Prison Food…..

Prison Food
By Aaron Mann Crossfit Endurance Coach

This originally started out as a post in the food challenge at CFM, but for some reason, probably user error, cannot post in the challenge. So I thought I would put this out there for everyone to see.

I was a former sales rep for a frozen food manufacturer. The company produced frozen onions, peppers, fresh/chilled onions and blended products. (Sexy right?!). My customer list included household names like Tyson, Heinz, Con Agra, Nestle, Wendy’s, etc. On occasion, we would have old inventory and/or other items completely edible, but didn’t quite meet a length or cut specification. There are many smaller companies and food brokers who purchase these products because they don’t care if their 3/8’’ diced onions aren’t all 3/8’’ diced. (When was the last time you looked at a bowl of salsa and said “I’m not eating this, those aren’t 3/8’’ diced onions.)

I was meeting with one of these companies who purchase off spec products but also were big into supplying food to prison and schools. During the meeting I asked the buyer her opinion on which group ate better, our prisoners’ or our school children? She thought about it for nearly 2.5 seconds and said, I quote “Without a doubt, our prisoners’ “ Really..how sad I thought to myself. This was pre-kids or DINK era of my marriage (Duel Income No Kids) so I placed this piece of information in the WTF file in my brain. As a sales person, you need this stuff for stories and conversation pieces in meetings and or sales calls. So I used it on occasion if needed.

So the DINK era ended and Jennifer and I now have two boys, ages 3 and 5. The older one is now in pre-school with kindergarten starting in the fall. His teacher sends home school calendars and newsletters, which talk about the lunch program and the menu. Side bar, my wife is two months from graduating with a holistic nutrition certification. During this process, we both have learned more about nutrition and food we shove down our pie holes together. Also, since I started getting more ingrained in our Crossfit culture, I have paid more attention to what I am eating, when, and why. I am not a big drinker, but, as I started to track my food, I noticed how a glass of wine/beer here, beer can really add up.

The company I was talking about earlier purchases this crap and then to offers it to our inmates. If they don’t buy, guess where they go to…….. Prison Food.

I don’t blame the schools; I don’t blame the people serving the foods. I blame the budgets makers, which are set by the school boards, which give our lunch programs the lowest priority. The cash strapped districts cannot afford to hire a dietician to manage the school lunch purchases little alone buy new text books. It goes even further I’m afraid. The government subsidy programs put heavy emphasis on the dairy and corn industry, thus our children and receiving lots of cheese, milk, and GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) because the school can afford it. Johnny isn’t paying attention in class. Well Johnny just had cheese and milk gut bomb laced with sugar and fats. Basically Johnny crashed and went into a food coma. Every drive by a school and see “Pepsi” on the sign? The local bottler sponsors the school and gets to put a vending machine on every floor. More sugar to overlay the gut bomb to keep their energy levels. I wish Camelback would step up and give every kid a new water bottle they could carry around with them.

So it’s up to us to feed our kids, right!? As I said, my wife’s new education and this food challenge have really made me aware of the foods around us. Looking for healthy alternatives on a recent business trip was nearly impossible; here are some of the highlights…

I loaded up my bag with protein bars and apples. Take-off from Boise and land in Vegas for my connecting flight. An apple isn’t going to cut it so I figured I try to find some raw nuts. Circling the southwest end of the Vegas airport, not one store had just plan nuts, all roasted, salted, and/or flavored. As the stomach started to growl, finally gave in and sat down at the Mexican restaurant in the southwest wing. Looking over the menu, the flaps describing their food options was smaller than their drink options. More flaps were dedicated to alcohol than food. I know this is Vegas, but sad to say, most restaurants in any airport have similar menus. They make more on booze then food so why not highlight your most profitable item. I travel all over the country and have taken flights all times of the day. 5:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night, if the bar is open in an airport no matter what city, someone is there drinking.

Side bar, I was leaving Oakland one glorious morning; it was 5:30 AM. I was at the bar to eat my plate of eggs and toast and this dude sat next to me. The bartender just poured a glass of water and was removing the covers off of the taps and cleaning the hoses from the kegs. This guy asked if he could have a pint, she shrugged her shoulders, poured him and then asked “Would you like a shot for only 8 dollars?” I about threw up in my mouth thinking about taking a shot at 5:30 in the morning before I got on a plane. Not this dude, he said “Sure!” with enthusiasm . Look, I like to cut it loose every once in awhile. I like my microbrews and a good red wine, but common, that is not good.

