Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Weight A Minute Mr. Postman

So I've not been vigilant with my writing as of late. Truth be told, I've not been particularly vigilant about a lot of things as of late. I'm not going to list the excuses, nor make apologies. I'm not sure what the point would be, and I'm quite sure no one but me would be interested in considering the reasons for my lack of vigilance in writing, eating, studying, etc.  Luckily for me (and for all of us), the past is past and life is a process of creation. This means every morning brings with it a chance to start anew.

Maybe I should be sharing with you what I've been up to for the last month. Or perhaps I should use this space to rant about the election results. Or maybe should I be telling you all that I have learned thusfar in graduate studies.  But I'm not going to. Instead I am going to rant, possibly rave and maybe say something worth thinking about, but that's a big maybe considering the late hour and the fact that I'm suffering from both back and head aches.

So today I paid $63 to have my willpower managed by a large corporate entity that makes Billions of dollars repackaging the Canadian Food Guide and selling it to people who want to lose weight, and want support in doing so. Yes folks, that's right, I joined Weight Watchers.

Now, you might think me rather cynical based on the tone above, but I'm not. I simply find it fascinating that we are willing to fork over $15 a week to step on a scale and let someone else see the number that appears! And we're quite happy to take the time to Point our foods so we don't eat in excess, but actually going to the local farmer's market to buy decent food (i.e. the kind of food that if eaten in proper portions would ensure weight was never an issue) is not worth the time or money. 

What gives? Why are we spending so much money and time on a system that is available to us at no cost via the Canadian Government's food guide? Or heck, if you don't trust the government, simply follow the tenants of Michael Pollan's book 'In Defense of Food'. This book truly is the prescription to a healthy diet: eat food (and Pollan's definition of food excludes all imitation foods such as margarine, hydrogenated thingies, low-fat/no-fat substitutes, etc.),  eat mostly leafs (yay spinach!), and don't eat too much. 

Oh, but let's face it, it's not that simple. We've surely gotten ourselves into a wee mess of a diet and lifestyle here in the Western world. How did we manage to get rid of basically everything good in our diet, while simultaneously replacing it with basically everything bad for our body? Not to mention our physical activity..or lack thereof. Well, in any case it seems we've forgotten something that, to every other species on the planet, is purely intuitive. We forgot how to eat.  

And now we are bombarded with messages every day telling us how to eat, telling us that we can eat whatever we want and lose weight, telling us it's the Omega 3s or the antioxidants that matter. Right.  When did food get so complicated? Or, more precisely, when did we decide to make food so complicated?  I daresay it was right around the same time we, as a society, decided to make everything else in our lives complicated by embracing economies of scale and the miracles of laboratory science. 

Last week I was at a conference (this is what they make us do at grad school !), and the focus was on 'Functional food and Natural Health Products'. So I listened to the speakers (most of them corporate reps or researchers) talk about soybeans, GMOs, the whole gambit. And all I could think was how amazingly effective we've become at repackaging and marketing nature's goods at premium prices.  Hmmm. The two things that bothered me the most (and trust me, there is a long list) were the following comments by speakers: 

1. 'We have to become more efficient at growing food because the population is increasing'.

THis from the the GMO advocate. OK, fair enough, the population on planet Earth is growing. But the question to ask is: why is the population growing? The very simple answer - because we are feeding it.  Yes, that's right, an amazing concept: feeding life begets more life.  And if you look at a graph of human population over the centuries you'll notice a remarkable thing - the population never reached more than  1 billion....until the last agricultural revolution. You know, the one where we became more efficient at growing food.  So yes, our efficiency has resulted in a population explosion. Some would argue there is nothing wrong with this as growth begets growth (of human innovation and evolution). But then you've got a wee problem called the ecosystem, upon which our survival as a species is totally dependent. ANd this ecosystem is built to accommodate species that follow a normal peak-ebb in population numbers. The ecosystem is NOT built for sustained growth of ANY species, particularly the one at the top of the food chain.  The more of us there are, the fewer there are of everything else on this planet and eventually...that will translate into fewer of us.  My point being this: we don't need more food production. 

2. 'FOr the first time in recorded history of ten thousand years our children will not outlive us. They will die at a younger age than their parents due to the health issues that they are experiencing - heart disease, diabetes, child obesity'.

What? Really? Has it really only taken two generations for the Western diet and lifestyle to wreak havoc on a generation of children born in 'times of plenty'? What does this mean for the health care system? What about the future of our workforce? What about China, India and all the other fast-developing countries that are adopting western diets and ways of life? What kind of legacy are we passing on to these nations that are steeped in eons of traditional culture and richly unique diets?  How did this happen and what can we do about it?  Who's to blame? And who's responsible for addressing this problem? 

OK, enough for now. 


Shannon Courtney said...

Post Script - I lost 6 pounds my first week on WW

Jen said...

Great post Shan :) I will answer each and everyone of your questions, because I am awesome, and have knowledge that extends all universal limitations.


I know!

Has it really only taken two generations for the Western diet and lifestyle to wreak havoc on a generation of children born in 'times of plenty'?
It's hard to define where one generation ends and the next begins (unless you have children), but the Western Diet + lifestyle have "flourished" (eek) in the past decade or two. Crappy food is just so accessible, and pathetically addicting. The brief sugar rushes, the excessive fake flavour, etc. While I don't think we are going to see a crazy high percentage of our children die at 45 years, I do think we'll see increased sugery, doctor visits, and such. People with bad knees from too much weight on them, people with poor vision from stress on little parts of the spine I do not know the name of. But we'll makes a kazillion prescription drugs designed to fight the effects, rather than be proactive and prevent them to begin with.

What does this mean for the health care system?
It'll be stressed by people who haven't looked after themselves, rather than by those who are fighting something that could not have been prevented.

What about the future of our workforce?
Decreased productivity? More people on health-related disability benefits? Huge opportunities for entrepreneurs :S

What about China, India and all the other fast-developing countries that are adopting western diets and ways of life?
I realise businesses are about making a few dollars (i.e., fast food chains expanding rapidly through Asia and recently 'opened up' markets) but it's kind of sad that THAT is the best North America has to offer. That being sad, no one is forced to partake in such western diets and lifestyles... it's just so easy. Not cooking is easier than cooking. Not exercising is easier than exercising. Driving is easier than walking. We're (the general NA population, not us in particular) lazy. Frankly, the long term effect on other countries will likely be similar as to the effects here, just perhaps a few decades later. Maybe we are really just being proactive with our industries: make people overweight and have many health problems, learn how to deal w/ side effects, do same to other countries, sell them our wonderful prodcuts to deal with the side effects.

What kind of legacy are we passing on to these nations that are steeped in eons of traditional culture and richly unique diets?
Probably not the best one, ha! But hey, at least through this whole "globalization thing" we now get their food too. Frankly, I enjoy the odd pineapple, curry dish, etc. We definitely got the better end of this. "Here are delicious spices and strange, wonderful fruits." "Thanks! Here is a hot dog and potato for you. Ketchup?"

How did this happen and what can we do about it?
Industrial revolution! The widespread use of videogames! And, OBVIOUSLY, Marilyn Mansion. Apparently he is blame for a LOT.

Who's to blame?
Clearly Al-Queada. It's fun blaming them for things.

And who's responsible for addressing this problem?
Everyone is responsible for themselves, we all have the power to say yes or no :)

I have to work now... but so... much... to say...