Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big Food is Making Us Fat and Sick

One of my favorite food writers, Michael Pollan, has a brilliant op-ed in the New York Times today:

I found myself just nodding in agreement with everything Michael had to say. Essentially, the biggest problem with Health Care in America today is not the health care system. The biggest problem, and the reason why we spend so much on health care is that we, as a country, eat too much junk and as a result are too fat.

According to Pollan we are spending $145 billion to treat obesity, $116 to treat diabetes and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer linked to the Western diet (i.e., lots of fat, processed foods and too many calories).

As Michael wrote here:

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about
putting a farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea of taxing soda.

I'm all for taxing soda and junk food. Let's get real, the country is going broke and they need to raise taxes somewhere. The already tax cigarettes and alcohol, so why not tax something that is potentially even more damaging to our health? You can drink that Pepsi or Coke and eat those Twinkies, but you should pay extra for doing so to offset the health care costs you'll incur later on (which are passed on to all of us through higher insurance premiums).

Maybe the extra costs will even dissuade people from consuming junk foods, just as high cigarette taxes have worked to cut down the number of smokers.

But, it's unlikely to happen in the short term. The reason no one is focusing in on this issue is that agribusiness is so strong, that reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming health care.

As Michael wrote:

But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the
food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune
500 that has concluded the current system is unsustainable.
That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged
to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.
The market for prescription drugs and medical devices to manage Type 2 diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control estimates will afflict one in three Americans born after 2000, is one of the brighter spots in the American economy. As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in
amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise.

It's plainly obvious that our government is not going to protect us and our children from agribusiness. We have to take the steps to just so "no" to food that has been processed to the point that it is nothing more than fat-inducing calories.

We have to vote with our wallets and not buy conglomerate food. Instead, we need to sustain ourselves with locally grown food that is not only more nutritious, but less fattening.


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