Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bon Appetit

Lately I’ve been wondering why there’s so much food around.  European friends and I were talking about that recently as we overfilled our trays at an all-you-can-eat buffet. One of us, his plate a veritable Everest of pork products––sausage links and patties, bacon, country ham—noted that, to the best of his well-traveled knowledge, the US was the only place that had all-you-can-eat buffets. I don’t know if this is a fact or not. It seems to me there must be stuff-yourself-to-the-gills restaurants elsewhere, but I haven’t found one.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a Home Depot and noticed that right next to the checkout lanes were multiple displays of candy bars and soft drinks. I’m sure they’ve been there all along, but it was the first time I really became aware of this oddity, and I wondered what had prompted the Home Depot powers-that-be to put them there. Well, duh, profit, obviously… I watched a somewhat overweight kid coax his mom into buying a Mars bar. And a pack of gum. And a little bag of cookies and I wondered, are we really hungry all the time in the land of plenty? Do we need to be chewing and swallowing constantly to fulfill our destiny? Is this what the Constitution promises when it says “pursuit of happiness?”
There’s food in gas stations, bookstores, Old Navy emporia, hardware stores, computer outlets. There are stacks of candy at my local nursery next to the rhododendrons, at my pharmacy, at the nearby big box store, and even the local dry cleaner has a small display of mints and Korean hard candies on his counter. The shops selling sporting goods also have racks of stuff, but the sales staff will tell you it’s really healthy, vegetarian, gluten free, and not the product of slave labor in Abyssinia. Course, it’s about five times as expensive as stuff found elsewhere
Meanwhile, we are facing explosive growth in the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (I am one), and almost two-thirds of the US population is overweight. America has the second highest percentage of obesity in the world (Mexico out-ate the US in 2013 and took first place.)
What’s interesting is the shift in points of view. A century ago, the rich folks were stout–they had more than enough to eat and did so with gusto—and the poorer people were thin, fed on a diet that often lacked essential protein and carbohydrates. This began to change following World War II with the advent of cheaper foods. Now, large segments of our present society subsists on fast foods of doubtful value. We no longer walk and burn calories and we’re inundated with offerings of cheap snacks everywhere.
I wonder where this is going to lead.
According to Forbes, “Almost one fifth of all deaths in the U.S. are associated with being overweight, according to a startling new report from Columbia University and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. And the kicker? For each consecutive birth year (in other words, the younger you are) the higher the death rate.
“In a study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health, a team of researchers led by epidemiologist Ryan K. Masters looked at death records and health surveys for all adults for a 20-year period between 1986 and 2006. They found that 18.2 percent of all deaths were associated with carrying excess weight.
“This is three times higher than previous reports, which Ryan says relied on average obesity rates rather than specific data and failed to take into account that those who are obese often decline to take part in public health surveys.
“But the news could actually be even worse because the percentage of the population that’s overweight or obese increases every year, and is already considerably higher today than it was in 2006, the final year of data used in the study.”
Think about all this as you celebrate Thanksgiving, the annual celebration of excess, and tuck into the mounds of food before you.
Bon appétit!  

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