It was the first time I had heard the word “organic” used as s derogatory term. Picture this: I am walking down Newbury Street, and suddenly a man in a Pret a Manger polo hands me a pretty hefty container of oatmeal to promote the chain’s arrival to Boston. (Really, Pret a Manger? You think I’m going to buy something after you give me a full-sized breakfast? And really, Pret a Manger? You think the best way to lure new customers in is by handing them unsweetened oatmeal?) Anyway, this guy about ten feet ahead of me on the sidewalk halts, turns, and proclaims: “What is this organic $!#&?”
I got to thinking about this culturally-constructed divide we have in place in the United States: junk food = tasty, healthy = gross. As a kid, I know I remember feeling like vegetables were something I had to choke down so I could get to the good stuff.
Maybe this dichotomy is a mode of coping with the inability to afford healthy food. The fact is, though, that pizza and French fries—food you might find in school lunches—are both cheaper to produce and consume and cooked to ensure a salty, pleasing flavor. Kids learn from an early age that while some foods are good for your body (or so Mom says), other ones taste really, really delicious. It’s easy, then, to throw our hands up and accept a growing epidemic of obesity and addiction to junk food. However, my anxieties were fortuitously addressed in a New York Times article from this weekend about the ways in which countries like Hungary are getting serious about changing the way people choose to get their calories.
Hungary’s government is responding to a public health crisis; two thirds of Hungarians are overweight or obese. (This compares to one third of American adults and 17% of American children). Daley quotes a Hungarian shopowner: “‘You see the kids come in after school and pick up the bags of potato chips, and then when we tell them the price, they put them right back,’ Mrs. Devenyi said. ‘We are selling about 10 percent less of certain brands.’”
Why hasn’t this solution taken root in the United States? If I’ve learned anything about global health, it’s that ensuring health sometimes requires compromise and sacrifice. In this instance, nutrition can and should take the place of consumer choice. Daley mentions Mayor Bloomberg’s criticized decision to ban 32-ounze containers of soda, among other initiatives that have met backlash in New York City. I decided to investigate a little, and happened upon an article that ABC news ran today. In this article, Liz Neporent details the costs and benefits of junk food companies responding to the detrimental health effects of their wildly successful marketing strategies. Neporent cites a statistic from the Archives of Internal Medicine that “An 18 percent tax on pizza and soda would lead to a 5 pound weight loss per year for the average American.” Other ideas from the Mars company (big-time manufacturer of candies like Reese’s and Milky Way) include shrinking portion sizes. I can imagine that Americans will receive this about as kindly as the disgruntled oatmeal man. After all, bigger is always better. In my opinion, the underlying problem continues to be that people feel they do have choice over what they are eating—but that’s a blog post for another time.
Photo taken from: http://www.sciencenewsforkids.org/2009/10/junk-food-junkies-2/
Daley, Suzanne. “Hungary Experiments With Food Tax to Coax Healthier Habits.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/world/europe/hungary-experiments-with-food-tax-to-coax-healthier-habits.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Neporent, Liz. “Candymaker Pledges to Fight Obesity.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 05 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/candymaker-pledges-fight-obesity/story?id=18651140