Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes, We Can...

...afford to eat better.

The professor in my argument class this quarter decided that our main focus should be health care because of the timeliness of the issue. Like we can't just flip on the television and hear about that--but whatever. We had to write several essays related to health care and have class-wide discussions on it.

My first essay focused on why our health care costs so much--more than twice what it does in other industrialized nations, in fact. The answer seems to be that we are sue-happy and, more important, very unhealthy due to a really crappy diet. Obesity and related problems create up to half of our national health care bill. That's not counting things like type 2 diabetes that are closely tied to but not entirely caused by obesity.

My second essay discussed how we can change this. I said that if we are really serious about it, we need to treat junk foods like another famously harmful substance: tobacco. According to my research, the average obese person has health care costs far exceeding a smoker. So why are we serving junk food in our school cafeterias? Why can people buy chips and soda with food stamps? Why don't we tax these foods and make them illegal on school campuses?

My teacher wrote a note on my paper suggesting that most Americans can't afford healthy foods. And I say: Yes, we can.

Convenience foods cost more than whole foods per pound, and they seem to be the culprits in our expanding waistlines. People think that dollar menus are cheaper than cooking, but are they really? Sure, it's hard to beat one dollar for a burger, but no one is getting fat from that two hundred calorie burger. They are getting fat from a larger, three or four dollar burger, along with two dollar supersized fries and a large Coke. A single value meal is around six dollars, about the cost for a healthy homemade dinner for your whole family.

People in third world countries eat better than we do and have lower rates of diet-related disease, because they can't afford our crappy diet. Americans have more expendable income than most Europeans, who also manage to eat better. Anyway, whole foods are cheaper than Frankenfood if you look beyond out of season pomegranates and radicchio. So it's counterintuitive to suggest that money is the issue.

I think time and laziness are the issue. I'm not saying fat people are particularly lazy, but that we all are in this country. Some people are blessed with metabolisms that can handle all the extra calories and the sedentary lifestyle, others are not so lucky. And none of us feel like dedicating an hour to cooking in the evening, although many of us do it anyway. It's easier, albeit more expensive, to just open a box. And therein lies the problem.

We do have the money--beans and rice are cheap. We do have the time as well, for the most part. Most people feel like they have no time, but when their favorite TV show comes on, suddenly time is in surplus. We spend time on the phone, time shopping for things we don't really need, time waiting in fast food lines. It's only when it comes time to throw the beans in the crockpot that we get all short on time. Suddenly we don't have even a minute, unless that minute is spent in a McDonald's drive-thru.

If you aren't working, or even if you are, you have time--as much or more time than I do, at least. We can eat healthy. Yes, we can. To borrow another famous tagline: just do it.

There are a few caveats here. If you are feeding yourself on less than $5 a week, then you will be relying on ultra-cheap, ultra-unhealthy foods like ramen. But you won't get fat... you'll have a hard time just getting enough calories to survive. Obesity comes from eating too much--way too much--for a period of years, not from spending a few tight months eating from a Styrofoam cup. Also, organics do cost more. But you won't get obese from eating a conventionally grown apple.

In one of our class discussions, a girl said she and her one year old live on fast food because she is too busy as a single mother to cook and she can't afford better food anyway. But she gets her nails done every week and has a constant flow of new clothes and Coach handbags. She has time and money to shop and watch someone airbrush her nails. Just not the time to eat healthy.

It's not her fault, either. Every time you turn on the TV, some expert is claiming that Americans are fat because we can't afford the money and time for a healthy diet. People are being encouraged to make unhealthy choices and told that they have no control over something as basic as what they put in their mouth. But we all have the choice. We all have the option to eat well. Say it with me: Yes, we can.

6 comments:

Lisa said...

can we add a "dammit in there, either at the end or right after the yes? maybe then people will get it.

cottagesweet said...

True, so true.

Jenn said...

Your blog is great!

Lisa said...

I thought of you when I saw this Weston Pricearticle that Autumn posted on the Whole Foods Yakima group on Facebook (see what you're missing) Show that to your professor, it's by a PhD in case he finds that impressive.

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