Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And It Rhymes With Rich: New York Times Reports On Humiliating Mother Of The Week

As frequent readers of this blog know, the Radical occasionally takes an interest in secondary education when she is not kicking serious butt over the trials and trevails of the university world. I admit, I can take a sharp pen to people from time to time, and I have gotten into trouble over it. But occasionally I run into story that inspires real awe at the capacity of others to rip other people a new one.

This week's winner is a well-to-do Goody Two-Shoes in Upper Manhattan named MeMe Roth.

Yes, her name is really MeMe, and her children might as well transfer to a school in another state. At least, I would not return to P.S. 9 on the Upper West Side of New York after today if I were them. According to this story in today's New York Times Ms. Roth has a paying job at an organization called National Action Against Obesity, a non-profit organization for food fascists. The mission of this organization, other than stigmatizing fat people?

Through education, legislation, and most importantly—parental action—National Action Against Obesity works independently and as a consultancy to reverse the obesity epidemic by eliminating ‘fake foods’ from the food supply, barring junk food from schools and eradicating Secondhand Obesity™ (obesity handed down from one generation to the next, as well as from citizen to citizen), while encouraging exercise across all ages. Success relies upon wholly re-imagining what the U.S. population considers “normal” food consumption and “normal” exercise. When the majority is overweight, America cannot be normal.

And normal is what we want to be.

In service of this noble mission, MeMe Roth's volunteer activity is to purge junk food from P.S. 9 as well, and to ensure that her daughters are humiliated on an almost daily basis as they submit to their mother's surveillance rituals. In the process of ensuring that these poor children will spend a lifetime in therapy and acquire a serious eating disorder, MeMe has managed to make a number of people at P.S. 9 very angry. At least one parent, teacher or administrator seems to have a friend at the New York Times, which is how this hair-raising little tale ended up on my morning coffee tray. Ms. Roth, according to reporter Susan Dominus,

has no problem with the school lunches provided at the highly regarded elementary school on Columbus Avenue and 84th Street. What sets her off is the junk food served on special occasions: the cupcakes that come out for every birthday, the doughnuts her children were once given in gym, the sugary “Fun-Dip” packets that some parent provided the whole class on Valentine’s Day.

Those bastards!

“I thought I was sending my kid to P.S. 9, not Chuck E. Cheese,” Ms. Roth, a trim, impassioned 40-year-old from Atlanta, said in an interview. “Is there or is there not an obesity and diabetes epidemic in this country?”

When offered any food at school other than the school lunch, Ms. Roth’s children — who shall go nameless since it seems they have enough on, or off, their plates — are instructed to deposit the item into a piece of Tupperware their mother calls a “junk food collector.”

This solution seemed to be working pretty well until Ms. Roth’s daughter dutifully tried to stick a juice pop — a special class treat from her teacher on a hot day — into her plastic container. The teacher told Ms. Roth’s daughter to eat it or lose it, and according to the child pointed out that she had seen the young girl eating the corn chips served with school lunch — did that not count as junk food?

This prompted one of Ms. Roth’s infamous heated e-mail messages to the school. Which, in turn, prompted administrators to pull her daughter out of class to discuss the juice pop incident, which only further infuriated Ms. Roth, who said her daughter felt as if she’d been ambushed.

Of course, the teacher was right: putting a frozen juice pop in a plastic box, and putting the box in your book bag is a recipe for disaster. And she was wrong to argue with the poor, terrorized child about what was, and was not, junk food. But in case you think making her children collect all the junk food they did not eat to present at the end of the day - I suppose to prove that they did not eat it - is the strangest thing about MeMe Roth, read on:

Her extreme methods have earned her attention before: The police were called to a Y.M.C.A. in 2007 when she absconded with the sprinkles and syrups on a table where members were being served ice cream. That was Ms. Roth who called Santa Claus fat on television that Christmas, and she has a continuing campaign against the humble Girl Scout cookies, on the premise that no community activity should promote unhealthy eating.

Now I'm not against good nutrition, and I'm certainly not for feeding children endless amounts of sugar, although it is not generally the children of the well-to-do who seem to suffer most from sugar oppression. Anyone who has been to a Latin American country where there is no potable water but literally truckloads of Coca-Cola (not infrequently you see people in their twenties with a mouth full of rotted and discolored teeth happily downing an Orange Crush or two) has a few things to say about the destructive influence of the sugar industry. But unlike the underdeveloped world, where American agribusiness disposes of nutritionally worthless excess crops grown with federal subsidies, the overdeveloped Upper West Side is not really famous for being a victim of sugar dumping.

