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Food Fights Exploit Class, Income Splits

By       Message Robert S. Becker       (Page 2 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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Food battles, part of health wars


Yes, food wars will come into their own, riding the absurd debate whether elected officials can govern something called "public health." The cost already for diabetes, now hitting teens who aren't oversight (simply junk food junkies), stagger budgets: one Medicare dollar in three deals with diabetes, with predictions of "$3.4 trillion over the next 10 years to treat pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes." Heck, that's comparable to what we spent on WWII, or will on Iraq+Afghanistan.


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At stake isn't only "regulating" eating habit for those "lacking self-control," but denying the link between poverty and bad eating, indeed the entire junk food-genetics-race-diabetes-obesity syndrome. It's another version of blaming/shaming the victim, as if obesity tracks only ignorance or sloth, when it's often about location, location, location: "Obesity, Diabetes and Poverty Share a Common Zip Code" headlines this typical medical summary. A Daily Kos blogger details the poverty-stress-obesity linkage for, under stress, "your body produces a chemical known as cortisol [causing] individuals to gain weight."  

The Big Food Picture

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A new book, White Bread, A Social History of the Store-bought Loaf, by political scientist Aaron Bobrow-Strain, offers a far more comprehensive viewpoint, reminding us that food debates are also inevitably about class, income and social status. What reaches our plates depends less on healthfulness or personal choice than environment, promotion, and values from family and ethnic backgrounds -- and food follows fashion. Item: white bread by the 1930s was emblematic of purity, progress and modernity, delivering food marvels immortalized by the cliche', "the greatest thing since sliced bread." High status plus convenience for working mothers, supplemented with (depleted) vitamins and minerals, established permanence.     


Yet coded messages pushing industrial sanitation, "untouched by human hands" weren't only about purity: they talked up abandoning the less sanitary (immigrant) hands that baked small-time, local breads. Now, the table turns and bland, empty white bread is trashed as nutritionally empty, identified with poor, ignorant folk and scorned by modern foodies. Though denuded white flour (plus chemical additives) still dominate ready-made, industrial buns, cakes, cookies and crackers, the whole wheat revolt ("don't eat white, eat right") made both a social point (public health) and of late a private one (knowledgeable individuals will pay the whole wheat price to stay healthy). "White bread" now derides Republicans devoid of substance.


Everything is political

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Bobrow-Strain further argues when food choices are politicized, good intentions reinforce social divides: righteous know-it-alls try to fix the poor, pitiful, ignorant, or oblivious, with mixed results. The tested, underlying dynamic is that income dictates the quality of what we eat; with per capita real income frozen for decades, poorer minority urban and rural folks flock to the cheapest, calorie-rich, nutrient-light industrial pickings. Compare how far $20 goes at the subsidized, corner fast-food trough (dinner for four) vs. travel to grocery shopping, time and costs to cook, then badgering tired kids to clean-up. The industrial food machine has grown rich by obliterating home-cooked meals (self-reliance and family togetherness) for wide swathes of America, thus our obesity-diabetes epidemic and more.    


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For a decade, Robert S. Becker's rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, messaging and frameworks, now featured author at OpEdNews, Nation of Change and RSN. He appears regularly at Dissident Voice, with credits (more...)

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