Despite having lived in New York City for seven years, last weekend marked my first visit to the Bronx Zoo. I was initially a bit weary, as I wrestle with a few ethical and moral issues anytime animals are used to entertain humans. As much as I love to see them in the flesh, I certainly don’t walk away happy after seeing a gorilla sit in a 10 x 10 wire cage.
I was pleasantly surprised, though, when I found myself looking through glass windows (or, sometimes, just looking out, with nothing but distance separating me) at animals that roamed large spaces, many of which contained grass and trees.
Signs all over the zoo expressed concern over endangered species and how human civilization has played a part in driving out many animals from their natural habitats.
A social conscience provided the undertone for many of the geo-specific exhibits, specifically pointing out how the health of animals was a top priority for the zoo.
Come to think of it, I didn't spot a single obese cheetah or leopard, and monkeys were provided real trees from which they ate leaves from, respecting their eating habits in nature.
My joy quickly dissipated, though, when I entered the zoo’s food court.
My choices – as a mammal belonging to the homo sapien sapien species -- were: hamburgers, chicken fingers, French fries, six-ounce pretzels (this fiber-less 600-calorie item was deemed a healthy choice), ice cream, butter popcorn, and hot dogs.
Sodium, saturated fats, added sugars, and fiber-less carbohydrates abounded. Vegetables (not counting wilted lettuce in the burgers) and fruits appeared to have gone the way of the dodo bird.
Don’t get me wrong. I think people have the right to enjoy some greasy fare once in a while, but where is the choice for those of us who want to eat something healthy?
True, I could very well have taken a backpack with a banana, whole grain crackers, and raw almonds, but is it so bold of me to ask that I be offered these products at the food court?
At the very least, how about offering soy burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, fruit and yogurt smoothies, individual bags of sliced apples, and small cartons of low-fat plain and chocolate milk alongside the standard junk?
I don’t expect the zoo to be my destination for healthy eating, but why is a country with 97 million obese adults so hesitant to offer health-conscious food choices?