Monday, September 01, 2008

Belt-tightening

I have heard that the childhood obesity epidemic may be peaking.

I wonder if the obesity crisis is a product of our overinflated (sense of) wealth as a society, since everyone tells me that we had an economic expansion over the past 2+ decades. On some level, extra money begets busy-ness, which permeates the entire economic spectrum because it is in part driven on increased productivity, not profit-- such that everyone works harder to satisfy someone's profit motive, even if it's not necessarily their own. (I make this distinction because I think that, despite the way the giant pool of money made us all feel wealthier, most of us were not, and are not, once again.) When I was a kid, which wasn't too long ago, but was nearly always characterized by stress about debt and expenses, my family was particular about eating as healthily as possible on a pretty tight budget. We rarely went out to eat, we ate frozen veggies, lots of pasta and potatoes, spam and eggs and used corn syrup on our pancakes. I got peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches in my lunch for almost two years of my elementary school education.

Sometime in high school (probably when my dad got a job that kept him on the road all the time), we stopped being so conservative and began eating out at least once a week, and often stopped by dairy queen (nothing in the world follows tennis practice better than a heath bar blizzard) or taco bell or Arby's for an after-school snack. We frequented Marie Callendar's and Red Robin, Mrs. Knott's and Chili's. We had soda in the fridge at home significantly more than I could remember from my early childhood, and the freezer was always stocked with frozen snacks (BBQ Hot Pockets, mainly) and teevee dinners.

I was reading this article about the interplay between food packaging, family budgets and eating habits, particularly vis-a-vis lunch foods for kids. Companies are changing (shrinking) their packaging to maintain prices, or trying to figure out ways to get parents to continue to buy their foods despite declining incomes. It's weird but fun and also interesting to think of the snack/lunch food market as a bellwether for the increase in productivity and our subsequent inattention to frugality with respect to food, which seem to be inversely proportional over the past 20 years.

I remember a time before lunchables and go-gurt, when fruit roll-ups and ding dongs were the only game in town for junk food. When I coveted the little single-serving boxes of fancy cereals (my family ate shredded wheat and corn flakes) and doritos and nary a candy bar graced my lunch box. My thermos contained innocuous apple juice, though some of my friends were lucky enough to receive Capri Sun.

Could it be that as everyone scrambles to work harder in pursuit of productivity gains and more apparent (if not actual) wealth, the self-managment and family management practices that led us to make prudent decisions with respect to food, if not exercise, gave way to a culture of ease, affluence and a decreased sense of responsibility for personal health and well-being?

Maybe a true recession isn't all bad, if in some measure it might contribute to improved health indicators.

In direct opposition to everyone else's impending poverty, I ate steak for dinner tonight. However, I did buy it at the grocery store, not a restaurant. And it was a skirt steak.

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