So I guess someone at P.S. 9 has fixed MeMe Roth's little wagon, haven't they? Tune in tomorrow as MeMe storms the Times newsroom and puts Susan Dominus in a little Tupperware box too.


Anonymous said...

A quibble re "the destructive influence of the sugar industry" and "sugar dumping": It would be more accurate to say "corn industry" and "corn dumping." Those rotten teeth you saw in Mexico came from high-fructose syrup, made from U.S.-subsidized transgenic corn. Pepsi and Snapple have new versions out recently, advertised as having "real sugar"--it's sort of a boutique ingredient now.

Tenured Radical said...

True dat.

Lauren D. McKinney said...

I agree with MeMe Roth, actually. I just don't have the guts to be as controlling and outspoken as she is, for fear of garnering this kind of attention. American kid culture involves eating tons of crap, and it's addictive. We give them the least healthy food and start their bad habits off right away. Obesity is indeed a very serious problem in this nation. MeMe has some control issues and loses perspective sometimes. Moms who stick with their convictions, whatever they may be, routinely pilloried by the media. It's MeMe's turn this time.

Anonymous said...

Ooh I had a mother like MeMe, minus the public crusading. Everything I ate was highly monitored. Before I was old enough to be sneaky, she would confiscate candy I brought home from school or church and dole it out in tiny amounts. Dessert could be as little as two M&Ms. When I went to sleepaway summer camp, she wouldn't give me money for candy and would tell the camp staff that I could only purchase drinks. Nothing's so cruel as being forced to spend snack time watching everybody else eat candy. Where did this all lead? By the time I was 12, I was getting the sugar I craved (somehow I'd developed a sweet tooth) by literally eating cups and cups of raw sugar in my room, as well as anything sweet I could get my hands on, including vitamins, which I shouldn't have been eating by the double handful. Where am I now? Overweight. My mother, if she were alive, would be disgusted.

People like MeMe and my mother start off with the right idea: children shouldn't be binging everyday on bags of candy, cookies, chips, and soda while watching hours of television. But isn't it more important to teach your children how to manage their cravings so that when they are adults in control of everything they eat they know how to make the right choices? Instead, my mother ensured that the second I had the chance to make my own food choices, I was going to run straight for the candy aisle. (And in case anybody thinks this was just while I was a small child, it wasn't. My mother's insane worry over what I ate continued all through high school. By then, of course, I'd found elaborate ways to sneak the food I'd wanted. Not exactly a model of healthy eating.) Let's hope for MeMe's children's sake that they're lucky and avoid a similar situation. I'm not holding my breath.

Btw, I read a profile of MeMe recently in the Guardian in which the interviewer started asking questions about MeMe's diet. MeMe breezily claimed she never dieted. Upon further questioning, it became clear MeMe hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch that day.

Here's the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/24/meme-roth-obesity-nutrition

Susan said...

You have to wonder what will damage MeMe's poor children more, eating the random cupcake, or having your mother humiliate you in public!

Anonymous said...

Oh, for pity's sake. Kids shouldn't be eating tons of sweets every day, but a cupcake for a friend's birthday or a popsicle on a hot day--why deny children these simple joys?

Hypatia said...

I have been fascinated by this awful person for a while. Just a tiny local quibble-- Upper Manhattan comprises Washington Heights and Inwood, which are both diverse, middle-class neighborhoods at the northern end of the island. MeMe Roth lives on the prestigious Upper West Side, which is about 100 blocks (5 miles) south of Upper Manhattan, and extremely gentrified.

Ms. Ramona Narrow said...

Women who protest at the YMCA and call the local media to cover it are not exactly approximating the realm of normalcy.

That said, who wants to be normal anyway? "normal (nor-MAL): lacking in taste, compassion, understanding, kindness, and ordinary human decency." Frank Portman, King Dork

Anonymous said...

I'm really not interested in reading more accounts that shame and demonize mothers.

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 7:43 --

Mary, please.

Anonymous said...

No one wants to address the fuckery that is "Secondhand Obesity" (trademarked, no less)? While I discount Fat Studies as a sub-discipline, that trademarked term oozes a paranoid sense of contagion that should offend people of any size.

Sister Singer said...

I think we should have a bake sale to raise funds for MeMe's therapy. I'll bring the fudge.

envirohist said...

Ah, MeMe. I've not been a fan of hers for a while -- since she critiqued America's taste in choosing Jordan Sparks as "American Idol" when just the year before the winner had been Ruben S.. It was a *singing* contest, but MeMe wanted everyone to look at Jordan the say she did - not as a lovely girl, but as "diabetes waiting to happen." What's next? What the *hell* is next if we allow judgments about ""health"" (many scare quotes) to be a basis for blatant discrimination?