Saturday, October 31, 2015

Uncle Sam wants you to be obese!

The other day, I went with the friend to eat at Chipotle.  Hey, the term is underway and I do not have the time anymore to cook every meal at home, and the friend is getting tired of cooking and baking for me ;)  Sanitas per escam is, thus, sometimes put to test, not because I am worried that the restaurant staff might not have washed their hands, but because restaurant foods are not really intended to be healthy.

"Just because of their marketing gimmick about GMOs, do not be fooled that this is healthy food" I warned the friend.  I tell ya, I know how to be a party-pooper! ;)  But then I am not merely opining, especially when I read pieces like this in the New Yorker:
Chipotle, with nineteen hundred locations, is the most successful of the new chains. The company has admirable goals, but, more often than not, meals from Chipotle are high in both saturated fat and calories, and often exceed the recommended daily allowance of sodium.
Calories, fat, and sodium.  No wonder that restaurant foods are way tastier.  As my grandmother used to say, restaurants want to serve you tasty foods, while mothers want to serve you healthy food.  Of course, in my case I lucked out with my mother, grandmothers, and aunts, all making healthy food that was also wonderfully tasty.  When I spoke with my parents yesterday, my father said that mother had just finished making பொரிச்ச குழம்பு (Porichcha Kuzhambu) and I started drooling here ... hmmm, where was I?

Ah, yes, even a Chipotle often serves foods high in fat and calories, and one meal can deliver more than the salt that you body ever needs in a day.
“Chipotle has a health halo”—a term Wansink and a colleague coined several years ago to describe the general aura of eating at places that advertise themselves as healthy. “They are organic and use the word sustainable a lot. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t make the food healthier.”
I know what you are thinking: just who the hell does Wansink think he is?

Brian Wansink is the director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Laboratory, and more:
Wansink has also served as the executive director of the U.S.D.A.’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. (In addition, he is a member of McDonald’s Global Advisory Council, which makes nutritional recommendations to the company’s leadership.) His book “Mindless Eating” demonstrated the gulf between what we think we are eating and what we actually eat.
So, if Chipotle's food is not all healthy, then you can imagine calories, fat, sodium, and sugar at the likes of McDonald's.  But, and this is a big butt--er, but--the food at those fast-food places are way less expensive too.  What gives?
[Taxpayers] heavily subsidize corn and soybeans, two crops that feed livestock and help create the processed food that public health officials have warned us for years to stop eating. Few federal incentives exist for farmers to grow a more varied selection of vegetables or to motivate consumers to eat them. And at least half of our calories come from food that is subsidized by the government, a figure that has held steady for years.
“A value meal at these places is a big burger, some fries, and a sugary beverage,’’ Kelly Brownell said. “Every time you buy one of those meals, Uncle Sam is standing there with his wallet open. The grain that feeds the cows is subsidized. The oil used to cook the fries is subsidized, and the high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas is subsidized, too. But if you walk in the next day and order a salad, a piece of fruit, and some tea you will be on your own. Uncle Sam will not be there to help you.”
We have created a system thanks to which foods that are high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar, are less expensive than the healthier options.  Should we then be shocked at the ever growing obesity rate in these United States?
fatty, salty meals remain far cheaper to produce, distribute, and buy than healthier alternatives. For that to change, America’s agricultural priorities will need to fall in line with its health priorities.
Don't you hold your breath and suck in your tummy waiting for those policy changes to happen.  Definitely not with this dysfunctional Congress.  


Anne in Salem said...

Not only is the fast-food meal unhealthier physiologically, it is unhealthier socially. It is hard to have a decent conversation in the din of the restaurant. It is hard to gather a group for a celebration given that the tables are designed for two or four people.

Healthy eating does not have to be hugely expensive. Yes, if one wants berries in January, he is going to pay for it. If one demands grass-fed beef, one is going to pay for it. But there are thousands of meal options that will be cheaper than a trip through the drive thru (is it odd that "drive through" looks wrong to me?), particularly if one is vegetarian. There are better prepared options as well that are just as quick. Winco sells excellent full-meal salads for under $3 - cheaper and healthier than the burger bought anywhere.

Of course, the cooking requires time and some learning/training. It can be hard after working all day, but advance planning can mitigate the challenges. Time and a little learning are not a luxury of the middle and upper classes. Almost everyone had a parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle who cooked and taught him something. Almost everyone has a bit of time (turn off the computer/phone/tablet for 30 minutes) or someone in the house has a bit of time. It is all about choices.

I would love to work with Brian Wansink. Hugely fascinating work. Go big red.

Mike Hoth said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Anne here, with the exception that nobody ever taught me how to cook. I taught myself, used the internet to answer questions, and experimented. My wife started cooking when she was seven years old with her grandmother, however. With a couple years of overcooked eggs and a grease fire ( not my fault, I swear!) I can match her on a handful of dishes and I've managed three recipes of my own. Cooking isn't hard and I've never ordered a salad that my recipe doesn't make look bad.

Sriram Khé said...

All true. I agree.
But, how come Anne the uber-conservative, and Mike the conservative, have nothing to say about the HUGE subsidies for corn and soy and milk and meat and everything else that makes all the unhealthy fast foods so "affordable" in the first place? ;)

Sriram Khé said...

Hot news:
"Dozens of Chipotle restaurants in Washington and Oregon are temporarily closing due to an outbreak of E. coli. Health officials have linked 19 cases in Washington and three in Oregon to Chipotles in those states. Eight people have been hospitalized: Seven from Washington, one from Oregon."

Anne in Salem said...

Won't comment about something of which I am ignorant - subsidies. Can't say I understand the theory or the practice.

I saw the Chipotle story and worried for your guts. I assume you are well. A friend contracted a nasty e coli case from spinach a few years ago (5 days in the hospital) and still won't eat cooked or raw spinach.

Ramesh said...

Oh, I will comment a lot on the agricultural subsidies in America. Its a complete disgrace and is one of the big impediments to the WTO - India which has been wrecking the WTO for all the stupid reasons is at least right in telling the US to get its house right on subsidies before preaching to others.

What is interesting to me is that the rabid right, which wants to wreck the government is many a time from the states that enjoy huge agricultural subsidies. This is the lot that chants "death to the Government". This is also the same group that employs illegal immigrant labour for their farms (US agriculture would simply collapse but for illegal immigrants who do the work Americans don't want to do). This is also the group who wants to build the border wall with Mexico. Talk of double standards ......

As for Chipotle, I have never eaten there. Health halo ? Does anybody really believe that a fast food restaurant offers healthy food ??

Anne - You need an audience with Her Majesty to be able to feel comfortable with drive through :):)