It seems ironic to say the least that the current so-called health care debate contains no discussion about health. The health of twenty first century Americans is horrific and it’s horrific because of two factors: poor diet and lack of daily physical exertion. Actually I feel it’s more like one or the other because a very physical lifestyle can make up for quite a few poor food choices and a well-thought out diet can accommodate a sedentary lifestyle, but when you have neither that’s when the big problems start. Bottom line is that we drive too much and we eat too much processed food.
I was very disappointed to see how much new road construction is in President Obama’s stimulus package. We shouldn’t build a single new road. Instead we should be maintaining the existing infrastructure while phasing in bicycle lanes and mass transit. The American ideal of driving solo in an SUV from the home garage to the office garage is unsustainable.
When I lived in Japan I walked a mile and an half from the train station to the office, I found walking along either daydreaming or conversing with my co-workers – running into a co-worker was inevitable as there was no parking at the office so everyone walked – very enjoyable. Imagine how many gyms would be selling off their equipment and how many stupid diet plans would go by the wayside if office workers had to walk a mile each morning and afternoon to and from the desk chair. I won’t even go into the social and mental benefits that come from daily interaction with one’s community.
The most efficient method of traveling from point A to point B is by bicycle. It is also supremely enjoyable. Unfortunately most American cities, especially those west of the Eastern seaboard were designed for cars; cars and only cars. I ride my bike in Seattle on a nearly everyday basis, so there is no need to tell me how dangerous cycling is, and I don’t blame folks for not wanting to go to two wheels for fear of their lives. If we want people to ride we have to build bike lanes, or to borrow a line from the movie that made my home state famous: if you build it they will come.
Far-sighted officials in Copenhagen re-worked their streets to make their city more bike-friendly and now bicycling is the single most popular way of getting around town. An entire industry of commuter specific bicycles was resurrected from the ashes: check out this cool company http://www.velorbis.com. In order for bicycle commuting to take off it first needs to be safe and that means dedicated bike lanes. I would have no problem paying a $2.00 a gallon tax on gasoline or paying road tolls if I knew that the money would be dedicated towards bicycle lanes and mass transit. I would then have a choice: either take the easy way and sit in my car or take the hard, but cheaper and usually quicker, way via bicycle or mass transit. Oh I can already hear the automobile lobbyists, the auto insurance lobbyists, the oil lobbyists, the road construction lobbyists, the pharmaceutical and medical lobbyists (healthy people are bad for business) screaming in the halls of Congress.
The second leg of the American health disaster is the Western diet. The problem with the Western diet can be summed up in two words: processed foods. What’s wrong with processed foods you might ask, well the answer is simple: too much fat, too much sugar, too much salt.
Our Stone Age ancestors were continually in search of three things: fat, sugar and salt. The human who had a lust for these three items survived, breed and passed on to his/her offspring these same desires. Fortunately ten thousand plus years ago fat sugar and salt were all very difficult to find. Fat, mostly from game, was a rare delicacy, sugar, mostly from fruits, was seasonal and salt was found in only a few locations and therefore was one of the first trading commodities. We humans are wired to crave fat, sugar and salt, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
In our current age of lot-fed beef, high fructose corn syrup and salt mines the size of large cities food scientists have exploited our weaknesses by packing their food substitutes (I don’t consider it real food) with good old fat, sugar and salt. The inertia behind our current agribusiness culture is staggering. We simply have so much invested in monoculture, feed lots, mega poultry farms, herbicides, pesticides, Round-Up Ready seeds and so on that change seems unlikely. I’ll guarantee you that ADM isn’t going down without a fight. I suppose all can do is do the best you can for yourself and your family. The best way to start is by avoiding the inner aisles at the grocery store, do that one thing and you’ll both lose excess weight and feel better.