Friday, July 20, 2012

Glorious Food

To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art.  La Rochefoucauld

There is no love sincerer than the love of food. George Bernard Shaw

Supersize Me. Morgan Spurlock

In America, the best way to become invisible is to be fat.

In 2008, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the obesity rate among men was 32.2 percent and a slightly higher 35.5 percent for women.  The numbers were confirmed, then revised by the Center for Disease Control which, in 2010, estimated the rate had increased to 35.7 percent for adults, and remained at a steady 17 percent for American children.

We eat too much and we eat the wrong foods; we are enamored of salt, sugar and fat, and we don’t exercise nearly enough. We snack. Food is everywhere; it is a religion. There are more restaurants per capita in the United States than anywhere else in the world. In New York State alone, there are 17,461 fast food places and according to the US Department of Agriculture, the Empire State is considered one of the healthier areas, food-wise.  Not so are Vermont, Washington, DC, Maine, Montana and Rhode Island, which have more fast food restaurants per capita than any other states. (You can find out how many fast food restaurants are in your state by going to the USDA’s website, The country is dotted with some 160,000 fast food restaurants that serve 50 million Americans daily and make $110 billion annually. Most, though not all, sell high-calorie, high-starch, high-carbohydrate, and low fiber foods made with corn syrup, and refined sugar and flour. The fact is, the way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000 but our desire for more—of everything—has stayed the same.

So here’s a question: Is obesity a disease, or is it a philosophy?

In a way, it’s amusing. In European literature and theater, obesity implied wealth and well-being. A family with abundant food on the table liked to display its affluence and attendant physiques and the fat bourgeois and his wife and children were often the object of ridicule both in print and on stage. Think Molière.

Now, in a similar and strange turn of fate that made rednecks grow their hair long, it is the poor who are fat while the rich eat less. And on the third Thursday of November, we all—wealthy and not—cheerfully celebrate a national day of gluttony.

But the fact is we have labeled obesity in its simplest form: overindulgence. In the Western world, and increasingly everywhere else, this is a trait that characterizes our way of life. We are nations of overindulgent consumers whose tastes for excess are not necessarily limited to food. Our obesity in all forms, far from being limited to the larder, guides our lives.

Perhaps this is the logical culmination of free enterprise. We are taught to never be satisfied with what we have; in many ways the American Dream is one of escaping a life of less for a life of more. We want homes bigger than the ones we grew up in, jobs with more responsibilities than our parents ever had, and salaries that would astound our forefathers.  We want more for less, and with food, this is a realizable ambition.

Orson Wells was right. Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.

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