I have been thinking about the American diet for some time, and decided I wanted to write about my perspective. I think if I were to write this all in one post, I would lose most of my readers, so I have decided to split it up. I want to begin this discussion with a parable. While the situation is true, it is symbolic of the way our American diet has developed.
Some family members of mine adopted a friendly labrador retriever. As with most labs, this dog loved to eat. She especially loved to eat human food. Her owners gave her dog food, but would occasionally slip in a treat of human food. I'm sure it began by giving her some of the scraps from their dinner plate. But it escalated to the point that they would actually cut off a piece of the meat to give to her. With time, this dog grew fat. She grew so fat that she began to have problems with her hips. She grew so fat that she developed diabetes. Her owners knew that she was too fat, but by this time, the dog refused to eat her dog food unless some human food was added. At first they merely sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on top of the dog food. When the dog tired of that, they began adding canned vegetables, or meat scraps from dinner. By this time, because the dog was diabetic, it was imperative that she eat on time. She had begun to require insulin shots, and so her blood sugar levels were very precarious. Her owners would do whatever it took to ensure that she ate. But giving her table scraps just increased her weight. She eventually went blind from the diabetes. She lost all energy, and just laid around all day doing nothing. The inactivity increased her obesity. And the obesity exacerbated her hip dysplasia, making it more difficult to walk. In the end, the dog became quite ill and died.
This progression from good healthy dog food, to high-calorie human food was slow, and once the cycle began, it was difficult to stop, but the same cycle happens with humans. Babies sometimes balk at different food offered them. The parents worry that they child isn't getting enough to eat, so they stop feeding them that food, and move on to other foods. As the child grows older, the parents are concerned that the child won't grow properly if they don't eat, so they offer the child whatever they are willing to eat. Many of the highly processed foods taste good, and make them feel full more quickly. So children begin to refuse to eat anything except "chicken nuggets", or macaroni and cheese. They usually refuse all vegetables, and most fruits. The parents instinctively know that this isn't the best diet for them, but they are concerned for the child's health, so they continue to give them what they want, just to make sure they eat.
The secret that most parents don't recognize is that just like the dog, a child will eat anything if it is hungry enough. If my relatives had offered only dog food, their dog might have balked and refused to eat. But I guarantee that after a day or so of no food, their dog would eventually eat what it was given. The same goes for children. If the parents offer the child the food, and the child refuses to eat, the parents can let the child go without. It may take a few hours, or it may take until the next day, but eventually the child will get hungry enough that it will eat the food. When the child is hungry, they could try offering the food that the child didn't eat at meal time. I guarantee that the child will not want to go hungry for long. Does this sound mean? Which is more mean, to let a child get good and hungry, or to teach them bad eating habits that could have life long repercussions?
My husband and I like fish, but we made the mistake of giving in to our children's dislike of fish. They threw such a stink when we made fish, that we just stopped making it. After my two older children left home, we began to make fish for our younger kids. Over time, they began to try it, and both learned to like it. Just like with the dog, if you don't offer the "tasty" options, children will eat what is given them.
But this doesn't apply only to children. We adults tend to pick and choose which foods we will eat, and which ones we won't eat. I remember a young man I knew while I was serving my mission, who would only eat one particular chinese dish. It was a bowl of rice with a little bit of a meat sauce poured on top. I cannot imagine eating this day after day, but he was afraid to try anything else, because the food wasn't what he grew up eating. There are foods I don't like, but every so often I eat them anyway because I know that over time our tastes change, and I might have developed a taste for it.
Right now, Americans are some of the most obese people on the planet. Typically they choose high calorie, low nutrition foods to eat. Many eat mostly fast food, which is ridiculously high in calories, sodium, and fat. Maybe the wealth of food in America is partly to blame. Maybe if Americans let themselves get good and hungry, they would be more willing to eat the foods they previously shunned. I know if they do, that in the long run they will avoid many health problems, and will love longer lives.
Stay tuned for another future post on the subject of the failing American diet. I have much more to say about this subject!