Saturday, June 08, 2013

If guns kill people, spoons make them fat.

I was watching a thing the other day in which British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver worked in Los Angeles to try to convince the school boards to give students better food (ie; less pizza, chips and chicken nuggets) in their cafeteria lunches. He worked with a group of students to whom he taught basic culinary skills and nutrition, and it all seemed to go quite well. The kids, and some of their parents, responded well and after some difficulties, general improvement became the order of the day.

At one point, he asked the kids if any of their family members were suffering from a chronic diet-related illness like diabetes or obesity or heart trouble. One of the kids, just 16 years old and herself significantly overweight (though I'd say not obese) said that both her parents and her 13 year old sister had type 2 diabetes and she was terribly afraid that she would develop the disease. Jamie was very helpful, telling her that these things can be greatly helped by improved diet (and exercise, but the show didn't record him talking about that part) and that it could be avoided all together if she put her mind to changing things. She was in tears several times and it was all very affecting and heartwarming, etc.

On another part of the same show, Jamie was working with the owner of a fast food joint to bring up the level of nutrition in his place without increasing cost. The man was very resistant, however, so Jamie arranged a meeting with the girl and the man, in which she told him about her family's health troubles that, she said, had come from a steady diet of fast food. The man was mostly unmoved, and the idea was that he was very hard-of-heart, but at one point he said, "Well, there's an element of choice about this, isn't there."

Ah. There, as they say, is the rub.

I don't remember once in the programme a moment when Jamie, or anyone else, suggested that the people suffering from diet-related illness have a choice in what they eat. That, essentially, they not only had only themselves to blame, they could drastically improve their situation by making different choices. No one holds a gun to their heads, or a spoon to their lips, and demands that they eat nothing but crap. I've been to American supermarkets, and while it is true that they are filled to bursting with the most guddawful prepackaged rubbish, every, single one of them has a produce section.

The health (and social) problems the kids and adults experienced and talked about so tearfully on the show were treated as though it was something that simply fell on their heads from the sky. They talked about "it happening to me," as though it was a kind of evil spell cast on them by fast food purveyors and the carelessness of the school boards' dieticians. The show was premised on the idea that if schools just provided better food for kids, they'd be healthier.

But wait, since when did schools start being the source of all food in a kid's life? Or the source of all information about what was and was not good for them to eat? When I was in school, it was more or less taken for granted that the kid knew the basic necessities of how to walk, talk, dress himself and eat before he got there. The school was there to teach him math and reading skills. The attitude seemed to be that it was normal for the school to be a primary source of food for these kids. Which I thought was really weird. And if we assume that this is the kind of role that is appropriate for schools, why wasn't anyone at the school calling the parents of the fat kids in and talking to them about what they were eating? It seemed that the whole message was that these poor kids, and their poor parents, were being forced to eat badly and be unhealthy. Not once did anyone seem to suggest that any of them take the slightest responsibility for what had happened to them.

It was indeed heartbreaking to see the kids in this show, most of whom were about 15 or 16, and nearly all fat. I know they don't go their entire lives without hearing that junk food makes you fat, or being told, at least by someone, that a steady diet of fast food-joint burgers and fries (or in the case of Britain, frozen chicken tikka masala meals) will cause significant long-term damage to their health. I've seen the ads on tv, I've seen the magazines, the dietary charts in every doctor's office, every school nurse's room and plastered all over the walls of classrooms. The information is there and it is simply absurd to suggest that until the day Jamie Oliver showed up in their school, no one in their collective lives had ever suggested to them that they needed to eat properly to stay healthy. It's kinda intuitive.

But we don't live in a world that tells people to be responsible, and to face the consequences of their decisions. Funny, isn't it, that the kids have probably heard nearly all their lives, (and in Britain, absolutely certainly have) that they need to make "responsible choices" about sex. (Which means, "Got an urge? Go ahead, knock yourselves out but use a condom, and if it breaks, get an abortion... Here, let us help with that.") British school children are bombarded with precisely this "safe sex" advice from early primary grades to graduation and beyond.

