Amy shifted in her small, stiff chair and toyed with her pencil. ‘Basic Nutrition’ had sounded like an interesting enough class. It would fit in well with the physical education theory she was studying. Moreover, it was required. But, after six weeks, the class had still failed to get the idea of the food pyramid.
The teacher waved a hand at the four-foot poster of the food pyramid on the wall. “You remember the grains group down here, right?”
Thirty faces stared inertly at him.
“Can anyone tell me how many servings of grains you are supposed to eat in a day?” He asked, trying to elicit a response.
There was silence for a moment then a voice, which sounded as though its owner had a cold, said “Three?”
“No...” The teacher looked around the room.
“As many as you can find!” Announced Michael, the six-foot-plus football player, around a mouthful of muffin. The class laughed.
“Six to eleven?” Amy suggested. That was, after all, what it said in big, red letters one the chart.
The teacher pointed in her general direction. “Yes! Grains are at the bottom of the pyramid because you need the most of them. They supply carbohydrates and fiber.”
Slender, blond Tina raised a jewelry bedecked hand. “How can you eat six servings of grains a day when there’s only three meals?”
“Well, that has to do with the definition of a serving, Tina.” The teacher explained. “For instance, one slice of bread counts as one serving. So if you have a sandwich for lunch, that’s two servings. Or if you have a bowl of spaghetti and a slice of garlic bread, that’s another two.”
“Spaghetti isn’t a grain, is it?” Protested John Armonez.
“The noodles are made from wheat.” The teacher told him.
“Oh...” John Armonez said looking dubious.
“Ok. Spaghetti is in this group because it’s made from wheat, and wheat is a grain. You know, as in “Amber waves of grain?”
The class laughed.
“Can anyone tell me any others?”
“Wheat.” Said John Armonez
“Barely, rye...” Said John Sailor.
“Millet” Said Amy.
“What’s millet?” Asked John Armonez.
“It’s a grain!” Said Amy, exasperated. “I feed it to my birds.”
“Rice.” Said the girl in the red hat.
“Cheerios!” Said Benny.
“Good, good.” Said the teacher. “Now, let’s move on to fruits. You should eat three to five servings of fruit every day.”
“How can you eat five servings of fruit when there are only three meals in a day?” Asked the boy in the second row who’s name began with ‘J’.
Amy winced. Hadn’t someone just asked that question ten minutes ago? And yesterday? And the day before? And last week?
“Because you can eat more than one ‘serving’ per meal.” The teacher explained.
“And they make great snacks!” Said Michael, popping a handful of raisins into his mouth.”
“Yes, they do.” Agreed the teacher. “They are delicious, and high in sugars which....”
“Fruits have sugar in them?!” Tina interrupted with a stricken look in her mascara-enhanced eyes. “I don’t eat any thing with sugar in it....”
Now there was a girl who needed a lesson in nutrition! This tangent could take a while, Amy decided. Tangents make her think of geometry and she pulled her math homework out of her backpack.
“Relax, it’s good sugar!” John Sailor told her. “You need it, trust me.”
Tina looked uncertainly at him. “It isn’t fattening?”
Amy clicked her mechanical pencil. Nothing Happened. Out of led. She went fishing for pencil led.
“Actually,” Said the teacher, trying to get the class’s attention back, “Fruits are a very good food for losing weight. They are fat free and have a high density to calorie ratio.”
“So they wont turn me into a big, fat, ugly cow?” Tina asked.
Amy took the eraser end off her mechanical pencil and peered inside, wondering idly just what Tina ate? Paper? Maybe.
“Well, that depends on how much of them you eat.” The teacher smiled. “You can gain weight eating just about anything if you eat enough of it.”
Amy dumped a collection of little pieces broken led out of her pencil and brushed them off her paper.
“Does anyone have a favorite fruit? The teacher asked
“Mikans.” Said the girl in the red had.
“What’s a mikan?” Asked John Armonez.
