America has received yet another warning that life in our country must change ... now. According to a study compiled by the American Institute for Cancer Research, America has the seventh highest cancer rate in the world, with one out of every 333 people in this country developing cancer each year.
Compiled from statistics from 50 countries and adjusted for age, (two factors that could have possibly given us an excuse to defend our deplorable eating habits), the results reveal that while Americans live long, we do not live well.
So what's up with this?
According to Alice Bender, M.S., R.D., nutritionist for AICR, many of our health problems, including cancer can be attributed to our dietary habits and the fact that many Americans are weighing in far heavier than is healthy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that two out of three of us are overweight or obese.
What's a country to do? And why is that we can't get a handle on this? We see article after article with headlines screaming: "Seven Foods to Fight Cancer;" "The Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods." We have more weight loss programs and diets than we can count. Book after book, product after product arrives on the market to help us lose weight and live healthy lives. And we get more overweight, and sicker.
There is more to this than statistics and studies, which we have done, exhaustively, in an attempt to get inside the American mind and see what is driving us to make unhealthy choice after unhealthy choice.
Marketing has a lot to do with it, to be sure. On one hand, we have the latest studies and statistics telling us how deep in trouble we are. On the other, we have fast food joints, chain restaurants and producers of processed food creating product after product designed to rob us of our health. If I didn't know better, I'd say that these companies are on a mission to destroy us just to earn greater profits. But that would be crazy, right?
Think about it. For every new study that tells us to eat a diet rich in whole grains and vegetables, it seems that Starbucks creates a bigger, more decadent coffee drink; McDonald's makes a bigger burger with more bacon and cheese; KFC finds new ways to feed you more fried chicken for less money.
What will it take for Americans to wake up and smell the toast? These companies produce these foods and lie to us because they know we will buy them. If we didn't, they would make something else. If we demanded better, they would do better.
We must break the stranglehold that junk food has on our lives and realize that our health has been hijacked in the name of profit. Eating has become complicated in our modern life. We have become reliant on various experts to advise us on our food choices. From television chefs to nutrition scientists to news anchors; government advisory committees to food pyramids there is no shortage of opinions on what Americans should be eating. They have filled our heads with all manner of biochemistry, facts, figures and statistics. Most of us can quote them as surely as our own names. We have become deeply familiar with words like "antioxidants," "polyphenols," "trans fats," "omega-3" and of course, "calories," but in all this science, we lost our way to the food and our inherent wisdom about what eating means.
It's as though we don't even see food as food anymore, just the sum of its nutritional parts. We have lost touch with our intuition and fallen victim to the science of nutrition -- and marketing. As soon as we did that; as soon as we lost touch with our gut instinct, we became the perfect victims for the biggest con in human history. Marketers, lobbyists and their well-paid experts pounced on our confusion and through the smoke and mirrors of dazzling packaging, checkmarks, seals of approval and health claims have slowly and consistently robbed us of our health. And it seems to me, made us stupid in the process. It's as though we don't think for ourselves anymore, about anything. Heck, we didn't even know what a vitamin was until the 19th century! Now we're experts?
So nutrition science, this new guru of eating has managed to take absolute power over us. It's a promising and exciting field of study, but hardly exact and hardly expert on the impact of food on the body, and its health. We could write volumes on what we don't know about nutrition.
Food is simple. Nature is simple.
There is no one nutrient stealing our health; it's our overall diet. But there's a lot of money to be made on the way we currently eat in this country.
Manufacturers love to tweak products in ways that leave our diet largely unchanged, but allow for new "hot buttons" to be added to the product packaging to create a "health halo" and seduce you to buy more of whatever junk it may be. Pharmaceutical companies can then develop more and more drugs to cure us of the diseases that our food choices cause. The health care industry makes more money treating chronic diseases than it does preventing them. And the circle of business goes round and round, with us dizzy with confusion.
Experts focus on finding the single element in the modern Western diet that is responsible for our deterioration. And that seems to change every day, doesn't it? But no one in nutrition science is bothered by this. Confusion is great for their cause: the experts become indispensable; manufacturers can recycle the same junk with new buzz words and the media has a constant stream of stories to write about food, health and nutrition. Everyone wins.
I am not anti-science. In fact, one of the things I love most in this modern world is how much science has come to support the more "esoteric" theories concerning the impact of eating a plant-based diet on health and wellness.
But on the other hand, I am tired of all the con games that marketing has used to twist science to their favor. I would like to see us go back to the basics of food; the basic wisdom of eating; the intuitive understanding that food, real food, supports our lives and our health.
I grew up surrounded by strong, self-reliant, resourceful people who worked hard, ate real food and lived vital lives. I don't see many of those kinds of people anymore. What happened to us? When did we give away our power and our health? When did we allow corporations to dictate what we'll buy, eat, wear, read?
Our country is in crisis and nothing short of a revolution will change the course we find ourselves on. It's time to get off the sofa and fight for our lives.
Follow Christina Pirello on Twitter: www.twitter.com/christinacooks