Reality Bites

While the majority of people in the United States don’t eat fast food every day, about 25% do. Every day? Yup. Those who eat fast food, eat it a lot. Young adults, introduced to fast food as children, are the most likely to eat it – 57% (18-29 year olds) say they eat it weekly. Have compassion for these lost boys. If you think I’m being sexist, I am. More men than women eat fast food. The glimmer of good news is that most of us know it isn’t very healthy for us. The bad news? Those who eat it can’t seem to stop eating it.

We’re a fat nation, getting fatter.

Childhood obesity leads to disease. Think diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disease. Universal health care is going to be severely strained as this current crop of youngsters matures into adults with weight related health problems. Clinical obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. I swear I don’t make this shit up. The young, the poor and the uneducated are being targeted specifically by the Food Giants. I include the conglomerates like Kraft and Pillsbury that push processed food on supermarket shelves in my indictment. When the young, poor and uneducated are the ones hardest hit I call that “evil,” as I define evil as the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Perhaps you think I’m being paranoid, too conspiracy minded? I think not. Just follow the money. This is big business we’re talking about. When parents are working, busy and tired – kids are left to fend for themselves. Microwave food is convenient, and relatively safe – if I’m worried about knifes and flames etc. But is it safe? Processed food is far too salty and fiberless to be nutritious. It’s also filled with unnecessary colors and flavors not found in nature. If you think your kid is too small to be making her own food, ask yourself how people two hundred years ago fed themselves. Surely having to start a fire on a wood burning stove or pop popcorn in fireplace was more dangerous than the easy turn knobs we have home on the range today.

I taught my son how to bake bread from scratch when he was less than ten.

Make your kids dinner and they’ll eat for a day, TEACH them to cook and they’ll eat for a lifetime. A longer lifetime than they will eating ramen or mac and cheese or the little pizza snacks. Making a pizza from scratch is ridiculously easy. Takes about 20 minutes with the new fast acting yeast. Plus kids get a kick out of being creative with toppings. But I digress. My point is, and I do have one, is if you are addicted to processed/fast food – it’s not all your fault. You heard me, I used the “a” word. I’m not using it lightly. The people who design “food” for McDonalds know damn well what they are doing. The high fructose corn syrup used in their soda is so unnaturally sweet your body gets bored with regular sugar. An apple no longer tastes sweet by comparison. So of course you don’t care to eat one.

Yup, even if it comes in a “Happy Meal.”

But it gets worse. Much of yoga, original yoga, before it got married to finding your inner child, was directed toward your Real Children and their health. Those twists, pranayama and dietary edicts, like ’em or hate ’em were designed to keep intestines healthy. An average Indian vegetarian diet from the early 1900s did not include Cheetohs.  Original yoga diet was high on fiber, made up of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. I personally don’t believe one must be vegetarian to enjoy yoga, but I do believe one must eat well to enjoy life. Fiber is important in a healthy diet because fiber keeps the lining of your intestines clear, allowing your villi to absorb nutrients. What are villi? Tiny finger like projections that line the intestines to increase the surface area for nutrient absorption.

What happens when you eat fiber-less food? Well imagine pouring grease or lard or melted butter over a tube lined with bristles. Over time the bristles become coated and the passageway narrows. Less and less surface area means one needs to eat more and more food to obtain the same amount of nutrients. The coated intestines are going to be heavier. You will weigh more even though you need more. Years of poor eating can also lead to inflammation. IBS is rampant, a disease I never heard of when I was growing up. Some forms of arthritis are caused by long-term exposure to indigestible foods – hence the current gluten-free craze.

This is a double whammy to a poor person because fast food is cheap. Beans and rice are cheap too, but cooking them presupposes a person has access to range and stove, pots and pans. The poorest of the poor are couch-surfing in this economy. Speaking as someone who once lost a house I can attest to the fact that when I lived in a room in a house I had uncertain kitchen privileges. Joan didn’t say anything if I made a bowl of cottage cheese and flaxseed. The one time I baked bread? She helped herself to a big warm slice from the nicer loaf, the one I wanted to present to a friend. grrrr. I found myself eating very little, until I moved out to a more amenable situation.

Eating meat three times daily via a fast food restaurant sounds like a good idea. Sounds like a first-world problem, as my son would say. How is the average person to know that eating this food will leave them increasingly more hungry, ultimately more vulnerable to disease? Consumers assume fast food is cheap, filling and tasty. Actually the cost in health damage makes fast food indecently expensive. It is unfortunately not filling. We’re left with it’s merely addictively tasty. Health damage? Even colds, allergies and small disruptions to the body system are more common in people with vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

I’m not suggesting the CEOs got together while you were sleeping. Maybe they did, who knows. . . the point is, they didn’t have to. Each company individually has stock at stake, and together they all profit. As long as the rich and educated make their dividends the poor uneducated lack an advocate. Thirty years ago the basics of home economics were taught in Public Schools. Today? Kids are taught how to pass tests. They are taught to the tests so that the teachers score well. Critical thinking has been banished to the corner. Having a judgement is not spiritual. Have mercy!

If you or someone you know is in that 22-25% of Americans who eats fast food daily, try to quit cold turkey. I don’t think bad food is a substance one can wean off of. The smell is too potent, the advertising too ubiquitous, the taste too flavorful. In a regular restaurant one can play “eat this not that,” in a fast food restaurant you’ll lose. You’ll feel cheated eating a watery, tasteless salad – yes even if it’s been doused in the cup of dressing that comes with. Keep walking in that door and you’ll keep smelling other people’s burgers. Switch at least to the chains that advertise no MSG, no antibiotics. And start eating fiber. Today. The fiber will give you a full feeling, and that is half the battle.

The other half is getting used to food that doesn’t have so much salt. Here’s an old fashioned trick for both sugar and salt, from half a century ago: add ’em at the table. We used to buy un-frosted flakes, i.e. cornflakes, or cheerios and add sugar at the table. I know that probably sounds shocking and awful to good parents of today. The truth is sugar added at the table is only a couple teaspoons. It may not be as healthy as sugar free but it’s a damn sight better than the sugary pre-made cereals. Yes, even if it’s oatmeal. Don’t use the oatmeal with packets. But that’s enough for now.

We can talk again soon. Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam!