Wednesday, January 11, 2006

High on the White Stuff

The month of January finds many of us craving simple, healthy foods after the indulgences of the holidays. Sam at Becks & Posh has created a low sugar challenge, while Molly at Orangette is finding respite in the humble cabbage.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is running a series of articles on the rampant spread of diabetes in the United States. Diabetes is a truly devastating disease. I would guess that each of us have been affected by it in some way, whether directly or indirectly. And those effects are growing…

Each of the NYT articles has made me feel a combination of sadness and anger. A couple of things in particular have jumped off the page and smacked me in the face:

“Type 2 can often be postponed and possibly prevented by eating less and exercising more. But getting millions of people to change their behavior…will require some kind of national crusade.”

And this quote from a Dr. Thomas Frieden, the New York health commissioner: “

I will go out on a limb, and say, 20 years from now people will look back and say: 'What were they thinking? They're in the middle of an epidemic and kids are watching 20,000 hours of commercials for junk food.' "

And yet another sad fact:

Patients have trouble securing a reimbursement for a $75 visit to the nutritionist who counsels them on controlling their diabetes. Insurers do not balk, however, at paying $315 for a single session of dialysis, which treats one of the disease's serious complications.

The Times series has made it very clear that diabetes isn’t going to go away. Its causes are embedded in our culture, and we must figure our way out of the illness we have created. I personally have no doubt that refined sugar and highly processed foods in general have played a huge role in the spread of this disease, and yet most Americans are still acting as if they’re harmless, the equivalent of striking up the band while the ship is sinking.

I was in the Novato Target yesterday to pick up toilet paper and bottled water, and decided to take a stroll through the food section. I was greeted with an end-cap display of variously flavored chips in enormous bags; just behind those, an entire row was dedicated to soda of every flavor you can imagine. Candy bars now come in “family packs,” as do microwaveable snacks of every kind.

It’s so easy! Just grab it and go…

The pharmacy is conveniently located just to the right of the ice cream cooler. Your local mega-store is, after all, committed to being your partner in diabetes care.

Getting off the white stuff is a true challenge in suburban communities like Novato. If you live in Novato, you will have to drive farther than you might like to find healthy food choices; you might, like I did, have to tailor your schedule in order to hit farmer’s markets and other places where fresh, local food is available only at certain times. You’re going to have to be creative. And you’re going to have to cook a home a fair bit.

Eating healthy in the suburbs isn’t hard in the way that climbing Mount Everest is hard, but it is hard in the sense that it is an everyday thing that you must be diligent about. If you don’t plan ahead, and you’re coming home late, and you’re starving, and every hundred yards you see another drive-thru sign winking out of the darkness at you, what will you do?

We have not designed our communities with health in mind. Instead, they are full of quicksand-like traps made of white sugar and refined flour. They are minefields of pizzas to go and chicken in a bucket.

I worry that eating right on a consistent basis isn’t happening because isn’t practical for busy working parents with kids. Or for people with limited mobility. Or for people who are just stressed out and over-committed, which is most of us at least some of the time.

So how much of this is our collective responsibility? And how can we help suburbia to become healthier?

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At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Natalie said...

This article warms my heart, as I watch my co-workers eat their breakfasts of Twix and fruit shaped gummy snacks. For an extra healthy lunch they might swing by Taco Bell and stock up on cheesy nachos and bean burritos. Just as for tomatoes on the side, and you've got your daily serving of vegetables in.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger shuna fish lydon said...

I think what is most difficult about our country is that 1. health can sometimes look like a judgement and 2. we all fight so fiercely to be "individual" and have "choices." Just speak to anyone who smokes.

Just a reminder, gramatically, people are healthy and food is healthful.

When I lived in Napa I learned that my favorite supermarket, Raley's, took suggestions. They now have a very large healthful food section.

But as far as limiting how and when people eat fast food? I can't see that happening in my lifetime just like I can't see overfishing being stopped. In America we all get to choose how to live and die.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger michelle said...

Hi Jennifer - You're so right. I've been struggling with this too, because I really love to bake, and I've been looking everywhere for unrefined sugar and even thinking of trying out splenda or something...but being a scientist that's tough too because it hasn't been around long enough yet and I haven't had time to do research on what's know about it so far. We actually eat very little sugar in the normal foods we eat, but we're blessed with healthy food choices here and we cook at home mostly. It is an epidemic other places though, and there really should be something done about it nationally...making it more accessible, and more affordable for the average jane and joe. Thanks for sharing your mind...and next time you're up my way - let me know!

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Natalie: you are hilarious.

Shuna: thanks for the grammar help! That one slipped by me... I totally agree with you about the right to choose. That is a right that must be fiercely protected. We do indeed live & die exactly as we choose. My frustration is that in places like Novato, the choice is generally between fast food and fast food. There aren't many healthy (healthful?) alternatives.

Michelle - thanks! I think talking about the issue is the first step. I'm always amazed at how many people sincerely don't know or aren't aware of what they're putting in their mouths. Dialogue first, then change. That's why blogging is so great!

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Elise said...

Hi Jennifer,
One thing we can all do is support local efforts to keep junkfood vending machines and fastfood companies out of our public schools. It is amazing to me that in the last 20 years we have sold out our children's health for school funding instead of using local taxes.
Another thing we can do is support our local farmers markets, a great place to load up on fresh produce.
Great article!

At 2:41 AM, Blogger <-<--esoder<---<----<----- said...

I disagreed with the whole healthy vs. healthful comment. So I looked it up.

