Michael Pollan offered simple advice in his bestseller In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Too bad restaurants didn’t check that out from the library. Though no one has the key to the obesity epidemic, it’s clear that food manufacturer’s, restaurants and other food service establishments don’t have our backs. Heck, forget a compassionate hug – their arms are too short to reach around most of us at this point.
New York mayor’s Michael R. Bloomberg purported ban on selling soft drinks (sugar-sweetened beverages only) larger than 16 oz is being hoodwinked by the soft-drink industry that vow to stamp out the ban. They say this ban disregard’s the public’s opinion and degrades the ability of local businesses to make money. What? Make money at the expense of our nation’s health? That just ain’t right!
The CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) says 93% of 1,474 possible choices at 13 fast food chains exceeded 430 calories, an amount that is one-third of what the Institute of Medicine recommends that children aged four to eight should consume in a day. And, those meals exceeded recommended requirements for cholesterol, sodium, and saturated and trans fats.
Somerville MA in 2008 didn’t buy into being bullied. They conducted a study called Shape up Somerville. Because 44% of the city’s children were at or above the 85th percentile for body mass index (meaning they were headed toward serious health issues later in life if remaining at their status quo), restaurants in the city teamed up with researchers who invited them to make healthier options. What they promised to do was:
- Offer smaller-sized portions
- Make sure fruits/vegetables were available as side dishes and/or entrees
- Offer low-fat or nonfat dairy products (Asian restaurants exempted)
- Must highlight healthier options on a menu board, the menu itself, a laminated sign, or a table tent
- Must display an SUS seal of approval in the restaurant door or window
When later asked, these restaurants felt the healthier options were not as hard to implement as they thought they would be. They reported many customers were ordering the healthier options weekly. Overall, they felt the program was beneficial not only to their customers but to them too. All in all, nutrition awareness was heightened on all fronts.
So why so chafe by our loud lamenting to join forces to make America healthier? Bucks, gravy, dough (sounds like food, heh?), the almighty dollar. Food companies are only concerned with the bottom line (not your bottom). Profits.
If we’d only believe that, we’d get mad. Seriously furious. Enraged. Foot stomping and growling. Just who came in and took control over what goes into my body? Yes, personal accountability is at stake here. We ultimately are the ones who make that decision. But when our environment is as toxic as it is today, with 24/7 availability to cheap, fatty, sugary, and oh yes, tasty meals and snacks, resolve weakens, emotional eating skyrockets, our kids get fatter, as do we, but they are our future.
Until we have backing from those who are in charge, we need to take matters into our own hands. To improve our health, we need to get verbose and make loud statements. Louder please.
Let’s see how that would look:
- In restaurants, be assertive. When I treated my kid and friends to a graduation dinner at an exclusive restaurant, they offered no vegetarian options for them. When asking our server, she replied, “Oh, the chef is used to that. How would a marinated tofu, rice and seasoned stir-fry vegetable dish sound?” Tofu was NOT listed on the menu at all. Ask, please. (It was delicious, btw.) Ask for extra vegetables in lieu of the stuffed baked potato and smaller portions (or insist the ‘doggy bag’ accompany the entree when served.)
- Reduce soda consumption. Useless and unnecessary calories. Drink water. Or choose a moderately sized diet soda.
- Support services that comply with your requests. Ban the ones who don’t and be loud about it. Post the ban on Facebook and tweet often about both those that are supportive and those that disregard you as a person with rights. (When I found out that every day easily over 60 million plastic straws are used and thrown away, I alerted my local servers. Today, they remember and do not bring me a straw.)
- Join consumer advocacy groups in your area. Like Somerville, there are local meetings geared toward health. If not, start one. Be an ambassador.
Together, we make a difference. Let me know how it goes.