Monday, August 03, 2009

Pop Tart Generation

I am part of the Pop Tart Generation. Forget GenX, Baby Boomers, and Gen Y. I came from Pop Tarts. 

My mother grew up in a large Catholic family. Her grandmother lived on a hazelnut farm in rural Oregon, raising (and beheading) her own poultry, canning fruit, making her own jam and pickles, and partaking of the American Dream.

By the time my mom had kids, the American Dream was changing. The dream had evolved into dual college-educated families, even though most mothers remained at home taking care of their children.  Until the divorce. It is my generation whose parents represent the spike in divorce rates and resulted in mothers going to work in droves. It is my generation that desperately needed convenience foods because mothers had moved away from their mothers and relied on after school clubs to watch their kids until they could get home from work.  When they got home, they needed a way to quickly prepare dinner for their kids.

My brother and I were responsible for packing our own lunches. I vaguely remember hot lunch as an option, but it was too expensive to even consider for a single mother with four children.  Thankfully, there was prepackaged, thinly (think opaque) sliced lunchmeat, pre-sliced "American" cheese, and single-serving variety packs of potato chips. The last to go were always the plain potato chips. We had elaborate strategies to ensure that the Nacho Cheese Doritos and Ruffles ended up in our lunch sacks instead of our siblings'.  Breakfasts consisted of sugary cereals, also packaged in single-serving variety packs, and Pop-Tarts. Nary a protein in sight.

The food industry had provided a valuable service to our busy parents - instant gratification. And we loved the flavor. I can remember the first bite I ever took of a freshly toasted raspberry Pop Tart. The sugary sweet filling scalded my tongue, but the pastry portion was flaky and buttery-tasting and the frosting was slightly crunchy in my mouth.  The lunchmeat, regardless of its designation as 'turkey' or 'pastrami' was salty and slightly slick, but it stuck to the cheese in my sandwich and if I tucked the chips inside, the salt quotient was amped up just enough to make me especially thirsty for my chocolate milk.  It's a wonder I didn't die of a sugar-coma by P.E.  I guess the three Double Stuff Oreos I included in every sack lunch guarded against that.

As a working single mother, my mom didn't have the luxury of growing a summer vegetable garden or canning her own peaches.  She didn't have time. And, frankly, the local grocery store made it obsolete.  We could get grapes and kiwi Summer, Spring, or Fall - not that we ate them. The sticky, cellophane-wrapped fruit-flavored "rolls" were cheaper than an actual piece of fruit and my mother's generation naively believed that there was actual fruit used in the crafting of these products, so they had to be healthy, right?

Although, I'm not sure my mother's generation truly understood the role food played in our health, anyway.  Or maybe it was just that they trusted that American food manufacturers had our best interests at heart. Maybe it was the food manufacturers themselves that didn't understand the vital importance of food as long-term fuel versus instant gratification.

In any case, looking back, I can't muster up any sort of surprise that it is my generation that spawned such astonishing prevalence of food allergies.  We grew up using food in ways it wasn't meant to be used and calling things "food" that had no business being known that way.  The struggle to re-train myself is proving difficult but I hope that my girls' generation will be known for something other than food allergies...


Carrie Wilson Link said...

You're on to something here, girl!

Anonymous said...

what's the other side to this story? sugar was taboo when i was a kid, the ones who got the sugar cereal and poptarts were lucky! it was all carob and honey if anything where i came from. ick! american's won't learn healthy food habits in our lifetime, we like to eat too much. the carob kids rebel when they grow up. hmmm. or is that just me?

Deb Shucka said...

This is so true. There's quite a bit of research going on making just this point. I'm a baby boomer, raised on homemade everything, who thought all that store bought stuff was sophistication I was being denied. The sight of a box of brown sugar pop tarts still has the power to make my mouth water.

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