wanted the kinds of treats he saw in other kids’ lunchboxes: chips, tiny teddy biscuits, fruit roll-ups, yoghurt tubes, doughnut holes, chocolate bars. We tussled, and he stopped eating most of his lunch. 1-0 to the kindergartner. I ran the gamut of lunchbox ideas trying to entice him into eating: bentos, skewers, animal shapes, fruit flowers, dips, hot food, cold food, chopped food, whole food. Nothing worked.

Eventually I started making things that looked like the treats he so wanted. I even resorted to using commercial packaging (deliberately purchased and stashed for the purpose) to trick him into eating. I researched cake and biscuit recipes and replaced his grainy slices and muesli bars with chocolate ‘brownies’ and coconut ‘meringues’. These, although stuffed with fibre and protein and as low in fats and sugars as as could make them, would not have passed muster on lunchbox inspection: they looked just like your average cake and biscuits. He was never (and still isn’t) a sandwich-eater, so he had chicken wings, breaded lamb cutlets, mini pizzas – anything that could be eaten quickly with his fingers (he wouldn’t use a fork or spoon) so it didn’t cut into play time. He was not much of an early morning breakfast-eater either, and his lunchbox took account of the fact that he would be ravenous by morning tea time. However, anyone assessing his lunchbox and not knowing his eating habits might assume he was simply being given too much food.

Later, he went through a stage of not eating at school at all. He brought his leftovers home, but he hid them under his bed (to the detriment of his floor) because he didn’t want me to know he wasn’t eating. I found out eventually – but that’s a whole other story. Suffice it to say that there were reasons for this behaviour, and it took us some time to work through it. During that time, his lunchbox consisted almost exclusively of things that would be deemed unhealthy by any lunchbox monitor: small bags of chips or crackers, homemade sausage rolls, slices of cake or biscuits, pikelets, chicken schnitzel, cheese straws, maybe strawberries or watermelon if I was lucky – and nary a vegetable or a yoghurt tub in sight.

During another of his early school years, I spent two weeks every month in another country. I would leave behind pre-packed lunches to make my working partner’s single-parenting job easier during those fortnights. These lunches were big on convenience and geared to what I was confident he would eat: fruit slices & bliss balls (high in sugar); seaweed crackers, pretzels & crispbreads (high in salt); sausage rolls, samosas and chicken schnitzel (high in fat). I shudder to think what a lunchbox inspector would make of them.

I couldn’t expect his teachers to know all these things about my son’s eating habits. I couldn’t expect them to know all the other things going on in his small life that affected what I packed in his lunchbox. I couldn’t expect them to know what he was eating at home in order to put his lunchbox in context. I could, and did, however, expect them not to draw the attention of his classmates to perceived inadequacies in his lunchbox. I could, and did, expect that if they were concerned about his food, they would raise this with me directly and not via a pre-printed note left inside his lunchbox

It’s tough being a childcarer or teacher. They don’t need the added burden of responsibility for their students’ eating habits. Sure, they can (and arguably should) help to educate kids about health and nutrition, and even encourage students to apply their learnings to their lunchboxes, but teachers and careers should not have to make a judgment, in isolation, about the ‘health’ of a particular lunchbox on a particular day. A pattern, observed over a period of days or even weeks, may generate sufficient concern to justify raising it directly with a child’s parent or other appropriate person, but a generic note inserted in a lunchbox is unlikely, on the whole, to be greeted with an abject ‘mea culpa’ and an immediate overhaul of said lunchbox.

Wound in amongst all this is a pet peeve of mine, and the primary reason why I tend not to engage in the debates which follow each publicized instance of lunchbox inspections: the application of the adjectives ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ to food. Food is not itself healthy or unhealthy. No food is inherently good or bad; food is just food. It’s people who have health; food merely has nutritional value. The fact that a food is high in sugar, or low in fibre, or packed with Vitamin C, does not make it either healthy or unhealthy; it’s just a food. It’s the combinations and quantities of food that contribute to people’s overall health, not the healthy or unhealthy nature of any single food. To say that a piece of cake in a lunchbox is unhealthy is meaningless. Even to say it is an unhealthy choice is pointless unless you happen to know the entire context of the child’s health, diet, lifestyle and the immediate circumstances surrounding the inclusion of the cake in the lunchbox. And that’s a bit much to ask of a carer or teacher who is already expected to do a great deal.

A Wolfe by Any Other Name is… Still a Wolf


No doubt you’ve heard of David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe. I first came across him when my thoughtful in-laws, knowing I like smoothies, bought a Nutribullet for my use at their place. I nearly laughed myself into a coughing fit at the claims on the box, and that was even before I read the accompanying recipe book. I like the blender. David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe, not so much.

I’ve been trying to ignore David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe (let’s just call him DAW for short, shall we?) ever since. It hasn’t been easy, as people have this quaint habit of sharing his memes on social media. Having done a bit of Internet sleuthing after my initial encounter with the Nutribullet’s hyperbolic packaging, I’ve suggested once or twice that sharing DAW memes isn’t a good idea, and had the usual responses: snorts, eye rolls and dismissive hand flips. The memes are harmless, I’m told. DAW’s obviously a bit of a whacky nature-loving hippy, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It takes all sorts to make a world.

