It is ironic that obesity, heart disease, hypertension, Type II diabetes, and even some forms of cancer have been called “diseases of affluence.” While it is true that these chronic conditions are still much more prevalent in wealthier, developed nations, within these countries it is those in the low income sector that are actually the most afflicted. Our backwards food policies being what they are, the default for those with fewer means is a poor diet. One often needs resources and a higher education to even be aware of what a healthy diet is or even that it matters, let alone to be able to incorporate it into one’s life. As someone who wants to influence the way the people in this country eat, having an understanding of the perspective of the majority is critical. But living in the privileged bubble that I have been fortunate enough to inherit, I find myself having to constantly remind myself of this.
I was taught from a young age that what you eat and how active you are determines your health, even if I didn’t listen until high school. My mom made my lunches and cooked dinner for our family most nights, and it was always tasty and usually pretty healthy. I can probably count on both hands the number of times I ate in a fast food restaurant during my entire childhood, and after my parents took me to see Supersize Me I didn’t even want to. Throughout my life I was only really exposed to other people of similar means who understood the connection between food and health to at least some degree, and now I go to a prestigious university where my classes and the liberal community only reinforce my assuredness that the food system needs to be changed.
I keep myself very well-read on the state of our food crisis, so I understand on a surface level that most people are not well-equipped as I am to eat well. But, on the somewhat rare occasion that I do meet someone with a very different experience and perspective on food, I am usually taken aback by the lack of awareness and stubbornness that they exhibit. From where I’m standing it is astounding to me that anyone could be so utterly oblivious to the effect of what they eat on their health. It is astounding to me that anyone could be eating fast food every day of the week. Even though I read about it all the time, when faced with a real live person in those circumstances, I realize how tight of a bubble I’m actually in.
If I want to have a part in making real change, I need to be able to comprehend the barriers our society faces to eating better. And among those barriers are poverty, lack of education, and, consequently, vulnerability to the marketing monster that is the food industry in this country. I am lucky enough to be able to evade those barriers almost entirely, but most people are not quite so fortunate. The privileged population cannot go on with the attitude that the obese are at fault for their health problems. Yes, people decide what to put in their mouths, but agricultural policies and corporate money have in large part determined the choices available to the lower income population. I (we) have a long row to hoe, pun intended.