What the American Diet says about its Culture

Reblogged from The Secular Jurist:

By Robert A. Vella

If we are what we eat, as the old adage proclaims, then what does the American diet say about its culture? Before delving into this, let’s state for the record that the U.S. is a large nation with many diverse regions and subcultures. What people eat in rural Georgia, for example, can be quite different from an affluent city such as San Francisco. However, there is a larger American culture which transcends these differences and its cuisine is unmistakably unique compared with the rest of the world.

Consider the burger, or its original moniker – the hamburger. The idea of a ground beef patty sandwiched in a bun is so ubiquitous that virtually all types of food establishments serve them. The manager of my local Chinese restaurant revealed once that he sold nearly as many burgers as he did specialty items. You can get burgers or burger-inspired facsimiles in just about every country on Earth. America’s fast-food chains made sure of that decades ago.

Initially, hamburgers were not much more than a simple beef-and-bread construct – a convenient and easy to eat lunchtime meal. They have evolved quite dramatically, however, since those turn-of-the-last-century days of American folklore. Today, the burger has become high artistry in the most renowned kitchens of the culinary industry; and, it also has become a fanatically popular vehicle for some of the worst examples of gastronomic bastardization ever conceived.

Have you ever consumed something like this (if you’re an American, you probably have – many, many times):

Grease Burger

Introducing the double-bacon, triple-patty, triple-cheese (processed American cheese, of course) grease burger with a butter-grilled sesame seed bun (mass-produced and loaded with sugar), slathered with mayonnaise and ketchup (more fat and sugar), served with greasy fries and a sugary soft drink. Calories: more than the average person requires in an entire day. Health benefits: great for enlarging waistlines and buttocks. Sodium content: nearly as much as a salt-lick. Taste: grotesque. What you’re getting: saturated and trans fats, salt, animal protein, processed sugar and starch. What you really need: whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit, plant and animal proteins, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, much less salt.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love burgers. I like fries. I even enjoy a soft drink on rare occasion. But, the way in which these items have been brought to excess and combined into a meal is nothing short of gluttonous in my opinion. No one should, nor needs to, eat like this. That far too many Americans do is testament to a culture which has lost touch with reality. When bigger is always better, when overindulgence is a source of pride, when unnecessary waste is inconsiderable, and when self-respect is subordinated to ego-gratification, there can be little doubt about the collective mental state of a people.

America is not declining, culturally and otherwise, because of its gluttony. Rather, it is this obsessive-compulsivity which is symptomatic of what’s ailing the nation. Fortunately, through the diligence of healthcare workers, educators, and nutritionists in government and the private sector, Americans’ eating habits are improving somewhat particularly for children (thanks to Michelle Obama and other political figures). Indicatively, sales for the fast-food giant McDonald’s have been declining in recent years. Although these informative efforts are certainly helping, the problem remains fundamentally cultural. Americans have a lot of soul-searching to do on a great many subjects.

Back to burgers. If you find yourself susceptible to eating the kind of unhealthy meals described above, here’s some suggestions:

  • Replace the mass-produced hamburger buns with whole grain breads.
  • Grind your own beef from whole cuts so you can control the amount of fat and eliminate the high-water content of the store-bought product which ruins the char necessary for a great burger.
  • Do not add butter, mayonnaise, or any other fat. Most properly ground beef is sufficiently fatty.
  • Use mustards and homemade barbeque sauces instead of ketchup to reduce sugar and improve tastiness.
  • Replace the fries with fresh vegetables or fruit. A lightly-dressed heirloom tomato, cucumber, and basil salad is a great substitution.
  • Avoid soft drinks. Drink water. If you want bubbles, try a sparkling water with fresh lemon.

“No fries,” you say? Sure, you can have fries. Just don’t eat them with burgers. That’s way too many calories. One time in Paris, a little cafe served me baked herbed chicken with superb French fries and a crisp garden salad. Along with a glass of great white wine, I was in heaven!

Check this out. A Daily Kos author compared a typical school lunch in the U.S. with those in other countries. Which would you prefer? My choice was Italy, but I’m a little biased. See:  How do these children’s school lunches from around the world compare to the United States?

DISCLAIMER: I, the author, am not a qualified medical professional, dietician, or expert in the field of human nutrition. The suggestions offered in this article should only be considered under the supervision of your doctor and/or healthcare provider.

