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Food fight! Eat real food, part 2. July 3, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. In the first part of this series, I expressed outrage over an article in the July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic by David H. Freedman called “The Cure for Obesity: How Science Is Engineering Healthy Junk Food.” (Check out Part 1 by scrolling down.)

To recap, Mr. Freedman pours scorn and contempt on the people who are trying to get Americans to eat fresh, whole foods, claiming that the only hope is nutrient-enhanced junk food. He reserves his most biting (pardon the pun) comments for those who support local and organic foods, i.e., the people who are attemtping to restore community-centered support and chemical-free, healthful foods, as opposed to preservative-laden, disease-inducing poisons.

Mr. Freedman apparently believes that the majority of Americans are too stupid to change their dietary habits, stuffing down their Big Macs and fries and convenience-store hotdogs and Velveeta-glued chips, while of course proclaiming that he himself “scarfs down all sorts of raw vegetables like candy,” and lives in a neighborhood where there are three Whole Foods stores within a 15-minute drive from his house. I don’t know about you, but in my area, Whole Foods is just an urban legend, something that exists in upscale areas far, far away.

This divide between the haves and the have-nots is at the heart of Mr. Freedman’s argument, and it’s one of the things that leads him astray. He’s tangling up three issues: the perception that the answer to obesity is simply cutting calories, no matter how unhealthy the low-cal foods are; the urban poor’s lack of access to healthy food; and the futility of trying to get anyone to change their eating habits.

To his first point, low-cal foods in themselves, if loaded up with chemicals, sugars, and other nutrient-free substitutes for fat and flavor, are inherently unhealthy. Naturally low-cal foods like carrots, celery sticks and broccoli, dipped in low-cal salsa or nutrient-rich guacamole or protein-rich hummus, beat out any processed low-cal or no-cal food any day. (The only naturally no-cal foods are water, tea, herb tea, and black coffee.)

Far better to eat a small portion of plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with tomatoes or berries or unsweetened apple butter than nonfat fruit yogurt filled with sugars, preservatives, gelatin, and God knows what else. Portion control is legitimate; naturally low-cal foods like raw veggies are legitimate; equating all foods based on calorie content alone is not legitimate.

Yes, I could eat a handful of almonds or a couple of pieces of pork “rinds” and the calorie content might be the same, but the almonds would be nourishing and heart-healthy, while the pork rinds would be a heart attack in the waiting. Depsite Mr. Freedman’s blanket assertion, all calories are not created equal.

Then there’s the issue of the urban poor. Mr. Freedman’s contention, which is in line with a lot of nutritionists’ views, is that in poor inner-city areas, people only have access to convenience stores to do their grocery shopping, and that, since convenience stores typically sell junk food, that’s what people buy and eat.

I’ve certainly seen convenience stores that sell nothing but hot dogs, sodas, sausage, pizzas, candy, chips, and the like. But in my area, I’ve also seen far from upscale convenience stores that sell healthy sandwiches and wraps, salads, fruit, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, veggies and hummus, fruit cups, nuts and sunflower and pumpkinseeds (pepitas), as well as milk, water, healthy juices, even coconut water. I’ve seen plenty of convenience stores here and on my travels that partner with Subway to provide low-cost sandwiches that can be lower-calorie and far healthier than burgers and fries or fried chicken.

But whatever the case for that, the focus of making sure the urban poor have access to affordable fresh fruit, veggies, and other healthy options is important. But it’s not a reason to attack the people who are trying to promote eating more fresh, local, in-season foods. Instead, it should be a point of common cause, making sure those foods get into poor urban areas. Trust me, the folks who live there will know how to cook them better than you.

Which brings me to the arrogance of Mr. Freedman’s final argument: That we Americans are just too addicted to our Big Macs and fries to even contemplate switching to, say, baked chicken or a broiled steak, a baked potato or baked sweet potato, green and yellow wax beans or asparagus or broccoli, and a salad. Or fill in the blank for any of the above: pesto pasta, eggplant rollatini, stir-fry over rice, grilled or roasted veggies, homemade pizza with tons of veggie toppings, dal, curry and rice, tacos or burritos with all the fixings.

There are so many options, and Mr. Freedman denies us all of them. Apparently, we’re too dumb to buy whole ingredients and cook them. We’ll just balloon up and then blow up unless we eat scientifically modified junk food, and nothing but, while he “scarfs down” his raw veggies. He may content himself envisioning us gorging on stuffed pretzels while he indulges himself in pretzel logic. But I say shame, shame on him, for deriding whole foods and endorsing chemically and genetically modified junk food for the masses.

Mr. Freedman, what are you really saying? Your attitude has sparked revolutions; you might want to look them up. And eat some convenience-store hot dogs and other junk food before you endorse it in future. Oh, yum! Isn’t it marvelous?

‘Til next time,

Silence

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