Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are You What You Eat? pt. 2


In the first installment of this little series on the Standard American Diet, I highlighted WHAT the average American is eating. Now, I'd like to focus on WHY this is the our norm.

Many people believe that it is simply too expensive to eat fresh, healthy REAL food. While it is true that government subsidies have made less-nutritious foods inexpensive, healthy foods don't have to come with designer labels. Plain, honest-to-goodness foods like dried beans (15 to 19 cents per serving), 5-pound bags of apples, and water may not appear in flashy ad campaigns being eaten by glamorous people, but these foods are ridiculously healthy AND ridiculously cheap - but more on that later...


In America, we spend a smaller percentage of our household income on food than people in nearly every other country in the world. Half of our food budget is spent on food purchased and eaten outside the home. Eating out IS expensive - even when it's "cheap" food, it ends up being very costly... to our health.

What makes convenience foods and restaurant food our go-to for meals? Richard Canada, Director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity for the state of Tennessee boiled it down to two points during an interview I conducted with him last year: 1) we don't know how to cook, and 2) we don't see anyone else cooking, anymore. School budget-cuts beginning in the 1980's resulted the reduction/elimination of mandatory basic cooking classes in schools. Young adults are establishing households without being armed with necessary information about selecting healthy foods, creating simple meal plans and basic grocery lists. Additionally, since all adults in most households today work outside the home, convenience foods and eating out have replaced home cooking as the norm. Cooking - even in its simplest forms - has become a lost art. Today, our primary examples of "cooks" are on well-orchastrated cooking shows with slick production and art design. Who can measure up to that?

Another deterrent to making your own meals comes through advertising. More than 3900 calories worth of food is produced for each man, woman and child in the US every day. Food corporations know that your stomach is valuable real estate space, and convincing you to allow their product to take up residence in your body via your grocery cart is their top priority. With increasing profits as an ever-present challenge, they spend lots of money on carefully crafted messages as a result of intricate psychological research that would rival many hi-tech intelligence ops. The fast food industry, for example, spent $4.2 BILLION on advertising in 2010. $660 million was on advertising aimed directly at children. That same year, the US government spent $6.5 million on distributing information to the American people about "proper" nutrition.

When the government does get involved in giving out nutritional information, it can seem confusing, at best. The USDA offers guidelines about healthy eating (MyPyramid). At the same time, they are also the entity responsible for promoting the consumption of certain American-grown crops. This has its pluses and minuses. Certain powerful lobbying groups convince the USDA to use their platform to promote particular food "groups" - the cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, grain growers, and now even the chemical companies that create genetically modified crops are all exerting this type of power.

Members of the American Dietetics Association, some physicians and even school food service personnel attend "educational" events sponsored by some of the biggest processed food producers in the US (like Coca Cola, Hershey's, and Kraft, for example).

As a result, Americans are eating more processed foods than ever before. In my next entry, I'll highlight how this relatively new way of eating is affecting our health and longevity.

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