Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Can We Afford to Eat Healthy?

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A Big Mac sandwich taken at Velika Gorica, Cro...

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There is a disturbing trend that Americans are eating fewer fruits and vegetables and that eating health foods is only for the wealthier among us. The obesity problem is more prevalent in the poorer populations of the country.

A recent article on  by David Sirota blames it on “corporatism” where government uses public money to protect private profit. When lawmakers are underwritten by agribusinesses using taxpayer dollars to subsidize corn, wheat, and soybeans, these foods are used as ingredients in the unhealthiest foods – cheap non-nutritious junk foods.  Poorer consumers are forced to buy these foods and as a result become obese.  We all know that the government does not subsidize healthier fruits and vegetables.

Sirota concludes: “Solving this crisis, requires everything from recalibrating our subsidies to halting the low-income school lunch program’s support for the pizza and French fry lobby”.

Although we are lectured almost constantly about eating a healthier diet, most of us don’t.  To study this question, a study a couple of year ago at the University of Washington found that the prices of nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grain, fish, and lean meats had jumped by nearly 20% over a two-year period compared to a 5% increase in the overall food price inflation. Also in that time frame, high calorie food prices remained the stable and in some cases actually dropped

One of the authors noted: “When it comes to empty calories, it’s very difficult to compete with sugar” In Brazil, sugar is produced from sugar cane at the cost of 30,000 calories for one dollar.  Nothing else comes close”.

The current recommendation is to eat fish two or three times a week.  Not very many people can afford this. The fish supply has become dangerously depleted around the world, and it’s common for a nice wild salmon fillet (source of recommended omega-3 fats) to cost you around $20 a pound.   Even the farmed salmon can cost around $10 a pound.

What will it take to eat well in the future?  Will giant agribusiness farming include endive or broccoli instead of the staples, corn, wheat, and soybeans?  I don’t think so. The general answer may be education, money, and time.  Money will still be a problem especially in tough economic times, but education and time may help to stop the trend.

Big Macs and pizzas are cheap because they provide a convenient and tasty form of food most people love.   Americans do not generally like vegetables, since surveys indicate that their favorites are potatoes or corn in some form and they love meat.  We even make meat substitutes for vegans in the form of meats – faux chicken nuggets, burgers, etc.

Americans are not that much into cooking anymore and cleaning up is even worse.  Busy moms work outside the home; come home exhausted to face childcare, laundry, bills, and if a single mom with no help.  It’s so much easier to feed their family Hamburger Helper or Mac and Cheese, or some other processed, packaged concoction.  Or better yet, all can go to the closest fast food or pizza establishment – no cooking, prepping, chopping or cleaning up.  Just throw away the wrappers or the box.  No forcing anyone to eat his or her broccoli.

We surely need a culture change about our attitudes concerning foods.  Michael Pollan, whose latest book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” says: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  How do we get there?  That is where education and time comes in.  With proper planning, it’s just not that hard to prepare a simple meal (try a 3 –ingredient cookbook for starters).

That is the question now being debated to help alleviate our obesity and diabetes type 2 epidemics.

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