I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that Israelis missed out on the pop culture icon that is The Grinch, the anti-Christmas, anti-fun Dr. Seuss character who ruins the holiday season for the people of Whoville. Whether or not there is an Israeli equivalent of the mean, green furry monster is unbeknownst to me, but I often feel as if I could fit the bill.
It’s not Christmas that I despise, though. Or any holiday celebrated here in Israel. My life would be a little less grinchy if it was a holiday I was in opposition to.
No. The offender in question is not a holiday, but a treasured Israeli institution. The Makolet.
Here on the kibbutz in which I live, at the top of the hill, in a little trailer adjacent to the ganim is the quintessential Israeli convenience store. Open from early morning to late evening, with a short mid-afternoon break, the Makolet is a mini-mart which carries a variety of staples (milk, bread, cheese, sugar, instant coffee), as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, beverages, and newspapers. For those of you who have spent any time in New York City, the Makolet is basically the Jewish bodega.
If I was 21, the Makolet would be my second home, I’m sure. However, as a parent who is trying to raise healthy and health-conscious children, I find the Makolet to not only be an inconvenience, but an outright nuisance. My kids don’t see the Makolet as the place to pick up an avocado when we’re fresh out, or a tub of chummus. No, they see the Makolet as an all-day, every-day Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!
Candy, “choco” (chocolate milk IN A BAG), gum, cake, cookies, lollipops: Half the products in the store are marketed to children; or worse yet, their parents who feed them this kind of junk every day after school. I want to assume the best: That my fellow parents here are not really aware of the kind of junk they are putting in their kids’ mouths. The sugar, of course, but worse the artificial sweeteners, additives, and preservatives. All chemicals that have been linked to not just cavities, but behavioral disturbances, sleep issues, and ADHD. They must understand, at least, the connection between feeding their kids this junk and childhood obesity? Right? How do they justify the daily indulgences? Is it yet another difference between American parenting and Israeli? Or is it ignorance?
It took us only a few weeks of living here before we created “Makolet Day;” one day during the week when each of my three kids is allowed to choose something to buy from the Makolet. We encourage cheap little toys like Gogosim over candy, but ultimately the decision is theirs. This works well for my 4-year-old and 2-year-old, who aren’t running around the kibbutz with other children who have their own accounts at the Makolet and the apparent freedom to buy whatever they want whenever they want. But not so for my 8-year-old who, in between Makolet days, mooches off his friends, his de facto dealers.
I’m not as bad as you might think. I’m not one of these moms who deprives her children of sweet treats. I, too, have a sweet tooth and a sugar addiction that I need to feed. But the sweet treats in my house have always typically been home-baked chocolate chip cookies or cakes; not preservative-laden boxed cookies on a shelf.
I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m just a mom trying to raise healthy kids.
This was not an easy task in the States either. My eight-year-old son went to school with children who packed Coca-Cola and Cheetos for their mid-morning snack. But conscious eating is proving to be much more challenging here in Israel.
In the States, as long as I kept my kids away from the counter at CVS or Target, I hardly ever had to deal with the whining and begging that’s inevitable when a child meets the candy counter. Here in Israel, we pass by the open Makolet every day, where my kids’ friends are treated regularly to the junk of their choice.
In the States, there was a rule that restricted teachers from using any food for which the first listed ingredients were sugar. Here in Israel, on a recent tiyul, one of the items listed to bring was candy.
In the States, my kids would eye their friends’ snacks on the playground and I would begrudgingly let them mooch an apple or a pretzel if their friend’s mom offered. Here in Israel, my kids are swapping their organic raisins for their friends’ gummy worms.
All those years of educating my kids on healthy eating are getting flushed down the proverbial drain faster than you can say Kinder Egg.
Inside I am seething, but I remain silent. After all, I want to fit in, and nobody wants to be friends with The Grinch. Furthermore, I know the Makolet isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So, just as I’ve had to make my peace with the unleashed dogs, the mud-tracked floors, and the smell of cow poop in the afternoon, I will have to figure out a way to live in harmony with the Makolet.
Until I start a wellness revolution in Israel. Which, may end up being sooner rather than later.
Jen Maidenberg is is a writer, editor, activist and former assistant editor at the Arizona Jewish Post. Visit her website at http://jenmaidenberg.com/.