As we all know, a classist-racist-corporate-Republican conspiracy has created food deserts in inner cities so that it is impossible for the poor to buy the Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale that they so ardently desire. Instead they are forced to buy Cheetos and french fries to fatten corporate profits, as the poor themselves grow fatter and fatter.
The NYT finally admits that you can lead the poor to a salad bar, but you can’t make them eat. They want pop tarts.
(Digression: I have had problems with kidney stone, and my urologist gave me an old diet plan [no doubt from his medical school days] which advised giving up whole grain cereals and green vegetables and substituting pop tarts. I told him I couldn’t believe he was giving this suggested diet to his patients. You might not get kidney stones; but you would become obese and diabetic.)
The Federal government has spent $500,000,000 to encourage grocery stores to locate in poor areas; but the availability of fresh foods makes no difference in the diets of the poor. They don’t like spinach, and they aren’t going to eat it.
The article claims fresh food is more expensive. Is healthy food always more expensive than junk food? It is true that the Federal government heavily subsides sugar. Cheap sugar helps make people diabetic and obese which in turn creates health problems which the Federal government spends vast amounts of money to deal with. But even with the Federal government helping to make junk food cheap, it is still possible to eat well: beans, corn, brown rice and such cost little. Vegetables, spices, and a little meat or fish make things palatable. In many parts of the world (like Mexico) the diets of the poor have worsened and they have become obese as they become more prosperous and buy expensive processed food.
When the researchers looked at shoppers with lower levels of income and education living in rich neighborhoods with accessible healthy food, they found that their shopping mimicked that of low-education, less educated people in poorer neighborhoods. (The reverse was true, too: Richer, more educated shoppers in poor neighborhoods looked more like rich shoppers in poor neighborhoods)
Education correlates with food preferences more strongly than income does.
Poorer families bought less healthy food than richer ones. But a bigger gap was found by families with and without a college education.
Educated people are educated because they have enough self-discipline to put up with schools, and they also take the long view. Even if they don’t have much money, they will buy healthier food.
People who should know better have long been making excuses for the harmful eating habits of the poor. George Orwell wrote:
“Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you.”
British food of any sort does not tempt me, but even the poor should take some responsibility for their lives and what they eat.
As most commenters on the NYT article pointed out, the poor don’t eat vegetables because they don’t like them. Stores in poor neighborhoods don’t sell fresh food because shoppers won’t buy it.
Many commentators suggest education. Schools used to teach home economics. It should (under a new name: Health in the Home? ) be a required subject for both boys and girls. But see my blog on Brain Development: the poor have a problem with brain development because, in part, of their child raising styles.
It is hard to change eating habits. People grow up liking to food they had as children; if they grow up on junk food, they will continue eating junk food, they will feed it to their children, etc.
Why do Asians prefer white rice? Because it has a higher status, because it (like white bread) is easier to chew and digest, and mostly it is what they have always eaten. Pregnant women, who desperately need the thiamine in brown rice, look forward to eating high-status white rice, rather than the brown rice that is the food of the poor. Thiamine deficiency also causes beriberi.
The American diet seems to be especially pernicious for people of African descent.
Researchers asked 20 African-Americans in Pittsburgh and 20 rural South Africans to switch diet for two week. The Americans ate a traditional African diet, high in fiber and low in fat, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans and cornmeal, and very little meat.
The Africans ate the equivalent of American fast food – a diet high in fat with generous quantities of meat and cheese.
“We made them eat fried chicken, burgers, and fries…They loved it.”
The researchers discovered that
A change in diet for just two weeks alters gut bacteria in ways that may reduce risk of colon cancer.
This type of cancer is extremely serious:
In the United States, the second-highest number of cancer deaths is from colon cancer, a malignant tumor in the colon or rectum, the lower part of the human digestive system. African-Americans are at especially high risk for the disease, which experts say is diet-related in more than 90 percent of cases.
Why do people want to eat things that cause that hurt their health? Why do people drink too much, or take drugs?
Our desires are disordered – all of them, to some extent or another, and need to be subject to reason. But the common human tendency to give in to desires has been exacerbated by the “if it feels good, do it” attitude that has become the pop culture of the US. Sexual desires are self-validating: homosexual acts or premarital sex can’t be wrong because people feel like doing it. Desire is self-validating, and cannot be subject to the scrutiny of reason. Would you like another helping of French fries to go with the three cheeseburgers: go ahead, if you tastes good, is must be OK.