Corporate Greed Is Making Us Sick

Digger666 originally reblogged this from creators.com

It’s difficult to think of many observers of the US domestic scene for whom I have more respect or a higher regard than Jim Hightower.

In regards to this excellent piece, it might be worth noting all of the mega corporations mentioned, while it’s true they have much to explain about their corporate behaviour, still manage to do business quite happily and profitably in the UK, where their workers benefit from statutory sick pay benefits.

But let’s look at Hightower’s take on the consequences of the lack of statutory sick pay and what happens when people try to remedy this situation democratically…

The failure of our corporate and political leaders to make sure every worker gets good health care is causing some unpleasant consequences — like widespread stomach flu.

Ill workers often spread illness, because millions of employees who deal directly with the public are not covered by paid sick leave policies. So, when they come down with something like the stomach flu, they tend to drag themselves to work, rather than going to bed until they recover, since staying home means a loss of pay — or even the loss of their jobs.

Low-wage workers in the restaurant industry are particularly vulnerable and, since they handle food, particularly threatening. Nearly 80 percent of America’s food service workers receive no paid sick leave, and researchers have found that about half of them go to work ill because they fear losing their jobs if they don’t. As a result, a study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that ill workers are causing up to 80 percent of America’s stomach flu outbreaks, which is one reason CDC has declared our country’s lack of paid sick leave to be a major public health threat.

You’d think the industry itself would be horrified enough by this endangerment of its customers that it would take the obvious curative step of providing the leave. But au contraire, amigos, such huge and hugely profitable chains as McDonald’s, Red Lobster and Taco Bell not only fail to provide such commonsense care for their employees, but also have lobbied furiously against city and state efforts to require paid sick days.

Ironically, the top corporate executives of these chains (who are not involved in preparing or serving food to the public) are protected with full sick leave policies. For them to deny it to workers is idiotic, dangerously shortsighted — and even more sickening than stomach flu.

But what about our lawmakers? Where’s the leadership we need on this basic issue of fairness and public health? To paraphrase an old bumper sticker: “When the people lead, leaders will follow. Or not.”

Not when the “leaders” are in the pocket of corporate interests that don’t like where the people are leading. Take Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who never met a corporate pocket too grungy to climb into.

This story starts in 2008, when the people of Milwaukee took the lead on the obvious need for a program allowing employees to earn a few days of paid sick leave each year, to be used if they fall ill or must care for a sick family member. Seven out of 10 Milwaukee voters approved that measure in a citywide referendum.

Corporate interests, however, sued to stall the people’s will, tying the sick leave provision up in court until 2011. By then, the corporations had put up big bucks to put Walker into the governorship — and right into their pocket. Sure enough, he dutifully nullified the Milwaukee vote by passing a “state pre-emption” law, autocratically banning local governments from requiring sick leave benefits for employees.

Just three months later, Walker’s pre-emption ploy was the star at a meeting of ALEC, the corporate front group that brings state legislators into secret sessions with CEOs and lobbyists. There, legislators are handed model laws to benefit corporations — then sent home to pass them. At a session overseen by Taco Bell, attendees got copies of Walker’s no-paid-sick-leave edict, along with a how-to-pass-it lecture by the National Restaurant Association. “Go forth, and pre-empt local democracy!” was the message.

And, lo, they did. Bills summarily prohibiting local governments from passing paid-sick-leave ordinances are being considered in at least 12 states this year, and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed theirs.

Florida’s process was especially ugly. Organize now, a coalition of voters in Orlando, had obtained 50,000 signatures to put a sick leave referendum on last November’s ballot. But, pressured by the hugely profitable Disney World empire, county commissioners arbitrarily removed it from the ballot.

The scrappy coalition, however, took ’em to court — and won, getting the referendum rescheduled for a 2014 vote. Disney & Gang scuttled off to Tallahassee this year to conspire with Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders. Quicker than a bullet leaves a gun, those corporate-hugging politicos obligingly delivered a “kill shot” to Orlando voters by enacting a Walkeresque state usurpation of local authority.

By spreading Walker’s autocratic nastiness from state to state, money-grubbing low-wage profiteers are literally spreading illness all across our land.