The Chicken or The Egg

September 1, 2009

CHICKEN_MINI_1Hot damn, but we’re gettin’ fat.

I mean, we are undisputedly becoming a nation of porkers. Data courtesy of the World Health Organization states that there are “more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them obese.” Damn, Gina. Could this be because we deem a Burrito Supreme from Taco Bell, washed down with a Starbucks blended-milky-gut-bomb-‘accino, to be a frigging moveable feast?

I can just hear you now, my fair reader. You’re snorting at my inevitable forthcoming utopian malarkey regarding the scrutiny; or, lack thereof, when it comes to what we chow down on. You already have me pegged as some obnoxiously contrived vegetarian elocutionist that believes everything she hears, like a thirsty sponge, dabbling in conspiracy theories and deriving great rapture from making everyone around her feel like inadequate Neanderthal shits for eating fast food and red meat and multi-beaked chickens.

Shoot, player; you’re good. It’s as if someone handed you my curriculum vitae. I suddenly feel rather close with you.

The question of why we collectively have such yawning lassitude for what we digest is, in large, a taboo topic labeled of less import than what type of car we drive. Yet, it is one that we should be discussing daily given its direct correlation with the uproar in our health care system. You see, obesity-related diseases (i.e., diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, respiratory problems and stroke) “account for nearly 10% of all U.S. medical spending, an estimated $147 billion a year.” Might we begin to determine how we can reconcile this paradigm shift from a nation of producers to one of gluttonous, ennui consumers, and rekindle the concept of active lifestyles centering on mindful eating habits, thereby lowering those staggering statistics? Diet notwithstanding, I’m not going to preach too long on what you should eat and why; rather, I’m going to think aloud, albeit erratically, about what drives us to consume empty calories at a rate that decimates not just our environment, but our bodies. Moreover, why do we consume, in general, with such disregard to the long term affects, whether that be food, oil, rain forests, or pharmaceuticals?

Why have we become a nation entrenched in such irrevocable short-sightedness?

Since when is the “here and now,” more important than forecasting where we might position ourselves if we aren’t more cautious when it comes to our slovenly food habits and lifestyles? This is no case of the chicken or the egg and which came first, the bad food or our bad habits. It is about how to redeem ourselves and take back our health. It’s about no longer taking up two seats on the fucking airplane because we feel entitled to that Filet ‘o Fish and large fry. It’s about the people that are not genetically predisposed to be heavier and have a true handicap when it comes to their proportions. It is about those that could be thin, but consciously choose not to be.

I’m prepared to incur the wrath of those who feel we are too concerned with weight, and I’m being callous and abrasive, inconsiderate and myopic. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Part of my bewilderment stems from when a person makes the most ardent attempts to eat thoughtfully and consciously, attentive to what enters their body, why it seems they are looked down upon contemptuously by others who feel there should not be so much agonizing over what we eat; and, oftentimes, they are met with the old reproach of ‘we’re all going to die one day regardless.’ Well, there is one tiny flaw with that “logic,” since the advent of the pharmaceutical snake-and-apple-abundant Garden of Eden we have concocted to solve, or at least mask all of our aches and pains. What if you aren’t going to die some natural death at the age of sixty, but thanks to synthesis of our ubiquitous prescription drugs that keep us hanging on for empty dear life, and our noxious food making us more portly by the day, you’ll be anything but dead. Rather, you’ll be a depressed, overweight, doped-up geriatric nearing ninety-five that only wishes they could die. Oh joy! Good Times ain’t just a fast food restaurant, homie.

I told someone the other day that I was nearing the end of a two week cleanse, which had required a bit of fortitude on my part given that I had to forgo any alcohol, caffeine, simple carbohydrates, some fruit, and of course dairy and meat. While I realize for many this sounds masochistic, to me it was not so far removed from the norm, as I always have been very circumspect when it comes to choosing my meals, and do not intend to adapt any time soon, as I much prefer to be acutely cognizant of precisely what enters my effing bloodstream and digestive tract. Call me foolishly quixotic, but I like being aware. Heck, you can even call me high-maintenance or picky; I’ll graciously accept your indirect compliment. Coincidentally, (depending on how you look at it), my co-worker was hospitalized with E.coli the week I began writing this, so any argument you may have had about my diet restrictions just flew the nasty chicken coop. Alas, my poor co-workers sure are used as fodder quite often in my rambles, so allow me to take a moment to apologize.

Sorry Brian.

Poor Brian’s intestines will likely never fully recover from his brush with the nasty bacteria which he contracted from eating ground beef.