“It’s a Japanese orange, or more like a tangerine actually. They are little and very yummy.”
“Pears!” Said the boy in the second row who’s name began with ‘J’.
“Fruitloops!” Said Benny.
“Is there any fruit in fruit loops?” Asked John Sailor.
“Uh... no, I don’t think so. Sorry.” Said the teacher.
Is there any food in fruit loops? Amy wondered, replacing the eraser on her pencil and clicking it. Is there any brain in Benny?
“Remember: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The teacher quoted.
“No one eat apples!” said John Sailor. “I’m going to study medicine!”
The class laughed.
“Ok, let’s see what’s next.” Suggested the teacher. “How about vegetables?
“You should eat three to five servings of those a day too. That’s why they are on the same level of the pyramid!”
Amy closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable question.
“If you have breakfast, lunch and dinner, that’s three meals,” John Armonez frowned. “How can you eat fives servings of vegetables?”
“Can anyone else answer that?” Asked the teacher.
There was a long silence. Amy considered answering. Amy considered her math home worked. Amy considered trying to drop this class. Amy considered the idea that the class might actually get somewhere, eventually. Amy considered answering.
“Because there are lots of kinds of vegetables and you can eat more than one serving in a meal?” Said John Sailor.
“Right!” Said the teacher.
“I hate vegetables!” Complained Benny.
“Surely there is some vegetable you like!” Objected the teacher.
“Carrots?” Suggested Amy. They were sweet, and you could eat them while sitting in front of the TV. Perfect! She thought disgustedly.
“Corn!” Mumbled Michael around large, cold corncob, dripping butter on his notebook.
“Daikons.” Grinned the girl in the red hat.
“What’s a daikon?” Asked John Armonez.
“What’s a daikon?” Asked Michael.
“What’s a daikon? Asked the teacher.
“Objection!” Said John Butler. “Our lesbian students may be offended by the word ‘dyke-on’!”
“It’s part of the radish family.” Explained the girl in the red hat. “It’s served with tempura. And as far as I know, I’m the only lesbian in the class. If there’s any others, speak up, I need a date!”
Amy chuckled. John Butler, perpetual activist, had deserved that. Unfortunately, it had very little to do with nutrition.
“I’ll go on a date with you!” Offered Michael, who was now eating Snickers bar.
The class laughed.
“Ok... “The teacher shouted above the noise. “Let’s go on to protein. That’s meats, fish nuts and dried beans. You need two or three servings of these. Unless you are Michael.” He added.
“Got a steak in there, Michael?” Shouted John Sailor.
“Nope.” Michael called back. “Ate it during English class.”
The class laughed.
“Now, it is a good idea to limit the amount of red meat, like steak, in you diet, but there are still lots of other options. Chicken and fish are healthier choices.”
“Sushi!” Said the girl in the red hat.
“If you are a vegetarian, or even if you aren’t there are things like peanut butter, black beans and...”
“Objection!” Shouted John Butler. “Our African-American students may be offended by the reference to ‘black beans!”
A beautiful, dark skinned girl whose name Amy couldn’t pronounce took a dread lock out of her mouth and protested “But I like black beans!”
John Butler made himself very busy rearranging his folders in his notebook. Amy shifted restlessly and looked at the clock. It was approaching twenty minutes to noon. Class was almost over.
“Ok, here on the same level with the meats and other protein is dairy products you should eat...”
The minute hand hit twenty minutes to noon. With a great rustling of papers and zipping of backpacks the class began to get up.
“Two or three servings of these too. We’ll talk about those next week.” The teacher shouted desperate.
Amy sighed, stood, stretched and headed for the door, listening to the pieces of conversation around her.
“How’s about you and me grab some lunch?” Michael suggested, grinning at Tina. “I’m starving!”
“The California rolls are great!” Said the girl in the red hat.
“Where’s the cafeteria?” Asked John Armonez.