WARSAW, Missouri. This idyllic small town in central Missouri is home to a number of summer camps with real or made-up Native American names, among them Camp No-Trans-Fats, whose two-week sessions aim to slim down boys whose mothers must buy “husky” sizes for their sons.
“It really helped our oldest boy, Chuck,” says Nadine Whissel as she tousles the hair of her 10-year-old before kissing him goodbye. “We’re hoping they get the same results for Jeffy here.”
But the boy’s first lunch in the group mess hall doesn’t go as planned; facing a low-fat, low-carb meal of celery sticks, plain yogurt and sunflower seeds, Jeff takes a stand that causes the other campers to first blanch in fear, then burst into cheers.
“Richard Lyle just spit up carrot-raisin salad. Again.”
“I am sorry,” he says firmly but without anger. “I cannot cut my conscience to consume the fashionable foods of this season,” echoing the phrase Lillian Hellman used in refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Hellman: “I wouldn’t eat that crap either, kid.”
The young Whissel boy is part of a trend that some say recalls the peace movement of the 60s; conscientious objectors in the War on Childhood Obesity who refuse to eat what’s put in front of them unless it adheres to dietary guidelines that say preserve the innocence of childhood that is every American kid’s birthright.
“Adults who try to take sugary, salty and fatty foods away from you are hypocrites,” says Todd Erstwhile, an 11-year-old who can burp on cue. “How come they got to eat them when they were kids, and we don’t?”
“You know what you can do with those green apple slices?”
An underground network of organizations comparable to the American Friends Service Committee and other pacifist groups who helped Vietnam War era draft resisters has sprung up, including the Friends of Fast Food Fun & Fellowship, an industry-funded advocacy group that smuggles contraband cheeseburgers and salt water taffy into fat camps. “The looks on the faces of those kids we found out by the archery range were gaunt and harrowing,” says Bob Merken, the group’s executive director, as he puts down a paperback copy of “Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary.” “I’d compare it to a Nazi concentration camp but I know some goo-goo World War II historian would be all over me.”
Final exam, manboob tanning merit badge.
Public health officials have been caught unprepared for the backlash to their initiative to substitute carrot sticks for french fries on fast food restaurant menus, and say they will regroup in an effort to win the war on childhood obesity. “War is too important to be left to the generals,” says Dr. Stephen Deshaies of the Institute for the Study of Chips and Snack Foods at the University of Minnesota-Mankato. “But childhood obesity is not too important to be left to nutritionists. Or something like that.”