But the thing about all that is that the message isn't actually about making responsible choices. It's about avoiding the consequences of indulging your whims and appetites. We have an entire culture that is totally addicted to appetite. Is there anyone left who is surprised that the kids are fat? And that they are having illicit sexual relations as casually as you and I go shopping for socks? Everything in our world tells us that we can do whatever we want all the time - and heaven help anyone who suggests a little self-control! - and there will be no consequences whatsoever. Pregnant? For heaven sake! get an abortion as fast as you can!

Is it possible that the "safe sex" message has percolated down to infect everything else? "Safe sex" really means totally unrestrained indulgence, which kids are told will have no long-term consequences as long as they're "responsible". Kids aren't stupid (no, really!) they've heard the underlying message loud and clear: "Indulge every single one of your appetites, every single time they bother you. Nothing bad will happen, and if it does, the school/state will step in and help you avoid the consequences". And this message has been sold to them by every one of their authority figures. Kids respond to authority. So, completely surrounded by a culture of total indulgence, how are we surprised that the kids are fat, flabby and out of shape? And getting diabetes at 13? And getting pregnant? And getting STDs?

Frankly, I like frozen chicken tikka masala meals, and ate plenty of them in Britain. I also like fast food, beer, pizza (esp. Roman pizza), pasta, bread, cake, chocolate, prosecco, gelato and pie. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd eat nothing else. I also, though this is changing lately, like sitting around on the sofa more than I like exercising; it's certainly easier. But I know if I choose these things, I'm going to be very, very sorry afterwards.

When I was done with surgery last year, I weighed about 73 kilos, and (once the swelling had gone down) looked pretty good, actually. It was quite heartening and helped a lot with my mental state... for a while. What didn't was the news that between the removal of ... well, between the type of surgery I'd had, and the drugs I was now going to have to be on, as well as my age, my metabolism had slowed to next to nothing, and the average weight gain was between 25 and 40 pounds. Lovely. And it was shortly after this that a sense of hopelessness came over me, and I sank into a depression that lasted until the spring.

But I did the reading and though the news was not the best I'd ever heard, it wasn't the worst. It wasn't inevitable. There were things I could do. And really, it's not rocket science. Reduce carbs (including sugars) and get regular exercise, 20-30-40 minutes a day. And it doesn't have to be really strenuous exercise either; just walking up the steep hills in town, or biking every day, plus a few sit-ups and push-ups and whatnot to improve muscle tone, and I'd be right as rain.

But I didn't do them. I didn't eat a lot of junk, but I did spend the last year until April mostly staying at home, not exercising and drinking a lot of wine (mmmmboy! nothing like inactivity and a lot of prosecco to make post-operative depression better! I tell ya). And guess what? I gained more than 20 pounds. Am I complaining now to the heavens that I've been hard done by? Am I trying to blame the prosecco manufacturers? Am I even surprised?

Ah, no. It was me and the choices I made and these are the consequences of them. I knew perfectly well what I was doing and what would happen. (And yes, I'm doing something about it now.)

This is also the basis of the argument between the gun control people and the law abiding gun owners. It's true that guns don't kill people. People kill people, often using guns. It is statistically verifiable that in many places with strict gun control laws there are serious problems with gun crime. I'm not suggesting that this is a cause-and-effect thing. I don't think gun control laws cause increases in gun crime. But I do think that in cultures where people are told all the time that they can and should indulge their every whim, violent crime rates go up. And in these societies-of-indulgence, it is equally impressed upon the populace that while they are indulging their appetites and whims, the government will take care of all their problems, including that of violent crime.

We live in such a culture and it seems clear that as long as we continue to maintain the Fantasy that we can indulge all our whims and appetites without consequences, violent crime will continue to plague us. It isn't confiscation of the guns of law abiding people that will decrease gun crime. It's returning to a culture that tells people, from childhood up, that there are consequences to the choices they make, and that these consequences can't be avoided.

There is a reason gun control is a favourite hobby-horse of the left, the left that wants no one to take personal responsibility for their actions and choices. It's the left that thinks the solution to every problem is to have someone in authority take care of it, to have the Mummy State come and clean up their mess. It's the same left that has spent the last 40 or 50 years pushing the notion that kids should have as much sex as they want, every time they want, and that the state should pay for the abortions, or keep the single mothers in high style in their council houses. The same left that decided to make divorce easier. To spread artificial contraceptives to every school child. To put a Planned Parenthood abortion mill in every black neighbourhood in the US.

Indulge, indulge, the consequences aren't your fault

But the Real here is that it's not guns that create violent crime, and it's not spoons that makes us fat.



The Crescat said...

Actually, in poorer urban and rural areas the only time kids eat is at school because there is no food at home or no one at home to prepare it. The big food initiative for our scout troop is collecting food for these kids and providing for them during the summer. Because they won't eat or live off boxes of mac-n-cheese.There is a reason why lower income families have a higher rate of obesity. It's a lot more complicated than just putting down the spoon.

Dymphna said...

I'm really sick of Jamie Oliver. Does he want to cook or does he want to tell the rest of us how to live?

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

From what Cat said above, it sounds like Jamie's doing what needs to be done. I could hardly believe the deterioration of daily domestic culture in Britain when I lived there. In my family it was different. Auntie Gill and Uncle Mike were kind of holding back the flood and keeping British. But we were surrounded by a sea of modernia and people were forgetting their culture, most especially food and domestic culture. There are three whole generations now who don't know how, seriously, to make a pot of tea. Who have fed their (porky) kids on frozen takeaway chicken tikka masala meals all their little lives. I went to Gerry the Butcher and asked for soup bones and lambs kidneys and he mostly gave them to me for nothing and next to nothing because he said no one knew what to do with them. And this was in affluent and civilised Tattenhall. I can only imagine what horrors of de-culturation are found in places like Birmingham and Manchester. There are a lot of people in Britain, and I imagine in the US, who desperately need to be told how to live.

The Crescat said...

You're absolutely right. It's more the deterioration of domestic life than an obesity issue. My great grandmother... GREAT grandmother ... was the last woman in our family who knew how to cook. Can you imagine! Since the 50's no woman in our family made a single thing that wasn't microwaved or started out from a box. Of course, you have to look at the family to understand why this "convenience" in preparing meals was preferred. My grandmother was a single mom, as was my mom, as I am now. We are all fatties. I am trying to break the cycle and took cooking and nutrition classes. So yes. Some people do need help and told how to eat and yes, personal responsibility is in order as well.

I can blame my mom for being a lousy cook and feeding me fries and burgers 3xs a week or just accept she was a busy woman who didn't have all day to cook healthy meals and did the best she could with her time and available resources. Then just try my darnedest not to repeat her patterns and learn from her mistakes.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Dear God! What was your great grandmother doing when she wasn't teaching your grandmother to cook? It's kind of the mother's main job.

This is something that I find utterly mindboggling about American culture. When I was a kid, we thought of fast food as a treat that one had now and then, which meant not more than once a month or less. Actually, my mother usually regarded it as simply poison and she loved me too much to want to kill me or make me unhealthy. Crap food was crap health.

Why do Americans regard fast food as a normal thing to feed to kids? It's completely astounding.

The Crescat said...

We don't regard it as normal. We know it's total garbage. It's the convenience that is appealing.

When you work 8-10 hours a day and are simply exhausted when you get home, it's easy and cheap to drive through a burger joint and bring home dinner. When you are running around between work, scouts and sports the drive through is simply right there.

On those nights where I am running around after work I have to bring dinner to work with me. Luckily I have a full kitchen here so I can store it in the fridge then cook it at 4pm so it will be hot & ready at 5pm. We picnic in the car at the church parking lot. This is a huge ordeal that requires getting ready the night before and packing up the car. It's terribly inconvenient, but it's this or drive through garbage. And to be honest I don't have the energy or even remember to do this more than 2 xs a month.

Not everyone has the time & resources for such an undertaking twice a week. I rarely do myself. Momma gets tired, ya know.

My grandmother knew how to cook but gave up in the 50's after her divorce and she had to go back to work. Divorce, working moms, family break down... all that is the cause of the obesity epidemic.

I can assure you no one I know thinks fast food is an indulgence. No one I know really even enjoys eating the crap. It's just there and convenient.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Life really isn't meant to be lived one or two people at a time. You just need help.

Anonymous said...

Dear God! What was your great grandmother doing when she wasn't teaching your grandmother to cook?

Earning money to keep the roof over their heads, I would imagine. - Karen

Anonymous said...

But there are ways to get around the fast food debacle and save money. A rotisserie chicken at the market costs $7 is the DC area. Plus a bag of frozen veggies and seasonal fruit that would feed a family of four for less than Mcdonalds. A loaf of bread, PB and fruit for about $10 which comes to about 7 sandwiches. Last I looked the bigger Mickie-Dee sandwiches alone were about $2.50 -3.00 for the fancy ones.

The fast food is a rip off with meat product pastes and refined carbs. Yes it takes time and effort to break the habit but it can be done. Plus the gain of energy and health will make the rest of one's life easier.


Anonymous said...

Also people could spend time with their poor stupid fat neighbors and show them a different way to live, except oddly enough people generally don't react well to condescension.

It's hard to learn to how to cook if you didn't grow up doing it. I grew up with a good cook who had taught himself and with a family culture of proper meals; I also grew up in a region famous for very, very good food and no longer live there, so I cook in order to get what I expect.

I did not grow up in a region that did a lot of other things that Americans think are proper and normal for children, and I have a very, very hard time adjusting to those expectations. People treat me like I am some combination of stupid and bad for failing at those expectations. Since I'm a normal human person, this makes me dig in my heels and refuse to see where they might be right and focus on where their lives are stupid and wrong (and making them fat and unhealthy). But apparently I am also some kind of special magical person because I appear to be the only person in these conversations who ever makes the connection - you can't help people if you start from the assumption that they're stupid and/or bad.

People have GOOD REASONS for not cooking. If you cook you have to forego doing other things. Now I gather that in the UK the other things that would be foregone are watching TV and domestic violence, so maybe they don't have good reasons in the UK, but in the US it's different. People are working terribly hard and burdening them further will sink them, and their children have no one else.

You never hear someone say "I am concerned about my friends and neighbors' diets, I will cook something nice for them and bring it over or invite them to dinner." It's always "cooking is so easy why don't they do it." If it's so easy, do more of it and share.

This is very closely related to the point I was making about homeschooling. No one wants to face up to the limited capacity of your average person. - Karen

HJW said...

Karen, I think they actually have bad and lazy reasons for eating badly.

Cat used the word above: convenience.

Anonymous said...

I know some bad and lazy people but none of them are raising children in the US. Again, I think the UK is very different, but in the US mostly people are good and working really, really hard. - Karen

Anonymous said...

Karen: That is bogus: I do not cook and I eat cheaper than if ate fast food. And that doesn't mean people are stupid or bad. It does mean that it seems like people are exchanging freedom for a slavery of "convenience". I know Sisters, vow of poverty and all that can make a bags of rice, frozen veggies and chicken feed 20+ people. Plus they work all day and say their office.

I do agree with you though fast food living is part of our cultures. And because of that sometimes it is hard to even find real food. _-Learning

Anonymous said...

OK, I guess I have nicer friends than everybody else. Thanks for sucking up the time and attention of the lazy slackers so I can hang with the industrious and prudent! - Karen