Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unintelligently designed

That would be us. Frank Bruni is a restaurant critic who for some inexplicable reason was awarded an endowed chair in punditry at the NYT, but today he's writing about food so I guess that's okay. He isn't saying anything we don't already know, or that hasn't already been said right here, but it's good to repeat it and with luck, focus our attention on the real problem and possible right solutions.

The reason we (collectively speaking, not necessarily you or I specifically) keep getting fatter is simply that we're swimming in an ocean of calorie dense food. Bruni could add that we also sit on our butts all day, but that's part of the same picture. For pretty much all of the history of life on earth, but certainly including 2 million years of genus Homo, having too much to eat was pretty much never a problem. If there was abundance, it only lasted a few days, then the elephant started to rot. And the amount of work our ancestors had to do in order to get what food there was burned as many calories as they were able to eat - and that's if they were lucky. So whenever there was extra food around, people would snarf up all they could, trying to put on a couple of extra pounds to get them past the next missed meal.

That wasn't a matter of choice -- it was hard wired into their brains. And it still is. The problem is, obviously, that the situation has completely changed. We weren't designed for the current environment, we evolved in a different one.

The solution to this problem does not lie in gastric bypass surgery, or inventing a miracle diet pill, or switching to a diet of nothing but grapefruit. It lies in changing the food and calorie expenditure environment. There are ways to do this through public policy, but the industries that create the current food environment won't let it happen. Also industries that create the built environment and associated transportation system. This is fundamentally a problem of the political power of vested interests. And it's making us sick and killing us.

I'll have more to say anon.


robin andrea said...

My grandmother once said to me nearly fifty years ago, "They're going to kill us with the food." She wasn't a paranoid, but a well-read thoughtful woman. The food production industry is so much a part of the whole picture now, that it really can't be removed. Teaching people how to eat healthfully is like trying to get them to brush and floss after meals. They know it's probably good for them, but WHATEVER.

Cervantes said...

Yep, it's going to take a lot more than teaching -- most people know what they should be doing already, it seems to me.

Lauren B said...

luckily the paleo movement is having success, instead of following the conventional wisdom of low fat/high starch....what people 'know' they should be doing is wrong...but then how would the wheat/soy/cafo meat supply stay in business;
and people have been listening to the conventional wisdom, and have reduced their fat intake, but since that is not the problem, they are doomed to fail as far as obesity. of course, we have the whole diabetics type 2 industry geared to pills and insulin, instead of getting people off their carbs. and don't get me started on the statin boondoggle...which is leading to dementia...but then there's drugs for that!

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