Commentary: Processed foods making us sick

Now that the health care debate has turned the corner, maybe we can turn our attention to the deeper issue of the food that's making us sick.

My mother used to send me off to school with peanut butter and home-made jam sandwiches on bread she baked herself.

Sometimes I'd eat the sandwiches my mom made; other times I'd trade Teddy Bonsall for one of his Oscar Meyer bologna sandwiches on store-bought Wonder bread.

Manufactured foods were literally the neatest thing since sliced bread, and most of us kids were asking for it.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

All of us Howdy Doody fans were being trained to believe by our television sets - packaged store-bought stuff from the Acme was superior to the stuff our mothers made at home. It was 'progress.'

In fact, it was the beginning of an advertiser-driven commercial culture that was making us sick. My generation was becoming a commercialized Peanut Gallery, the citizens of Doodyville - who bought whatever Howdy and Buffalo Bob told us to buy.

I always felt a little guilty about trading my mother's lunches at school. I could never tell my mother, who had to watch every penny and never caught a break from the kitchen. I could never tell her that I traded her home-made sandwiches, apples, and fresh-baked cookies for Ted's white bread sandwiches, potato chips and Hostess Twinkies.

All these years later I'm realizing that my mother's lunches weren't just made that way because she didn't have Mrs. Bonsall's income; they were made that way because she cared about real food; she cared about my health.

I also learned later from Mrs. Bonsall herself that the reason Mrs. Bonsall did the Wonder Bread, the bologna, and the Twinkies was that they were easier. She'd always admired my mother's careful attention to my lunches; she felt guilty for sending Ted off with the lunch he would trade for mine. And the fact is, as I learned so many years later, that Mrs. Bonsall and my mother knew all the while that we were trading our lunches.

Ted and I are still know each other. We often disagree over health care, the war and taxes, but we're old friends. Over the course of time, Ted suffered a major heart attack and had to change his eating habits. I'm still waiting to see if I'll get that kind of a wake-up call.

Maybe now that the healthcare vote has passed, we can turn our attention together to the deeper issue that started back in Doodyville: the commercialized culture that promotes the processed foods that are making us sick.


Commentator Rev. Gordon Stewart is Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska.