Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Serious Topic

I consider this my fun blog because food is a fun topic, but today I want to address something more serious after seeing something last night.

I have made two goals this year that are probably incompatible with each other. The first is to cook new things and start getting back into more complex baking. The other is to lose 15-20 pounds. Can I do one and still do the other? I guess it's all about what I cook and how often I bake.

I have been slowly losing weight this year by working out with a personal trainer and using The Beck Diet Solution to keep my eating under control. (If you want to get bored, I started yet another blog to track my progress.) I make sure all of my meals are planned. I prepare my own food most of the time. I don't eat out much. I try to stick with as much fresh food as possible and avoid convenience foods. So far it's been working. I have lost 4 pounds since the year started.

With so many cooking shows on the air, so many cookbooks cluttering up the shelves of every store imaginable, and so many public service announcements reminding us about our health these days, it almost seems as if there shouldn't be an excuse not to eat right. The information is there. The guidance is there. You can find a hundred cooks out there willing to show you how to quickly make a meal from whole foods. The message is out there. Everyone knows how to be healthy, but so many people simply ignore the message.

I started thinking about this last night when I was buying some groceries at the A&P. I was putting a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, skinless chicken, skim milk, and nuts on the conveyor belt. I suppose I was feeling a sense of smug self-righteousness. The food police couldn't look into my cart and tell me I was doing something wrong.

Then I saw the stuff that was on the belt from the woman in front of me. It was appalling - just appalling. There were two bottles of Coke, 2 boxes of crackers, a package of pork chops, a variety pack of snack-sized chips, and (irony of ironies) a 12-pack of Slim Fast. I couldn't stop staring at it. I kept thinking, "How can anyone live like this?" There wasn't a single fresh, unprocessed item there other than the pork chops. There was no fruit, not even juice. There were no vegetables, not even a canned one. I am not someone who would ever look down on someone because of her size. I don't like making assumptions about people's lifestyles. Despite that, when I looked at the woman buying those groceries, I saw that she looked to be a good 100 pounds over weight. I thought, "There is a reason you look like that, Lady, and the Slim Fast isn't going to help." Had she appeared to be a low-income woman I might have gone easier on her because I know it's difficult for low-income families to buy fresh food and they don't have access to the kind of nutrition help that wealthier people have. This was clearly not the case. This woman was quite well dressed, well-coiffed, and well-made up. Everything about her screamed, "Upper Middle Class."

We have a rampant obesity problem in this country and a climbing rate of obesity-related disease. Children are getting Type 2 diabetes. Everyone knows there is a problem, but while the group recognizes the problem, individuals do not want to do anything about it. I know that our culture has become overly food-oriented. I know the food industry has established a massive marketing machine that it does everything but shovel food directly into our mouths. I have to ask why we let them drown out other voices? Rachael Ray is so immensely popular, and while typing that made me cringe with loathing, I will say that she at least cooks meals with mostly fresh food. If she's so popular, why aren't more people following her lead and cooking with more fresh ingredients? (Remove the massive amounts of cheese, bacon, and oil please.)

Eating properly is hard. I know that. One of the problems I have always had with losing weight is that there are so many easier options out there. I sometimes feel tired of doing the right thing. Making a bowl of oatmeal or some eggs in the morning is not nearly as easy or as temporarily satisfying as a latte and a muffin from Starbucks. Preparing a turkey sandwich on wholewheat and sticking it in a brown bag is harder, and often less appealing, than an Italian combo wedge from the deli or a slice of pizza (or three). It's much easier to stop having to plan, stop having to do the work, and just order something made by someone else. Sometimes it just tastes better. But what is that temporary satisfaction, that moment of convenience, when you compare it to the long-term consequences. My grandmother is diabetic. I don't want to be diabetic too. I don't want to suffer from knee and back problems that come from the strain of carrying around excess weight. On a more superficial note, I'm sick of looking at vacation pictures and seeing all of the shots my husband takes of me in a bathing suit and thinking, "YUCK! I look terrible." I want to look hot (or as hot as a frizzy-haired, lilliputian woman nearing 40 can look).

What would we do if there weren't easier options? What if there were no convenience foods? What if every Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks and pizza shop and deli all disappeared? What if I still had to go to work and take care of my husband and could still participate in all of my activities despite the lack of convenience? I'd make my own meals and snacks all of the time, wouldn't I? People made their own meals from fresh foods throughout history. They made their own meals despite working from sunrise to sunset on the farm. They made their own meals without microwaves or even electric and gas stoves and refrigeration. We claim we have "no time" but I would wager many Americans truly have no grasp of what "no time" really means. There are people out there who would have plenty of time if they turned off the TV (including the Food Network) and shut off the computer.

I went home that night, made some chicken cutlets (Ina must have inspired me) and garlic-lemon broccoli (I even used frozen broccoli) and it took me about 40 minutes. During that evening I also made lunch for today, took out the trash, and even watched a little TV. I feel asleep around 10 PM (I was up at 5:30 to work out with my trainer) and overall felt pretty good about my day and my health. How did the woman in line feel after her meal of pork chops and Coke? I hope she felt better than I fear she did. Still, I hope she learns how much better it feels to do what's right.


Emiline said...

This is a serious topic, but I'm glad you brought it up. People need to read this.

I agree with everything you said. I even think people with low income should purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. I don't think there's an excuse! What you put into your body should be the most important thing. A lot of vegetables and fruit aren't too expensive. I think people are just lazy.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

One of the problems low income people have though is that fruits and vegetables are not the best quality. Buyers for the big fancy markets get first choice of produce from wholesalers and the inner city bodegas are left with the dregs. Also, lower income people are looking for foods that are calories dense, last a while, and can be stretched out a bit. They also don't have the same nutrition education. It's definitely harder for them.

But many of us are lazy, rich or poor. It's my own laziness that has put a few pounds on me over the years!

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