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Fast Food Can be Harmful, But is Not Addictive
As many of you know, the rates of obesity and associated illnesses in USA have gone up a lot over the past four decades. As late as the 1980s, obese people were still not a common sight in this country- esp outside poor neighborhoods. However, by the early 2000s we had already reached a point where a significant minority had become obese. Which brings us to the often asked question- how did so many people become so far so quickly? There are those who want to invoke ‘genetics’ and ‘hereditary’ to explain this shift. But ask yourself- how did a population of otherwise well-fed people who did not display any prior predisposition to obesity suddenly develop this trait? One of the best examples of why this explanation does not work is by comparing Italian-Americans to Italians who still living in their home country. While the former are among the groups most prone to serious obesity, the later have some of the lowest incidence of obesity in Europe. Clearly ‘genetics’ is not an adequate explanation.
There is also the issue of how obesity in this country has a very strong correlation with social class with the highest rates in the poor and working class and the lowest among the rich. Curiously, this trend is much more obvious in USA and certain countries in the Anglosphere than the rest of Europe or developed Asian countries- which I have commented on in a previous post. So what is going on? Why do we see unusually high rates of obesity in USA and other Anglosphere countries (to a lesser extent) than rest of the world? Why during the past four decades? And this brings us the next potential explanation.. it is the food, specifically what people eat nowadays versus what they ate in the past. The conventional “scientific consensus” is that it is due to people eating too many calories and fats- except that it is not true. The per-capita consumption of calories and fats has decreased over past few decades all over the West, including USA and yet people keep getting fatter in this country while that trend is far more subdued in other developed countries.
One of the main sub-types of a dietary explanation for high rates of obesity in this country blame it on increased consumption of packaged and fast food. While nobody is pretending that eating a big bag of Doritos or one of the numerous burger meals from fast food chains, every single day, is an healthy option- it also clear that most people who are obese don’t eat the amounts of processed and fast food necessary to have a large impact on the nutrient uptake. Furthermore not all fast foods are the same, and many offerings at relatively inexpensive family-owned ethnic restaurants are not that different from what one might cook at home- right down the ingredients used. Which brings me to a popular myth associated with processed and fast foods- namely, that they are highly addictive due to all the artificial flavors put there by food chemists. This explanation is also used as a lot by white ‘liberals’ to explain the high rates of obesity among certain minority groups, especially blacks.
To be clear, I am not denying that processed and many common fast foods are full of all sorts of artificial flavors and colors which are used to make them less repulsive. But they are not addictive and the consumption of cheap fast foods has a lot to do with the lack of options as opposed to people enjoying them. So how can I say this with such certainty? To put it bluntly, I hate to cook and hence eat out a lot but have not gotten fat or unhealthy over the years. In fact, I have the same waist size from almost twenty years ago. So how is this possible? For starters, I rarely eat at most fast food places and limit my consumption of stuff such as pop, processed food and sugar-heavy products such as ice-cream. But it is also about selecting what you eat.. for example a decent quality burger with small fries but no soda at a somewhat expensive fast food place is not an especially unhealthy choice, especially if you have it only once or twice per week. Nor is a small bag of doritos or few pizza slices once a week.
And this brings me to why I don’t eat most common processed and fast food items more often. To put it bluntly, they taste and smell weird. See.. the thing is most of those artificial flavors and colors do not make food tasty. They only make them barely palatable. The simple fact is that most processed and conventional fast food cannot compare in taste, smell and texture to reasonably good quality food from non-chain restaurants. Indeed, the reason why I find most items at McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Dominos etc repulsive is that they taste like crap. The same is true for most pop drinks and ice-cream brands. I would much rather have freshly brewed tea and coffee than Coke, Pepsi etc- because the later taste chemically. I am also certain that others feel the same way too. So why do so many people keep buying overprocessed frozen crap or patronize big chain fast food restaurants? Well, I think that it comes down to a combination of cost and convenience.
Most people in this country don’t make lots of money. In fact, the median reported income in USA (per capita) is less than 35,0000 a year. To make matters worse, the government makes no effort to rein in the worst excesses of corporations from endless profiteering to monopolization. Consequently the quality of cheaper food available in this country is unusually low. This is also why the burger patties in most fast-food chains are full of fillers and other junk or why they all use soyabean oil for frying. This is also why the processed food isles at your local supermarket is full of items mostly made of corn, wheat, high fructose syrup and palm oil. It is also why there are a huge number and diversity of of good family-owned restaurants and fast-food places in other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Italy, France etc. Speaking of which- have you seen the pretty high quality of offerings at convenience store chains in Japan? The bad situation in USA is therefore largely due to a combination of excessive corporate profiteering and other malicious behaviors such oligopolization and monopolization.
In summary, the prevalence of nutritionally awful processed and fast food in this country has everything to with the relative poverty of most people and inability of government to restrain the worst corporate excesses. People eat that shit because it is convenient and it is all they can afford! They do not eat it because that crap is full of magically addictive flavors and colors cooked up in some plant in New Jersey. And as countries ranging from Japan and South Korea to Italy, Spain and France show- it is possible to have good quality and affordable processed and fast food which is tasty, nutritious and not full of corn, wheat, fructose, flavorings, colors and palm oil.
What do you think? Comments?