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The American Experience: Comfort Above All Else

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This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.

Every day, about a quarter of all Americans visit one of the 300,000 fast food establishments across the U.S. to purchase a meal. Every year, the average American household spends $1,200 on new electronics to replace their phones, cameras, computers and gaming systems before they are truly at the end of their lifespan. Two seemingly unrelated statistics, right? Wrong. Both pieces of data reveal the underlying truth of the "American experience": the value of comfort. The importance of human and environmental health is constantly preached in the U.S., yet it is disregarded every day for convenience and ease. The entire nation is infused with a fervor to make their lives as comfortable as possible at any cost, and whether they care or not, it's proving to be detrimental.

Americans hardly seem to be bothered by the fact that convenience continuously trumps health in their eating choices. The NPD Group, a company composed of economists who research the North American market, reported that the nation has a growing want for easier meals. The vice president of the NPD group and author of Eating Patterns in America, Harry Balzer, stated in 2006 that "the driving force in our eating habits has always been convenience." The report noted that more that 25,000 households choose their evening meal because it is easy to make. Fifty percent said it is because it takes little to no planning. A surprisingly low priority for families appeared to be "looking for a healthy, nutritious meal." Households clearly prefer the ease of meals over the nutritional value of meals. It can be argued that this preference could be a factor in the increase of 219 percent in childhood obesity since 1980, and a more than 100 percent increase in diabetes over the last decade. Such astounding statistics really demonstrate the critical point of the wellness of Americans, and call attention to their inclination towards comfort rather than health.

Now, what about the environment that everyone claims to be so "concerned" about? The Shelton Group, a company consisting of environmentalists focused on energy-efficiency and sustainability, polled 1,600 American consumers to conclude that while most Americans are looking for greener products, they will choose comfort before the environment when given a choice. For example, only seven percent responded that they were willing to give up their computers, 21 percent said they could give up their cell phones, and 35 percent admitted they could live without their dishwashers. "It means a lot of people simply won't take on green projects, or buy a green product if they have to go to a different store to find it or if it somehow takes away from their personal comfort," said Suzanne Shelton, founder of the group. While there is an unnecessarily immense amount of advanced technology being produced today to further ease the lives of American consumers, the problem is not the products themselves or the amount and rate of production of the electronics -- it is the nation's reliance on these technologies. This dependence makes it hugely difficult to make the national switch over to greener products, portraying the clear victory of comfort over environmental health.

Proponents of this "American experience" may argue that comfort and convenience are what makes our country beautiful, and that it is harmless to ease and better our lifestyles by extricating ourselves from things that merely complicate our lives. However, my main complaint lies not with the comfort of the American lifestyle, but the dismissal of the nation's declining health in both its people and its environment. I'm certainly not demanding the halt of fast food consumption and use of technology, but how hard could it be to simply increase our nutritional food options and eco-friendly products? Would it kill us to reduce the unnecessary replacements of "outdated" electronics that are still properly functioning? These solutions are certainly possible, and steps are already being taken to achieve them. The popular fast food restaurant, Chipotle has now switched to organic ingredients and there are more and more "green" cell phones and laptops on the market every day. Perhaps, once the issue is completely resolved, the American experience will be one of not only comfort, but also health and efficiency. Imagine if these three values, together, made up what America was all about. How's that for bettering our lifestyles?