When I say we’re becoming too rotund for our own good, and we’re viewed as the tubby kids on the global playground, this is not to say that other nations are the genetically-superior slender kids in school picking on the poor little fat boy. No; in fact, we are the bully and the fat boy, all rolled into one. We are Americans, and while our dimpled thighs grow more thunderous with a cushion no longer conducive to pushing without the fear of suffocating our lover, so does the breadth with which we share our predilection for things resembling food. What we eat looks good, smells good, tastes great and has very little nutritional value. We have perfected attractive, aesthetically-pleasing packaging under with which lurks evil. Other countries have sampled a taste of the sugar-loaded pseudo-food that we have exported to their urban centers, and they have noticed an increase in their pants sizes due to the dangerous exposure to the Standard American Diet (SAD). Frankly, when I think of the U.S. being an influential maverick in the global economy, I do not welcome the image of our persuasion that of making foreigners chubby. I want to see us fostering certain proclivities toward better ways of living and lifestyle rather than contributing to quantitative tipping of the scales even outside our continental borders.

Much like global warming before anyone gave a damn, what we eat, how we eat it and the physical ramifications, is not being taken with considerate seriousness. And, instead of conjuring warranted and necessary debate and thoughtfulness, it sparks disdain and condescension from the meat-eaters and fast food junkies who raise their hackles and feel alienated and defensive when anyone mentions what is wrong with today’s diet. And, to those skeptical at times of the measurement accuracy associated with the Body Mass Index (BMI), it is painfully clear that we are taking up more space.

Despite a deluge of choices lining our supermarket shelves that take up a highway mile in their length, and some nutritional labeling claiming to be free of trans-fats and GMO’s, and seemingly innocuous organic brands like Horizon that are now owned by some of the very multinationals some of us try desperately to avoid, we aren’t losing any weight. Yet, our big bums are not burgeoning in size because we ate the malfunctioning blueberry gum a ‘la Veruca Salt, so what gives? Could it be many of us are still eating far too much meat and dairy than the recommended daily (screw you, FDA) amount? Mention that to the steak and potatoes carnivore and prepare to be castigated as though you just demanded they give you their first born son. That we really don’t need to consume meat in the quantities that we do as a nation, that we should really be incorporating more plant-based nutrients into our diet, is a vainglorious argument which will be met with flippant disregard by many Westerners very loyal to their red meat. The only worse audience you could command would be South Americans, the only cultures that eat more red meat than we. Try to convince a Morton’s shareholder to eat less beef and prepare to be pegged as some anemic animal rights crack pot that doesn’t know how to just enjoy this one life you have. In a recent post for Rootspeak, I grappled with this very subject in my opinion piece Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do,” thinking I would extrapolate further on this corporate-sponsored monster that we call our FDA and USDA. However, once I really sat back and thought about this in its entirety, the encompassing dilemma of how our food and diet have become such shams, I found myself nonplussed. I started asking myself why we both individually and collectively allow this fraud with our food. Is it laziness, indifference, entitlement, or an incredibly erroneous and misplaced trust that we have in our legislators and regulatory bodies? Why are we not fastidious to the point of treating our food with the same fervor we apply to our religions? When did we stop celebrating the most essential, superlative act of our existence: that of eating good motherfucking food.

As most often is the case when confronting the complete scope of something, it becomes frightening and far easier to shrug it all off and leave it to someone else to figure out. Tragically, it is this absence of ownership and accountability that many argue have led us to this place of gross consumption, with an end result one of obesity, E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, and separation of sanctity with our food. It is more than just the fact that we went from a country of producers, engaging in manual labor to build and grow rather than riding in cars and sitting prostrate at our desks where we have gained weight and lost the ability to communicate with one another. While I agree wholeheartedly that inactivity coupled with our poor eating habits is nothing to be taken lightly, there is something inherently wrong with how we became so mired in these voracious ways. It’s even called junk food, for crying out loud. We have a problem on our hands and around our corpulent waistlines- we are not your grandparent’s country. Gran and Gramps were not the fatties of the global world like we are now. They didn’t wash down a large pizza with a two liter of Pepsi and then do some half-hearted exercise in the form of Wii tennis. These palpable signs of how our size and physique are swelling as a country are undeniable and worthy of consequential discussions pinpointing why we are not just living longer, but living longer with diseases and a medicine cabinet bulging with every prescription known to Pfizer.

