Tag Archives: obesity

Sugar-coating the truth

We Americans are a bunch of sugar-addled addicts, a fact that has become  painfully clear to me while  carrying out some simple research on eating habits. 

A recent article in the  in the New York Times on the comeback of sugar completely missed the real issue at stake: we eat WAY too much sugar and sweetener of any kind.  The article did sort of pussy-foot around that issue by saying that nutritionists would like to see us eat less of all caloric sweeteners, but it really just wound up being a trend story about a backlash against high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in favor of sugar.

Perhaps the reporter didn’t want to upset the people in the HFCS industry, but the truth is, Americans started consuming more and more sweeteners just after HFCS hit the market in the mid-1970’s, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  As a basis for comparison, I’ve also dug up the sweetener consumption statistics for the UK and Australia, two countries that have fairly similar diets to ours, minus the HFCS.  Interestingly, sweetener consumption in those countries actually decreased while ours was skyrocketing upward:

Consumption of Sweeteners 1961-2001

              U.S              U.K.            Australia

1961    52 kg         52kg             56 kg
1981    56 kg         44 kg            54 kg
2001   71 kg         41 kg             45 kg

Source: FAOSTAT

 For those who don’t do the metric system, 71 kg is 156 pounds of sweetener every year– which is the weight of an average woman, give or take a few pounds.  We eat, far and away, more sweetener per person than any other country in the world.

I’m not going to argue whether HFCS is worse than sugar.  That’s not really the point.  The point is, that ever since HFCS came onto the scene, our collective sweet tooth has gotten even sweeter and our consumption of caloric sweeteners climbed 40 percent in 40 years.  Now, you tell me why America has an obesity problem.

Bake sales: The new boogeyman

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

Is this apple crumble really all that bad?

I am all for kids eating healthier and eating less.  But I feel like political correctness has completely prevailed over common sense and a sense of fun when bake sales become the bad guy of school fundraisers.  I’ve seen this gastronomic nanny state at work in Australia and it’s also sweeping some state legislatures in the U.S. according to this article from the New York Times.

First, let me say that the schools are right in saying bake sales shouldn’t happen during school hours.  But the ban on bake sales at schools seems like we’re heading down that slippery slope of banning bake sales altogether, and that would be a shame for a number of reasons.  One is that it forces kids to do those awful holiday gift tins and knick-knack sales.  What a bunch of crap that is.  I used to run and hide at work when parents would come towards my cubicle with one of those order forms.  Honestly, they’d have better luck trying to sell me asbestos earmuffs.

But seriously, when did bake sales go bad?  Schools and other organizations have been having bake sales for decades and I don’t recall seeing any evidence that they made kids fat.  Kids are fat today because of sugary drinks, too little exercise, and a preponderance of crap food made with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.  No, bake sales aren’t part of the childhood obesity problem.  In fact, I think they could be part of the solution, and here’s why:

1) They are wholesome.  If I were to bake something for a bake sale, I’d probably make something like the ever popular brownie.  The ingredients:  butter, chocolate or cocoa, sugar, eggs, flour, a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla.  I can pronounce every single one of those ingredients.  I know what they are, unlike some of the ingredients in oh, say, the PowerBar mentioned in the NY Times piece as a “healthy” snack which contains ingredients like soy lecithin, soy protein isolate and fractionated palm kernal oil.  In fact, I think wholesome treats made with real ingredients are actually more satisfying than processed food.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I can easily be satisfied after eating a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookes, but could down practically a whole bag of oreos and still want more.

2) They promote community.  When a school or a club has a bake sale, it usually requires parents to get involved with their kids, with the schools, with other parents, and with bake sale patrons.  It requires communication and organization.  In fact, bake sales are probably more trouble than they are worth, monetarily speaking.  But if a bake sale helps build community relationships, then that’s worth more than every cent raised.  Participating in something like a bake sale can make you realize it’s actually fun to get out of the house and get away from the TV and computer and get involved in life!

3) They are a good learning tool for kids.  There is little value for kids in the yearly Christmas knick-knack sale.  Parents take the order forms to work and that’s the last the kids ever see of that project until they hand the order form back in.  On the other hand, bake sales can be used to teach kids cooking skills, math skills (converting recipes, counting change for customers), and customer relation skills when they help man the bake sale table.  As far as healthy habits go, learning to cook is a great way for kids to get a concept of what goes into their food, which is key to healthy eating.  Let me tell you, when I bake and see all the butter I put into a batch of brownies, I’m much more likely to take a small portion because I know just how many calories are in them.

So let’s quit vilifying bake sales.  They aren’t an every day event.  They are not responsible for obesity. Come on people.  Get a life and get baking.

I eat arugula and I vote

I even grow arugula

I even grow arugula

The 2008 Presidential election has taken the politics of food to a whole new level, albeit a low one.

Ever since Barack Obama mentioned the high cost of arugula at a campaign event in Iowa, he’s been branded by some as an elitist who’s out of touch with regular people.  He apparently further cemented that image by turning down a cup of coffee at a campaign stop at a diner and asking for orange juice instead.

Now, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has taken issue with the Obama camp’s orders for the food that will be served at the upcoming Democratic convention:

He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food… The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines… bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.)

Somehow, in Maureen Dowd’s world, eating healthily makes Obama humorless and thus potentially unelectable.  What is so off-putting about good eating habits?

Of course, Americans have been quick to revere less-than-healthy Presidential dietary idiosyncrasies:  we loved that President Reagan loved Jelly Bellies, that George H.W. Bush hated broccoli, and, although he took a lot of flak for his penchant for McDonald’s fries, we felt like Bill Clinton was just like us because he gave into Mac Attacks, too.

In this era of rising obesity rates, the threat of a diabetes epidemic, and pediatricians reccomending putting kids as young as eight years old on cholesterol meds because so many of them eat like… well… crap, how great would it be to have a President who’s also a gastronomic role model?

Like the Reagan era when Jelly Belly sales skyrocketed, maybe there would be an Obama effect at farmer’s markets and produce sections across America.  People would think twice before single-handedly polishing off the Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse.  And parents could have the power of the President behind them in that eternal dinner time battle.  “Don’t you want to grow up to be the leader of the free world?  Then eat your veggies because President Obama does!”