Back on point, I decided to get the chicken taco salad, less the cheese, less the ranch dressing, less the croutons, less the fried bowl and double the chicken order and pico. My bill was 18 bucks… Add all the calories on the items I left out and you might as well have eaten a Big Mac. People are tricked into the “healthy salad” but they are truly being duped.
I catch my flight to my final destination, Buffalo, NY. It’s 10:30 at night and I have been on the plane for 4 hours. I forgot some toiletry items and had to run to Target to pick up a few things. Driving to Target, looked for open eating establishments, nothing. Get in and out of Target and what to my weary eyes in front of me, but a McDonalds. The drive through was open; five cars deep ordering food. I thought to myself, I could order the grilled chicken sandwich and ditch the bun. So I got in line ready to order and the smell hit me, fries, burger, HMMMMM. I knew when I got to order, I would fold. I was so hungry I felt weak, so I exited the line and headed for the hotel. Went to the front desk and checked in, I noticed a bowl of apples and a plate of cookies. I reached for the apples and my finger basically sank into the skin, awful. Of course the cookies were moist and ready to be consumed. As the front desk lady processed my key, I poked my head around the corner to see what the “Market” had to eat. Rice Crispy treats, snickers bars, popcorn, you get the idea. I reached for a bottle of water and went to my room. Feeling defeated and hungry, I drank my water, ate my protein bar and fell asleep.
I woke up with enthusiasm the next morning to have a better day. I was pumped for my meeting with my customer and I found a CrossFit box not even two miles from my hotel. Full disclosure, when planning a trip I first find where my clients office is located, search for an affiliate box, then book the hotel, in that order….I know…totally CrossFit junkie/homer. Golden rule when visiting another affiliate box, bring cash, pay the walk in fee. If they refuse to take your money like CrossFit Buffalo did, buy a shirt.

I had a bowl of oatmeal with plain walnuts and water for breakfast. Never been to Prison, but from what I can imagine, my bowl looked pretty close to what a prisoner would get sloped in his bowl less the nuts.
My customer is about an 1 ½ drive southeast of Buffalo. On the way in, there is a nice little Upstate township, East Auroa. In this town there is a Dunkin Doughnuts. (I know, total hypocrite, but the guys that work in their plant look forward to when I come with my dozen doughnuts from Dunkin. They work extremely hard, on their feet all day. That is how I justify it to myself).

I pick up a coffee and water for myself and of course, a dozen doughnuts (ashamed but please stay with me). Dunkin placed new verbiage on the box “0 trans fats”. Come on, really????
Had a great meeting as we discussed this year’s construction and it spilled over the lunch. Now, I am sure not many of you have been to Gainesville, NY, but it is a small community with less than 500 people. It has a bank, two small restaurants/country stores, a bar, that’s it, not even a stop sign. One we always eat is one of the small restaurants in town run by a family. There are three generations in that store and they make ready to order sandwiches, pizza, and various other hearty meals. Now, my fellow sales compadres can relate, it is hard to go in there and not eat. First, my client offered to buy me lunch, which is a rarity. They go there everyday and I did not want to insult the family that runs the place. That is almost sales suicide. Sit there with nothing and watch everyone eat, death sentence. So, I was cringing to what the “Special” was today. My client, his three sons, and plant manager all went to lunch with me and all ordered the special. Special it is. Not quite sure what I ate, but it had meatballs, cheese, pepperoni, with a bread base, marinara sauce, sounds like pizza, but it wasn’t. Looked like a casserole, but not sure you could call it that. Prison Food

After lunch we had a short discussion and finished up our action items for the project and concluded my sales call. As I made my way back to Buffalo, my excitement started to build. I could make the 5:30 class at CrossFit Buffalo. Grabbed a water at the hotel along with another protein bar for energy, changed into some work-out clothes and off I went.
Worked out with the class and it was glorious. Always good to sweat out the travel bugs. After the WOD, I started thinking about dinner. Going to a restaurant all sweaty was not in the cards. I drove around a little, and found a Wegmans. Wegmans is the Northeast version of Whole Foods without the prices. They have a salad bar, which I loaded up with veggies and grilled chicken. Best I felt I left Boise in two days…not prison food.

All this rambling actually has a point. Good wholesome food, whether you are traveling or not is hard. I am sure if you really want to try to eat clean, all of your co-workers think you are a weirdo for eating salads, veggies, fruit, chicken, salmon, and other healthy options. My own family members look comment negatively on our attempt to eat clean, especially at functions and holidays. Don’t run away from it, embrace it. Positive thinking and clean eating is contagious. You will be surprised.

Now take that attitude and push that down to our children. Eating clean and healthy foods, in my opinion, will only improve them academically and athletically. My WOD times have been dropping dramatically because I have changed my diet. People who haven’t seen me have caught recent Facebook pics and have asked what I’ve been doing. It worked for me, why can’t it work for them? Please, feed them breakfast, and I am not talking about sugar laced frosted flakes. Whole grains and non-GMO cereal, eggs, protein, anything is better than nothing. Stay on the outside of the grocery store. Watch the juices and other flavored drinks. Gatorade is good, after a hard intense work-out, but not before they go sit in a classroom all day.
But Aaron, I don’t have kids. Well, you know what; my guess is you have friends/relatives with kids. Whether you want to or not, you are a role model. Even if one kid is inspired by your lifestyle, that is one less kid who will suffer from childhood diabetes. (1-3 do BTW)
Pack your kids lunch, please. Don’t make them eat Prison Food.

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