Subsidized sugars and "food deserts"

A curious thing happened a couple of months ago- the CD player in my company truck seized up, forcing me to rely on radio.  I cannot stand any of the music on any of the stations, so I found myself listening to NPR for 8 to 10 hours every day.  I drive around for a living, as an ambulatory veterinarian... long have I avoided the News, because it tends to make me too angry.  I discovered so much more though, lots of thoughtful conversations and topics, some of which I find relevant to this blog and the struggle I have long had to eat well.

There was a week when NPR covered obesity as our national epidemic.  Finally I heard someone talking about the inverse relationship of obesity and poverty.  In history, it was typically the rich man with the big belly- the "fat cat".  These days it is the most impoverished that end up obese and unhealthy.  Why is that?  I think it's pretty simple; it's cheaper to eat fast food (the $1 menu, for example) than it is to eat the way I eat with my astronomical grocery bill from buying organic or whole foods.  What is in the $1 menu?  Lots of corn, some fatty meat, salt and sugar.  Sugar.  That's it.  Nothing that is at all nutritionally sound.

Then they introduced the concept of the "food desert".  This is areas of the country- often inner cities- where there simply is no fresh produce or meat available.  For those folks who don't or can't drive, and can't take the time for a long bus ride to a grocery (or can't afford it!), they rely on the cheap sources of energy from fast food or the corner store.  It is literally a desert.  No fresh markets, no nothing.  I have seen this myself!  How are you supposed to eat healthily if you can't find the food to do it?

This all plays back into our health care system, too; and the millions of overweight and unhealthy Americans who aren't that way because they choose to be but sometimes are that way because it's what is available to them.  Yes, sedentary life plays a big part- choosing to sit inside with your TV rather than walk or run or play- but so does diet.  When you make nothing but cheap calories available to people, that's what they'll eat; then we all complain about the burden on our health care system.  Well!  Serves us right.

What about subsidized sugars?  Not cane sugar, that's a whole other story.  Corn sugars.  High fructose corn sugars and syrups, one of the most evil things ever created.  It's in everything.  Why?  We grow too much corn every single year, and it's paid for by the government... so where do we put it?  We invent new ways each year to use up the surplus- fillers, additives, sugars, animal feeds and even plastics.  Your plastic grocery sack is likely made of corn!  And the government paid for it.  I don't want my tax dollars subsidizing such a useless and dangerous starch!  So many people have become hypersensitive and allergic to everything, and I've heard some pretty compelling cases made against the over use of corn and corn by products.  We already know that overdoing sugars tanks your immune system.  Go to the grocery store and look at how many things contain HFCS.  Corn comes in other guises too!

Go watch "Food, Inc." for a closer look at how pervasive corn is, and how the industry works.  It's sad.  It even talks about the epidemic of poor folks unable to buy anything but fast food.  And the powerlessness of folks to fight, often, because of the enormous lobbying power of some conglomerates, and their big lawyer budgets.  It made me so angry!

So between NPR and this movie, lately, I have done a lot of thinking on how tough it is to eat well and be healthy.  I'm lucky I make enough money to afford to eat well, and have a car to get me to the best place to buy produce.   I support my local butcher and local farms, with both produce and meat, when these things are in season.  If you can you should too.  Heal yourself, heal the planet.