Admittedly, this is a totally immaterial issue, but I can't resist a quick response. One sentence said that "Raw sauerkraut is an extremely healthy food", which Mzajac changed to "healthful food", arguing that healthy food is "food that is not sick". I changed this back as I felt that "healthy food" was a perfectly common and correct thing to say, at least in contexts where it can't possibly be misunderstood as the opposite of "sick food". Mzajac changed it back again, saying that "'vunerable', and using 'loose' for 'lose'" were also common. What can I say? Maybe he is right and we really should distinguish more carefully between healthy and healthful. If so, Google provides some disillusioning results: 2,190,000 hits for "healthy food" [1] against 35,400 for "healthful food" [2] worldwide; 49,900 hits for "healthy food" [3] and 258 for "healthful food" [4] in the UK. Thus, the "healthy-healthful" ratio is 62:1 internationally, and a staggering 193:1 for the UK. Mzajac, I'm afraid you're fighting a loosing battle... ;-) --Thorsten1 18:01, 29 May 2005 (UTC)

Cheers, Thorsten. I probably say "healthy food" myself, all the time. There may be other examples where an incorrect usage will show up more often in colloquial speech or in Google search results. I bet more people write "is comprised of" when they mean "comprises". Nevertheless, healthy means "not sick", and it's incorrect to write it when you mean "promoting health", in formal writing. —Michael Z. 2005-05-29 19:17 Z

Whatever. I think we are both misunderestimating the irrelevance of this little dispute, which is making me me dislike sauerkraut even more. ;) --Thorsten1 19:47, 29 May 2005 (UTC)

"which is making me dislike sauerkraut even more" ... I guess your dislike of sauerkraut causes you to quarrel about such a linguistic details. In order to be more happy person eat a lot's of this excellent food. I recommend especially "kapustnica", soup where you don't use any water, just sauerkraut juice, pure joy of fermentation ...

For reference,

* Merriam-Webster Collegiate has definition 3 for healthy: conducive to health
* Oxford American Dictionary has definition 2 for healthy: indicative of, conducive to, or promoting good health
* Oxford English Dictionary has definition 2a for "healthy": Conducive to or promoting health; wholesome, salubrious; salutary.
* American Heritage Dictionary has definition 2 for healthy: Conducive to good health; healthful. There is even a usage note on this very issue denouncing the demand for a nonexistent distinction:

Usage Note: The distinction in meaning between healthy (“possessing good health”) and healthful (“conducive to good health”) was ascribed to the two terms only as late as the 1880s. This distinction, though tenaciously supported by some critics, is belied by citational evidence—healthy has been used to mean “healthful” since the 16th century. Use of healthy in this sense is to be found in the works of many distinguished writers, with this example from John Locke being typical: “Gardening... and working in wood, are fit and healthy recreations for a man of study or business.” Therefore, both healthy and healthful are correct in these contexts: a healthy climate, a healthful climate; a healthful diet, a healthy diet.

I was an English Major, but I wish I studied more Biology. If Alton Brown studied Biology, would he be even better at cooking meats?

At 2:37 PM, Anonymous maria said...

So, now that you are here, look on the bright side (because otherwise you'll end up truly depressed, anyway). The weather in Novato is great for growing your own veggies - and it doesn't take a master gardener. A good sized pot with organic soil and mesclun or whatever lettuces you like will give you plenty of fresh greens - arugula is like a weed when it gets going, which I love about it. Broccolli grows like crazy in Novato in the winter and right about now which is wonderful. My kids love it because we have always grown it. They say they are eating "flowers," which they in fact are. Chard winters over and there are only a couple of months you can't harvest - just watch the snails. I sautee it with olive oil, add a little garlic and red wine vinegar and tiny bit of dijon mustard. It's wonderful. I had amazing green and other beans last summer. Try Scarlett red runner. Train them up a teepee of bamboo poles. They have beautiful red flowers and fuschia beans that turn green when you cook them, so it's not weird to eat them. I also grew Sunflowers and got seeds that looked and tasted great and drew goldfinches (they loved to hang on and eat the leaves as well as the seed and are beautiful to boot). I like the Sloat's on S. Novato Blvd. for local advice although it's a bit expensive. Check out their website if you haven't already. I lived in SF, DC and LA before ending up in Novato and although the first couple of years were tough in a way I just love to come off 37 to Atherton and drive by the lambs and geese and the marshes with their frogs singing to one another. I guess it's age...I probably never would have said this ten years ago but I do love it here. Did I mention the red shouldered hawks that are nesting in our yard? Get a pair of binoculars at a pawn shop in San Rafael if you are on a budget - I got a great pair for a fraction of what I would have spent at REI - we have some incredible bird watching in Novato. Supposedly this stretch of Marin is right in the intercontinental migration patterns so we can possibly see birds from the arctic to south america. I don't works for me. I digressed...

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous maria said...

I am sorry, I just have to add something because I got off track. It refers to fresh produce from your own yard. If you have any space at all, buy a pot and plant thyme, which will get pretty large in a year or so. I use it instead of basil for tomato salad with olive oil, a dash of vinegar and garlic. Oh yes, flat leaf parsley is great in there - plant that in a separate pot. It will self seed and come back. Plant garlic in a pot also - you do that now and harvest in summer. It is so much better than even whole foods will ever be able to provide. Ditto onions. Sage can be grown in pots - I love the flavor of golden sage. Buy two if you like sage because it is addictive. I saute it in butter until browned and pour it over arborio rice with parmesan. You won't believe how good it is. Rosemary is so easy to grow but becomes huge quickly so use a large pot. Rub it all over your roast chicken with salt and put a lemon inside. Then brown it in olive oil and roast at 350 for one and a half hours. It is unbelievable comfort food. You don't need a store for these things. If you might move, keep them in pots - you won't want to leave them behind! Be sure not to over harvest initially. Plant enough so you don't have to strip the plant too much on any one go.

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At 11:36 PM, Anonymous 網站設計 said...

hooray, your writings on theater and writing much missed!


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