Monday, June 25, 2012

Big American Baby

From the time we can listen to speech, we hear innumerable spiels about what is good for us. Parents, health classes in elementary school, doctors, magazines--the propaganda for a healthy diet is everywhere in America. Our current First Lady has made the eradication of childhood obesity her special cause. We know to be healthy we need to eat lots of fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, lean protein, complex carbohydrates; yet most of us are still battling weight problems.

When I came back to the states, a healthy diet wasn't at the forefront of my mind. Over the three years I'd been gone, I'd maintained my weight at a highish but acceptable level and probably would have lost pounds were it not for the joys of a cold beer in a hot climate. For the most part, what I ate was fresh and low in fat. Protein was usually chicken or fish or small amounts of pork, rarely beef. Fruit carts were everywhere and fresh papaya was one of my favorite snacks. Fruit juice came in very small bottles--maybe four ounces. Bread was an occasional treat; rice was a staple. I ate reasonable portions in foodstalls away from home and my at home food was yogurt, nuts, and bananas. My energy was high and I felt good. Then I came home.

Having an oven was a huge novelty and I roasted and broiled chicken and pork with abandon. The pork was lean, the chicken swam in fat even though I removed big yellow globs before I put the poultry in the oven. The fruit that I bought tasted like nothing at all, unless I was lucky enough to find Mexican bananas grown from Thai seed. The flavors that predominated in the food I ate were sweet and salty. When you threw winter into the mix, the result was inevitable. I gained weight--lots of it--mostly in the danger zone of my abdomen.

Then came spring and when the coat and sweaters came off, the sad truth emerged. I found a book that jumpstarted my foray into nutritious eating. I'm lucky. I live near a supermarket that prides itself on its produce section, and Seattle has a large number of farmers' markets. Locovore is the new buzzword among foodies and the hippest, most popular restaurants cater to that trend. If you read any of the city magazines, you'd be convinced this place is the ideal spot for a healthy diet. Until you find yourself out on the street, on the run, with plummeting blood sugar levels.

Walk into any supermarket and look at what's most prominently displayed. Chocolate, chips, sodas, sandwiches, ice cream--even at my neighborhood produce paradise. Yes, there's fruit--and one downtown supermarket has a sink for customers to wash off their selections for immediate gratification. But the most convenient snacks are the ones that are the ones that are "bad" for you. And much of the fruit has no flavor, because we no longer believe in waiting until something is in season.

As I walk through a city that is more politically correct on every level than most in the country, I yearn for streetside carts that sell bags of freshly cut mangos, bananas, watermelon, papaya and guava. I wonder why we can't buy--impulsively and on the go--small skewers of lean pork, or a piece of grilled chicken, or freshly squeezed orange juice, or even a green papaya salad. I don't begrudge other people their salty, sugary, fatty snacks, but I do want a choice when it comes to fast food.

We've become a country of adults who eat like disobedient children and who feed our own children on the run with "healthy" food that can be sucked from a pouch. We are the 99% and we are fat because fat is big business. Gaining and losing makes other people rich--a sugar-free, chemically-sweetened "ice tea" is marketed over the possibility of throwing a few teabags into a pitcher of water and leaving it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Mango ice cream is easier to find than a fresh mango. And even "free-range" chickens in this country are fatter than they used to be. When they're purchased by the pound, why not?

We're a country that's put our money where our mouth is--and it's killing us.

No comments: