Columnists > Voices

Eating as entertainment

Americans have the same problem with food that Imelda Marcos had with shoes

Issue: "Social Security breach," Feb. 19, 2005

I don't think we're serious yet. A USDA food pyramid on this box of crackers in front of me has not a smidgen of whole grain anything in it. They talk fruits and vegetables in junior-high health class and serve French fries, frozen pizza, and soda pop in the cafeteria. Church meetings and donuts go so hand-in-hand that you'd think Martin Luther had founded Krispy Kreme.

OK, we can play this game for another 10 years, maybe. Meanwhile, the balance has just tipped in my fair city of Philadelphia, which officially has more overweight children than not-51 percent, up from 45 percent in 2002. Mark Twain said, "First get the facts. And then you can distort them at your leisure." Trouble is, nobody wants food facts, for the same reason that nobody wants to hear the gospel: There is so much we would have to give up.

Considering that American teens are more obese than their counterparts in 14 other industrialized countries (Lithuania, with few fast-food restaurants and little spending money, has the lowest rates), it's a cheap shot to dismiss the concerns of food-industry critics with a sneer, while tossing off nostrums about individual self-control. Doesn't the Bible always talk about the two sides: those who sin and those who cause sin? (Mark 9:24).

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Heart disease and stroke deaths (45 percent of American lives) were almost nonexistent 100 years ago. Cardiovascular illness took off after World War II, when we started eating more meat, and the food industry cranked out sugared, refined, processed, salted, and laboratory-engineered stuff to tickle our taste buds. Cows were fattened in feedlots, with no exercise, and pumped with growth hormones and antibiotics. Chickens, their beaks sawed off to cram more into overstuffed cages stacked in tiers, are force-fed till their legs buckle. (A Polish Pysanki egg painter told me she has to use hard-boiled eggs because whatever the fowl eat nowadays renders raw shells too brittle.)

Let's have muckraking! "Juices" containing 10 percent juice beckon from supermarket shelves. Products boasting "53 percent less sugar" merely decrease package size. Even Tupac knew this is bullfeathers: I overheard the late rapper's song "Changes" in which he exhorts the brothers: "We gotta change the way we live, we gotta change the way we eat. . . ."

I talk to guys every day who know what infralapsarianism is and don't know that white bread is a non-food-the best part of the wheat kernel (the fiber, vitamin, and mineral-rich bran, and the vitamin B and E-rich germ) milled off and sold for animal feed. The resulting "bread" is a bizarre concoction of the remaining white endosperm and artificial chemicals, such as propylene glycol, antifreeze (for whiteness), and calcium sulfate (plaster of Paris). Replacing four of the stripped nutrients earns it a label of "enriched."

Christians in particular have a tendency to confuse veganism with Green Party whackoism, and a (more plausible) sense that with millions dying without Christ in the 10/40 window, we have more important things to worry about. (I'm sure there's a fancy Latin name for this logical fallacy.)

Like a latter-day Imelda Marcos agonizing over where to house more shoes rather than facing the root problem of her shoe addiction, we play parlor games with public versus private healthcare proposals. If the Philippine first lady's fetish for footwear showed a shift from necessities to entertainment, America is also guilty: Sex is entertainment, shopping is entertainment, eating is entertainment. If you doubt it, who wakes up in the morning and says, "Let's see, what can I eat today to maintain optimum present and future body health for the kingdom of God?"

I gave my 15-year-old "the talk." After tackling how to look at girls (1 Timothy 5:2), we hit other body issues, like being fit for God's service. I told him "the freshman 15" isn't inevitable. I told him wisdom is a matter of "knowing the times." I advocated eating for life rather than eating for pleasure-and promised it's not unpleasant. You pays your money and you takes your choices: Start doing right or a health crisis crouches at the door.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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