Fat, sugar and salt; the triple threat to our waistlines... and health. Mere decades ago, the food industry made a conscious choice to seduce the American public into eating more food by making these three ingredients the cornerstones of our beloved diet of processed food. And we could not have made it easier for them.
Complicating matters? Our busy, connected, blackberry-ruled lives leave us little time to worry about what's on a label, let alone time to cook. We left the door wide open for health-stealing pirates known as marketers to walk right into our living rooms and rob us of the ability to rationally identify what's truly healthy as they deadened our taste buds with the 'Big Three' (as I call them). The result? Overeating in search of satisfaction.
Now I'm not saying that we, the consumer, have no responsibility in this scenario. It's not good enough to sit, hypnotized in front of glowing television screens as our good buddies Papa John, Wendy and the Colonel sell us swill in place of real food.
Look, we are evolutionarily programmed to eat and rest as much as we can. When foods like fat and sugar were scarce and hunting and gathering was an exhausting necessity, we ate and rested to preserve our lives. I don't know about you, but unless you count hunting for a parking spot, those days are over. And while a lot of things have changed in the last 10,000 years, our basic drive to find food and eat hasn't. Marketing has staked a big interest in that truth.
So how did we get into this mess? With the end of the Industrial Revolution and World War II (sweeping history lesson, I know...), most of us abandoned a rural lifestyle and evolved into the Ozzie and Harriet-esque 1950's. Everyone bought a car and moved to the suburbs. The 1960's came and went in a fog (well, for a lot of us) and women pretty much abandoned the kitchen that had been the center of the universe for generations before them.
At the same time, we experienced a dramatically altered economic culture that saw the two-income family as a necessity rather than a luxury and the beat went on. The post-Vietnam era dawned on a society that saw money not going as far and our mortality staring us in the face. So we worked to buy stuff, lots and lots of stuff.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves living in this fast-paced world with lots of labor-saving conveniences, more sedentary work and no time to stop and smell the roses...or cook dinner from scratch.
When our stoves grew cold; our pots and pans gathered dust, somebody had to step in and feed us. Their names are warm and familiar: Sarah Lee, Betty Crocker, Chef Boyardee (now boasting a whole serving of vegetables in a can... don't get me started) teamed up with our favorite neighbor, the McDonald's, and here we are... in a health crisis that is changing society as we know it.
What the food industry has done is criminal. From the invention of high fructose corn syrup (yes, I said 'invention'... by the Japanese in 1968... funny how sugar cane and beets weren't invented, just grew there waiting to be used as food) to the chemicals, additives, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones, steroids and other toxic waste that's legally a part of most of the labels on processed food, large food corporations have done nothing but steal your health and make you fat.
But we buy into the propaganda and eat more. The 'food-like' substances that Michael Pollan describes have little or nothing to do with food in its natural state and everything to do with why we are so fat and getting fatter. A new study published in Prevention Magazine (August 2009) tells the sad results of a survey of consumers done by Duke University. Apparently, just because people see and consider the healthy salad option on a fast food menu, they feel justified in ordering the fries. It's called 'The Vicarious Goal Fulfillment Effect' and considering the salad leads people to feel better about themselves so it's okay to order junk food instead. So plan on seeing gorgeous, seductive photos of salads at each and every fast food franchise you visit. Oh... and then order the fries and the Angus Third Pounder (I guess a quarter pound of beef wasn't fulfilling enough).
Every expert agrees, from T.Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, (perhaps the greatest epidemiological study ever conducted on the effects of food on health) to Dr. Mehmet Oz that our health begins with what we put in our mouths. Quality has to take precedence over quantity in order for us to dig out of the fog of fast food and become healthy, vital humans.
The Standard American Diet has to be re-thought and I don't mean going from Kentucky Fried Chicken to Kentucky Grilled Chicken. You won't see the dramatic results we need to rescue humanity by reducing your intake of food by a few chips, a soda or two and paring away the fat on your pork chop. Nothing short of a complete re-thinking of how we feed ourselves is going to turn the tide of this epidemic of obesity that threatens the very existence of future generations.
It's time to say enough and head back to the kitchen and cook. It's easy and delicious. You're not splitting the atom; you're making dinner... and taking control of your health and waistline deliciously. I have spent most of my career teaching people to do just that.
We have to stop kidding ourselves and put a stop to the special interest groups and advertisers that just want your money. They don't care about you, your kids or your husband's heart attack. They care about their profits. It's time to return to food that was produced by the sun, earth, wind and water, not in a lab or a Petri dish. Instead of worrying about each micronutrient that advertisers tell us we need, just eat unprocessed, natural food (and exercise, but more on that later...). You'll enjoy robust health and live in a body of normal weight.
Look, in the end, we all wake up dead, as the saying goes. No dietary choices can ultimately prevent that. But wouldn't it be nice to spend your days more productively than worrying about how heavy you are and what your disease risks look like? Wouldn't it be nice to live free of the specter of preconceived illness and disability so common today? We can, you know. We just have to change how we think about food and say... enough!