CHICKEN_QUOTE1We already know that the mass consumption of sugar in the form of soda, candy, and simple carbohydrates is bad, bad, bad. Let’s save the erudite explanation. This is no arcane secret. Sugar, when not monitored, whether it be sugar in its natural form, or sugar cooked up in a laboratory and sneaked into our food in the form of high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sucralose or aspartame, catches up to the human body in the form of diabetes, osteoporosis, and huge asses. Thank you, Big Gulp for giving us, in one seemingly innocuous container, more sugar than we should be consuming in several days. Yet, herein lies the rub: the 7-11 convenience store chain does not station gun-pointing sales associates next to the fountain pop machine, demanding that you fill up the 24 oz. cup; you do that all by your lonesome.

Or we can play this jocular game that I do so delight in, one where we upbraid the media and their biased marketing strategies which cater to the multinational corporations like Tyson and Dean Foods, so that they all get richer whilst the population gets sicker? Guess what? I’m over blaming the media so that we as a society are enabled to place fault everywhere but with ourselves. Mayhap, we take it a step further, shall we, and ponder why it is that our government allows former high ranking officials from these same corporations to invade our USDA and FDA so that the bodies which should be protecting us while forming the policies and regulatory statutes to keep us and our food safe and nutritious, are actually in bed humping the lobbyists. The misguided agenda of both our easily bought government officials and the corporations they spread their financial legs for, facilitated under the ruse of giving us what we as a nation demand: cheaper, faster food, is tantamount to genocide.

I must say, it’s quite ironical to me (what, Tyson can feed you chickens with four beaks, but I can’t throw out a cheeky word hybrid?) when one of my more liberal compatriots rambles on about how the government needs to speak for the people and regulate more of this, or more of that, right before taking a big greasy bite from their ham-soy-ammonia-E.coli-burger and I choke back the retort ready to belly flop from my tongue. Oh friends, the government has enough of a role, so much so that they convince you that they are protecting you and have your best gastrointestinal interests at heart (and belly), when in all actuality, they have enough of a role and rope to hang not themselves, but us with. They have so much of a vested interest in the power they wield that while they snack on their organic yogurt and fresh local vegetables because they wouldn’t dare touch the disgusting crap they allow you to eat (elitist vs. populist), they are laughing manically all the way to the bank, and the passenger in their car is none other than some asshole from Monsanto.

Why is it that we allow our food, vulnerable and meant to be handled with utmost reverence, the thing that should be, by nature, simple and organic, to be mutated into genetically-modified mutant fruits and vegetables that look luscious even when not in season, but hold very little nutritional value? Why do we not question that the same manufacturer of Agent Orange and RoundUp fertilizer, produces our two largest commodity crop seeds, corn and soybeans? It infuriates me because the people that can make a difference, namely all of us, don’t give a damn. Our apathy is killing us; literally. In the same impartial absence of feeling that I personally believe led us to be so far behind where the green movement is concerned, we might discover too little too late that our prettily packaged food is barely edible. I cannot help but wonder, why let this be the case when we can steer the market? That is the beauty of supply and demand. Only we can get our shelves stocked with something other than cuts of meat from animals that stood in excrement for most of their existence, pumped full of antibiotics to combat the bacteria percolating in its intestines due to being fed a counterintuitive diet of corn. In a statement reminiscent of Shoeless Sam, I say, if you demand it, it will come. Until we do that, we will continue down this path. Until we start spending a little less on our Botox and a little more on our broccoli, then prices will reflect this. Soda will cost less than a head of lettuce. Until then, we will be a nation of cheapskates when it comes to our food.

This is not copacetic! We are better than this, smarter than this and have more access to educate ourselves on just how faulty this system is.

We have The American Obesity Association, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the National Center for Health Statistics, and a few other large entities that seem to agree that our weight is a serious and pertinent issue, and what we eat is the largest contributor to what all of these experts coin the “obesity epidemic.”

When did this happen? What was the tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would ponder. Some speculate it started with my own gender once we as women decided careers became more important than cooking for our families and being the gatekeepers of nutrition in our households. We became too busy, juggling children and our jobs. We wanted more. Material items and status did not allow much time for homemade dishes passed down from our grandmothers. I’m not picking on feminism (or, am I?), but it would be biased of us not to at least consider this possibility when we talk of the affects of modernization and urbanization and the impact it had on our daily consumption. When we stop cooking and immersing ourselves and our loved ones in the joy and beauty derived from handling spices and freshly baked breads and homemade pastas and cherry pie made from our own orchards, as idyllic as that sounds, we lose touch with the importance of food, in its most basic form. Other countries have not lost sight of this. They still take great pleasure and time with their meals and the synergy created from serving dishes made with passion and devotion to ones own body, and the body of those they want to see happy.

