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The Politics of Food

June 3rd, 2010 by Chris Henry

People responded like crazy to my recent story on local chef Chris Plemmons, who was chosen to help promote First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign against childhood obesity. Some resented the government’s taking a role in creating policy on what we should eat. Some applauded the effort to get America back on track, health-wise.

It’s been decades since most people worked hard enough on the farm — as my father-in-law did — to sit down to noonday meal full of starch, meat, cream and butter.

These days, we are leashed to our computers or other electronic devices nearly 24/7. No wonder the Kitsap County Health District reports that, like the rest of the state, 60 percent of us are overweight.

I was, to be honest, more than a little bummed that my article that ran on Sunday on employee wellness programs had zero, count them, zero, comments. In part because I had worked so long on the article that people I originally interviewed in March had given up hope it would ever be published. But especially since the article addressed the issue of exercise, which some of those who commented on the chef article had raised.

In part, I think it was a case of “what were they thinking?” running an article about the workplace on a Sunday of the three-day Memorial Day weekend. Probably the last thing readers wanted to think about was the workplace. But here we are, back behind our desks. Who shall we call on to keep our behinds from spreading ever wider? The government? Our employers? Or ourselves?

I am not suggesting there’s one answer here, folks. I do welcome your comments.

I read with interest the comment on the chef story from coffeetime, who wrote about his family’s regimen in regaining control over their food intake and exercise. He wrote, in part, “Four large stuffed green olives adds 32 calories. 2 tablespoons of Newman’s Own low-fat sesame dressing is 35 calories. A quarter of an avocado is about 73 calories.” He also wrote about how far he runs on the treadmill each week.

On one level, it makes sense to do the math, calories in minus energy expended equals either excess calories, which equals xyz pounds of fat, or a calorie deficit, which equals weight loss, or a balance, which equals maintenance of a healthy weight.

But, ay caramba, when did we slip into having to count everything that goes into our mouths or every ounce of sweat we produce? At the extreme end of the spectrum, that kind of obsession can be deadly.

I really have no answers — plenty of opinions, but they pay me not to express them — I’d just like to hear from you. How much of your day do you spend thinking about food, weight, exercise, appearance? How do we as a society get control of balancing our lives?

Again, whose responsibility is it? The government’s. Your employer’s? Your own? All of the above? How, when, where, at what cost?

Thanks for sharing. Chris Henry, reporter

P.S. I am right now reading a book my father-in-law found at a garage sale entitled, “Therapeutics, From the Primitives to the 20th Century,” which tracks the history of medicine from prehistoric time through the 20th Century, with a complete chapter devoted to the history of the human diet. Do you know at one time consumption of figs was thought to cause lice? The Greeks had “strong reservations against fish, fruit vegetables and meat.” These items formed the bulk of the lower class diet, as it was all they could afford, and so seemed inferior. A lot of the other observations of early nutritionists were much more reasonable, based on observation or by luck those based on superstition, religion or prejudice happened to hit the mark. The point is, what we eat is influenced by the times we live in and the social class we inhabit. Food for thought.

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One Response to “The Politics of Food”

  1. Macimm1 Says:

    I spend too much time thinking about food and exercise during my day. Part of this is because I work full-time, attend school full-time, have a dog, two children and a husband. We can’t afford \convenience\ meals so we rarely eat out. One of my children and I are allergic to wheat and soy protein. Believe me, when you can’t eat either of those products, the bulk of your day will go into wondering what the heck is going in the lunch box tomorrow? My husband has a hard time keeping weight on him so trying to make sure he has enough food and that the girls and I don’t have too many calories is trying.
    We focus our diet on fruits, vegetables, and meat. Yes, we eat the \extras\ like olive oil, nuts, butter, dairy. The hardest part is food prep. I’ve had to ensure that my time management skills are up to par as my kids and my husband are not at all interested in cutting veggies, slicing apples, or counting calories. Nor will they do my homework.
    Rather than sitting down to a meal on my lunch break, I walk my dog 2 miles, get food prepped for dinner and get back to work. I’d love to have convenience food and a gym membership but that’s just not going to happen.
    I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to tell us how to eat or live. We all need to realize that growing actual food takes real people who need to be paid. It also takes time, soil, energy, etc. This accounts for the higher cost of a natural product, but the long term effects of eating whole foods far outweighs any benefit a fast food will have. Our country is so used to instant gratification and government control that it will be hard to turn an entire country around.
    Michelle Obama’s plan to start with children is great. This is how smoking can be eradicated. When I was a teen, NONE of us thought smoking was disgusting. Our country has raised an entire generation who are not afraid to say what they feel about smoking. Maybe Michelle’s \tomorrow\ children will help us understand and think about what else we put in our mouths.

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