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Junk food for the body and the brain


Junk food
1food that is high in calories but low in nutritional content
2something that is appealing or enjoyable but of little or no real value
Each time I visit the grocery store I am astounded by the percentage of space given to items that I would define as "junk food." Candy, chips, soda, doughnuts, etc. take up what looks ten times the space that is allocated to the produce section at my local Cubs. I suppose walking to get to eggs, frozen veggies, and whole wheat bread down past the Fritos and Twinkies and Coca Cola is healthy in its own way, but the empty calorie food sirens seem to call from every aisle. And adding to their voices are now the devious "processed food" spirits with their promises of easy preparation with a hidden high fat/salt content.

I am certainly not immune to the temptations of junk food. The occasional bag of Chex Mix or Drumsticks ice cream bars or Archway molasses cookies winds up in my cart. As do pot pies, frozen pizzas, and "healthy" frozen dinners. Unless I have company, the microwave and Marie Callendar cook my meals.

The consequence of my dietary laziness is an extra 15-20 pounds on my aging body. And I am not the only one: there is an appalling obesity rate of nearly 40% of us living in the US.

What worries me even more is living in a society that indulges in "junk" information. Just as nutritionally lacking foods displace floor space in the supermarket, so it seems social media and cable television have pushed newspapers and magazines into a small dusty corner of our reading lives. Slick, formulaic thrillers instead of thoughtful novels and well-researched non-fiction crowd the storefront tables of Barnes & Noble.

As I look at my newspapers and newsfeeds, I try to identify stories as "junk" or "nutritious." A lot of junk info is easy to spot - anything that has Kardashian or weight loss or best vacation destination or tweet in the title is garbage with little need to read. I personally catalog stories about the environment, the economy, history, or social justice as worth further study.

Just as there is are processed foods, there is also increasingly "processed" information. While every secondary source has some inherent bias, politicized mass and social media is increasing the slant, left and right. And just as I am lured into eating those HealthyChoice dinners, so am I drawn into Huffington Post interpretations of current events.
The chart below comes from Teaching in the Age of Trump by Andrea Rinard (Medium July 13, 2018)*. The article is a must read for all educators and the chart should be discussed by all students.

Do we give enough attention to our brains' nutritional needs? Have even the more educated among us come to simply rely on processed information? And do we teach information discrimination to our students?

*Via Larry Cuban's blog

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