Is it really that costly to make a meal from scratch to hand to our spouses and children, so as to watch them savor your buttermilk mashed potatoes and green beans picked from your own garden? Why does it seem that for as far as we have come, our ancestors are shaking their heads in disapproval at how we are living our lives? Aw, eff; this article of mine went from cerebral to emotive, quickly. Meh.

Moreover, the same person that is in a heated debate this very moment over the state of healthcare in this country, will go out later tonight and order up a ribeye steak from the Outback Steakhouse. Does anyone else see a bit of hypocrisy in this action? If you care so much as to spout off to me about the rights and wrongs of politics, then why don’t we really wrench you from your comfort zone and ask you to forgo meat for a few months, thereby reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. Don’t for a second tell me there is no proof that red meat is linked to cancer. Tell that to a cancer patient whose Western doctor has them on a strict, meat-free diet.

I’m sorry to sound all Al Gore right now, but eating healthy is not convenient. It’s a bit of work. I suppose my rationale is, in the long run, it’s worth it. If you want it to be more convenient, then you need to drive the trends towards healthier food, and you will see a shift.

But, keep saying you’re so busy, you just can’t go home after a long day’s work and then actually cook, keep being a lazy bastard, and you won’t see that happen. Keep saying you do not have that many hours in the day, because in a way you’re right. Soon you won’t have enough hours, or any at all, ‘cause you’ll be dead as a doornail. Or, you’ll be so fucking fat and short of breath that you can’t enjoy life anyway. Double suck-y. I’m sorry to once again be the winged harbinger of doom, but we only have ourselves to blame. If we don’t like all the despair associated with our well-being that should be no-brainers in the simplicity and optimism departments, then we need to do something about it.

Here comes the fun part: the action plan. Perhaps you cut back on your meat and poultry intake. I would say your salmon too, depending on where you acquire your salmon, but we don’t eat that much of it because we’re too busy stuffing our faces with dead cow.

*Perhaps you forgo the drive thru a few days a week, and head home to help your wife or husband to cook dinner. If you’re really feeling ambitious, you could dusty off that wooden apparatus with the four legs often referred to as the “dining table,” and eat the meal with your family.

*Those Pop Tarts that you throw to little Johnny before he leaves for school each morning? Toss them and stop feeding your growing teenager meals of sugar so that his system becomes attracted to it, rather than foods of nutritional value. Gently sit his texting arse down for a few minutes to eat a bowl of whole grain cereal with fresh fruit bought locally. Imagine that, instilling in your son that healthy food does matter, and that buying locally doesn’t have a negative carbon foot print attached to it. I don’t think that sounds like a Herculean task, do you?

*It might not hurt to consider buying a few more things locally or regionally, and organically, and sucking it up when you want to moan about your pocketbook, because you realize the efforts made now, the proactive steps to eat healthier, will save big dividends in the future when you aren’t overweight or dealing with debilitating health issues. Even if you say cancer runs in your family and it might be inevitable, then tell yourself you have a better chance of stalling the beast and fighting it more effectively, if you have a trim waistline when starting the race. Furthermore, what many people fail to realize is that organic needs to be purchased locally so that you are supporting local farmers while lessening the carbon footprint. If you buy organic food in New  York that was shipped from California, then it’s a bit moot, don’t you think?

*Stop drinking soda every single day. Period. As I said in a former blog, of the seven horses of the apocalypse, surely one of them will be carrying the Pepsi or Coca-Cola banner.

*Maybe, you can skip the blockbuster farce like G.I. Joe, now and then, to go see a documentary, even if it’s one that offers an opposing view, such as Food, Inc. What are you afraid of, that you might actually start eating more ethically? Educate yourself.

*Look, I wouldn’t be okay with it if someone ran up to me on the street and stabbed me with a dirty needle of salmonella. I’m not okay with my government allowing that very thing to happen behind the scenes due to the severely lacking regulations where poultry is concerned. Pay attention to legislative efforts to curb the sway of the multinational corporations that monopolize our grocery shelves.

*Slow down. Remember the relationship you can have with your food and how gratifying it is to cook something with your bare hands and share it with the ones you love. Train your brain to crave natural foods instead of Doritos. It takes time and you actually need to remember how to navigate the kitchen, but you may find it to be therapeutic. Don’t be that person who brags about not being able to boil a pot of water.

*Treat your grocery list more sagaciously. Be picky, dammit, and if you don’t know how to be, come see me.

I can put the “ick,” in picky.

Creative Commons License
Header photo by Aaron Edwards and licensed under a Creative Commons AN 2.0 GL.
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