fast food nation25 Aug 2003
This is a huge problem. I was educated in Tennessee public schools, and my work requires that I spend a lot of time in them now. First, for any of you that think obesity in this country is not a crisis, go to an elementary school sometime. It’s staggering. And, what’s even more troublesome is what you’ll see: kids that are bordering on an adult weight class standing in line, buying candy unsupervised from a vending machine. Then, take a quick tour of the lunchroom, where lunches still consist mostly of cheap pizza (mostly a cheap hunk of dough with pizza sauce and cheese) and french fries. Refined carbohydrates and fat. Nice to see things haven’t changed since I was in the public school system. When I was in high school, I can say without exaggeration that this was the lunch served on 3 out of 5 days.
This is a huge problem, and it needs to be fixed, but it’s only a symptom of a much larger problem plaguing our nation. This is the problem of miseducation and of disinformation. People in this country do not understand what makes them fat, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that much of the last 50 years of low-fat dietary methods were unfounded and just plain don’t work.
Yet, there are billion-dollar industries selling diet pills, foods (Lean Cuisine, anyone?), and products that continue to thrive. It’s enough to make one get conspiratorial. These companies do have a vested interest in the maintenance of our poor health, and don’t kid yourself into thinking that these very large industries don’t pull some weight (no pun intended) with our government’s medical/health organizations. Looked at the USDA’s food pyramid lately? What a joke.
This problem is indeed very similar to the tobacco companies, but it’s actually much worse. The difference is that people don’t have to smoke or chew tobacco. But, people have to eat. Poor people have to eat, too. Why is it, then, that the lower class is so disproportionately overweight? This plays well into the hands of the “culture of poverty” crowd that would blame the lower class for all their misfortune. Poor people are just fat because they’re lazy, right? Wrong. Here’s a fun game: go to Wal-Mart sometime and try to get as much food as you can for under $50. That’s what I thought: Ramen soup, Rice-a-Roni, bread, and potatoes. Would you like some sugar with your starch?
So, what’s the answer? Regulation, and education.
It’s easy to blame people: “You’re fat, your fault”. But, this answer is only acceptable if you reject or ignore the idea of hegemony. The sociologist’s ultimate dirty word. Most Americans don’t like the idea of hegemony. It impugns on their false consciousness of “freedom” and “willpower”. We are too tough and smart to be manipulated, or deceived. And, yet, people can be made to believe things that aren’t true. People can be made to do things that aren’t in their best interest, while thinking that they are. For many years, this went on with tobacco. Now we’re seeing it on a much grander, and much deadlier scale.
We have a responsibility to improve the standard of living of our people. We also have a responsibility to allow businesses to do what they do best. But not at the cost of the former. We live in an age of unprecedented abundance. Let’s make the best of it.