But here’s the thing: DAW is dangerous. He infiltrates our social media feeds with warm-fuzzy-inducing fluffy kitties and golden sunrises and inspiring quotes, and then sneaks in dangerous pseudoscientific nonsense, which we absorb without noticing because it looks just like the fluffy kitty memes.

So I thought I’d list just a few reasons why you shouldn’t share any of the memes created by this self-proclaimed rock star and Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe*. Continue reading

On Leia and Lightsabers

Image source: Carrie Fisher’s Dog @Gary_TheDog

I would have been eight or nine when I saw Star Wars at the cinema. It was the last movie my family ever attended together. After that, it was kid or kids with mum or dad, but never all of us, ever again.

We kids were excited. We argued about what the promos meant. We were suitably alarmed by the dark helmeted, deep-voiced scary guy, who we thought was the titular ‘Star Wars’. No, it didn’t make sense, but we were kids in single digits. In the 70s. We’d only just got colour television and we weren’t even allowed to watch Star Trek because it was too grown up.

Needless to say, we loved Star Wars. We clamoured to see it again, we got Star Wars action figures for Christmas (well, everyone else did; no Leia, so I missed out) and we role played it endlessly with various groups of friends. We used yellow Mattel race tracks for light sabers, leaping on couches, racing up stairs and jumping out from around corners. We did a lot of shouting.
Continue reading

Only in dreams: cobwebby wigs and the etiquette of double dipping

imageLast night I dreamed about double dipping. Seriously. There were other things in there too – a dance rehearsal (I don’t dance); an impromptu dramatic performance (I can’t act); Donald Trump playing basketball (his hair was, in fact, a wig, & I pinched it; he didn’t seem to mind); and an old friend with a hangover trying to arrange a formal dinner – but the double dipping thing was the standout. Continue reading

IRL is real

So, something just happened to me that I’ve only ever read about: IRL.

In Real Life. Sometimes referred to as meatspace.

I’d only been blogging for about 10 minutes, and suddenly I had a case of IRL. Nothing horrible, just utterly time-consuming. And inconvenient. I had finally sorted out a publishing schedule – sort of – and had 4 posts all but finished, when bam: IRL. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t carve out the time needed to take those posts from all-but-finished to completely finished.

I blog for me. I don’t need a schedule; I don’t need exposure; I just like to write. And as I get older, and my memory less reliable, it’s a way of keeping track of what has taken my fancy and how my thinking has developed (or not). So it shouldn’t be an issue that I can’t get near a blog post for a month. It’s just something I do for fun, in my downtime, in the spaces of my real life.

Except that’s not quite how I feel about it. IRL has been a nuisance, interposing itself between me and my writing. Time and time again, I’ve tried to snatch a moment to post, only to have that moment evaporate. I’ve snapped at my IRL family and colleagues; I’ve postponed sleep; I’ve sighed heavily at having to perform all those tasks necessary to the continuance of real life.

So, what have I been doing? Working two jobs, check. Cleaning up after a minor disaster on the homefront, check. Supporting a friend through a family crisis, check. Holidaying, check.


I think I need to reasses my priorities.

Adventures in make-up: ‘Why, yes, I am wearing make-up!’

doll-1269535_1920Since I started playing with make-up, the most common comment I’ve had from friends and family is ‘You’re wearing make-up!’, uttered in an astonished tone and usually accompanied by a bemused frown.

This is entirely understandable. For years, I’ve eschewed make-up, other than a bit of lipstick on work days. Mascara if I’m feeling up to it.

So, when I say, as nonchalantly as I can, ‘Yes, I am’, the question that usually follows is not unexpected: ‘Is it a special occasion?’. However, I have been surprised by the frequency of quite a different comment: ‘You should wear make-up more often’.

I’m choosing to treat this as a compliment…


Other adventures in make-up:
Adventures in make-up: cosmetic equations
Adventures in make-up: the problem with brushes
Adventures in make-up: things I have learned
Adventures in make-up: the mirror dilemma
Adventures in make-up

Bearcats smell like popcorn

‘Binturong’ by Thingie, 4 Feb 2006, via Flickr

This little fellow is a bearcat, or binturong. He is, in fact, neither bear nor cat, but is instead a member of the viverridae family (which we know mostly as civets & genets).

Shy, slow and shaggy, bearcats can be aggressive when threatened. They are one of only two carnivores with a prehensile tail, which is nearly as long as their bodies (which are usually two to three feet long). For a carnivore, they are surprisingly omnivorous, and their diet in the wild leans towards fruits, shoots and leaves.

Bearcats are native to Southeast Asia, but as arboreal forest-dwellers, they are increasingly at risk due to habitat loss and degradation through logging and conversion. They are also extensively trapped for the Asian pet, food and fur trade.

They also smell like buttered popcorn. Truly. Recent research has shown that their urine contains the same molecule that forms when corn is popped. Added to their little cat faces, flat-footed bear-like amble and general chattiness, their scent makes them nigh on irresistible.