It’s funny. Sometimes the No Sugar Project looms HUGE in our lives, and I resent the inconveniences it creates, as if it were imposed by someone else rather than ourselves. Other times, it’s No Big Deal. Sometimes my children adore the project as if it is something significant and wonderful, something that binds us together and makes our family unique; other times they rail against me and the project for completely and totally ruining their lives or make maudlin faces at the prospect of being in the vicinity of a treat they know full well they’re probably not going to be able to have.
Take today for instance. Greta, who has just begun sixth grade, has a camping trip tonight with her entire class. The Sixth Grade Camping Trip is a school tradition that represents a lot of things: becoming the big kids in school, bonding together as they begin the transition into pre-teen-dom (because I’m not in marketing, I refuse to use the word “tween”), and predictably- unfailingly- rain.
And like any event that bonds people together this event includes food, which, in our culture, means it includes sugar. Tonight there will be a campfire with hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers, on buns which contain sugar. I imagine there will be juice (sugar) and I know for dessert they’ll have S’mores (S.U.G.A.R!!!) I’ve been told the morning tradition is to have hot chocolate (sugar), but I haven’t heard what they’ll serve for breakfast yet (sugar) so we can always hope (sugar) that it’s eggs, rather than pancakes (sugar) with maple syrup (sugar!)
I guess I’ve made my point. Is it going to kill Greta to have S’mores? Or hot chocolate? Or pancakes? Of course not, any more than it killed me to have those things when I was her age. And do I really want to be the crazy zealot parent who denies her sharing treats with her classmates and teachers? Or do I want her to grow up with a fond memory of a camping trip in which she participated just like everyone else?
I, for one, have a deeply ingrained memory of my first S’more: it was at sleep-away camp. I was eleven and desperately homesick. One night we had a campfire in the center of our ring of canvas tents, and it was chilly and pitch dark. A fellow camper showed me the proper technique for melting the chocolate rectangle on top of the graham cracker square by balancing them on a rock near the flames while you toasted your marshmallow on a stick. I scraped the hot marshmallow onto the ever-so-slightly melted chocolate with the help of the second half of the graham cracker and took a bite of what I realized was the single most delicious thing in the world.
Of course, I’ve had many, many S’mores since then, (I insisted we have them the night of our wedding reception, for example) but none was ever as good as that very first one. Maybe it wasn’t about the S’more as much as it was about everything else that night: the campfire, the after-dark chill in the air, the fact that I was away from home, really away, for the first time and it being exhilarating and frightening and eye-opening all at the same time. I was beginning to realize that I could exist as a person without my family to lean back on, to define me and decide for me what I thought. And my homesickness changed: evolved into a new kind of strength I had never known before.
Yes, all that can come from one good S’more memory. Meanwhile, my cousin Gretchen tells me at her boys’ school, a “progressive” school, mind you, that there is a significant battle being waged between the parents who bring in healthy snacks and those who think Chex Party Mix is essential to a happy childhood.
“You’re taking all the fun out of being a kid!” they say, in response to those parents who bring in carrot sticks instead of Oreos.
I don’t know. On the one hand, our country’s sugar consumption has clearly gotten entirely out of control, and we have the diabetics, the metabolic syndrome, the heart disease and the obesity epidemic to prove it. On the other hand, who wants to “take all the fun out of being a kid”? Who would I be without my S’more memory?
But I’d be willing to bet at least three S’mores (maybe) that there is a happy compromise to be had somewhere in the middle. One of the most common questions we get asked about the No Sugar Project is “what will you do when it’s over?” And it’s an important question, since it seems logical to me that its answer would provide some clue as to the moral of our story… will we binge on sugar? Will we go completely crazy? Will we continue No Sugar indefinitely, realizing that not eating sugar gives us superhuman powers like invisibility and the power to blow stuff up with our eyes?
Here’s what I propose, not just for us, but for our culture as a whole: let’s make treats into treats again. Translation: S’mores on The Famous Sixth Grade Camping Trip? Yes. S’mores-flavored breakfast cereal/ snack bars/ Hot Pockets? No.
It doesn’t sound hard when you put it like that, but believe me, in our culture? The culture of “fried butter on a stick”? It is. Americans live in an opium den of food- it’s just that we can’t see it. We refuse to see it. We are encouraged strenuously from every corner to ignore it. Maybe that’s the real superhuman power this project has granted us: Sugarvision. I just hope that, after this year is over, it’s a superpower that can tolerate the occasional S’more. Or two.