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Obesity, On Running

On Food Policy

Obesity, Pollution, and the Poor Economy Go Hand In Hand. We, Not U.S. Policy Makers, Should Determine the Size of Our Waistlines.

By Alix Shutello

I am sitting here reading the Sunday Washington Post and happend upon George F. Will’s commentary entitled, “Where the Obesity Grows.”  I often stop to read articles on obesity because I am truly fascinated that we Americans are fat. I mean, it’s obvious why. And we runners are no exception. How many of you out there run and then justify eating that brownie (like I did today after logging six miles). As my father used to say, “you cannot bullshit an old bullshitter.”

Mr. Will’s commentary interested me because the obesity discussion was about politics and policy; not the fact that we’re eating too much salt, sugar and fat – something we know all too well.

In the piece, Tom Vilsack, an ex-Iowa governor states that the Agriculture Department  (the USDA) “serves education through school nutrition programs and serves diplomacy by tring to wean Afghanistan from a poppy-based ecomony.”

Ok so that’s an interesting statement. So the chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and other shit they serve at my son’s elementary school is “healthy”  and is educating my kids to continue to eat crap and while we’re at it we’re also trying to get a foreign country to stop selling opium? I am not sure I follow USDA’s logic here.

This is very confusing. Let’s ignore the drug bit because this article is on obesity. Mr. Wills piece also states thats the Ag Department wants to focus on the “health costs of the American diet.”  So what are those health costs exactly? I’ll tell you what they are – the health costs our society bares to take care of overweight people, period.  As a result of U.S. policies to both subsidize and promote – I say promote eating a poor diet, we are fatter, in need of more medical assistance, sicker, uglier, and need I say obsessed with dieting.  So is the Ag Department doing any good at all? And why aren’t Ag department policies directly tied to U.S. health policies….or should they be? I’d be interested in comments in this arena, please post!

The USDA posted an interesting piece on the policies behind the farming industry a number of years ago. James Tillotson, a professor of food policy and international business at Tufts University, wrote in the 2004 Annual Review of Nutrition, that “U.S. public policy encourages obesity at the expense of sound nutritional practices.” What Tillotson argued, was that U.S. farmers are most efficient at producing  just a few highly subsidized crops–wheat, soybeans, and especially corn.  Therefore, corn-based products, for example, like corn syrup are in EVERYTHING we eat. I mean it when I say EVERYTHING. Look at almost any packaged product you eat. According to Tolloston, “The market is flooded with products made from the highly subsidized crops, including sweeteners in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fats in the form of hydrogenated fats made from soybeans, and feed for cattle and pigs. This flood, in turn, drives down the prices of fattening fare such as prepackaged snacks, ready-to-eat meals, fast food, corn-fed beef and pork, and soft drinks. Worse yet, some scientists say, paltry support for foods other than these staples increases the contrast between prices of fat-laden, oversweetened foods and those of healthier alternatives, offering poor folks little choice but to stock their pantries with less nutritious foods.” 

As you might expect, there is little to no incentive to grow or market other crops such as fruits, vegetables, and other grains.

As you might guess, this type of poor policy-making has been going on a long time.

Since 1945, the food supply in this country has increased faster than our population growth.  During the Nixon Administration, despite the food surplus, food prices went up, prompting the government to enforce the selling of  “large quantities of calories as cheaply as possible,” in particular, calories coming from corn. This is why everything has corn starch, corn meal and corn everything – in fact 45,000 items in the average supermarket contains some sort of corn by product, accorinding to Wills.

What’s also interesting to note was that during World War II, when meat, dairy products, and sugar were scarce,  (there also were no Fritos or Twinkies by then but I could be wrong)  the American population reported fewer cases of heart disease. Now, three out of every five Americans is a fatty – meaning the average American is probably ten pounds overweight.  That is a problem – so what needs to happen?

Well, this is really easy. Stop making poor food choices. Even if you are poor, you have choices.  I am still surprised at how many intelligent, well-educated people think a mocha latte is not bad for you or not fattening. Muffins are junk. Bagels are junk. Twinkies, chips, pretzels, many yogurts, soda, and I’ve even seen raisins with oil in them – are all JUNK. 

As a runner, do you think the elite runners from Africa eat twinkies and lattes? No, they eat legumes, rice, beans, meats, and other natural foods. Meaning, foods that don’t come from factories. They don’t need them and neither do we.

So what are we to eat?

Well, we see all of these cooking shows with these mega super star cooks showing us all these good foods to eat right?

They use all these natural products and, if you notice, rarely open up any packaging. They actually prepare food – and what they are not saying because they are not policy makers or want to get involved on that level, but what these people are advocating for is getting back in the kitchen. My generation was taught to get out of it – now turn around, and get back in it.

So what do you do when you get back in your kitchen? Well, my friends, we actually have to cook our meals. So put down  the blackberry. I said, PUT DOWN the blackberry, open an actual cook book – not an electronic one, read the recipes, and cook the meals.

In time, like getting into shape, cooking becomes easier.  Our goal is to become like these foodies.  Get in the kitchen, be the star of your own show.

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