Michael Pollan on the Rising Food Movement in the NY Review of Books

“The First Lady has effectively shifted the conversation about diet from the industry’s preferred ground of “personal responsibility” and exercise to a frank discussion of the way food is produced and marketed. “We need you not just to tweak around the edges,” she told the assembled food makers, “but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.”

In his latest essay, The Food Movement, Rising, Michael Pollan chronicles the rise of the Food Movement. It’s a 5,400 word piece in the New York Review of Books that moves from the roots of the movements, to challenging today’s leaders, and, as always, encouraging us to join in.

A striking point comes when he calls out Al Gore for missing the critical role that agriculture plays in global warming. Citing his book/movie/presentation, An Inconvenient Truth,  for making “scant mention of food or agriculture”. Even though our food system makes up one-fifth of American fossil fuel use. Further, it emits an incredible amount of greenhouse gas even thought “(it) is the one human system that should be able to substantially rely on photosynthesis” (i.e. solar energy).

The health industry is also in the center of his piece, citing that 3/4 of all health care spending treats diet related diseases (heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and at least a third of all cancers).

“The health care crisis probably cannot be addressed without addressing the catastrophe of the American diet, and that diet is the direct (even if unintended) result of the way that our agriculture and food industries have been organized.”

Oddly, the good news portion of his essay comes from the government. The FDA is “cracking down on deceptive marketing”, the DOJ is “avowing” to “pursue antitrust” issues, and even the conservative USDA is getting involved. Most importantly, though, is Michelle Obama’s work. As the cited above her direct statements and in-the-field work seem to be having the greatest impact.

“Mrs. Obama explicitly rejected the conventional argument that the food industry is merely giving people the sugary, fatty, and salty foods they want, contending that the industry “doesn’t just respond to people’s natural inclinations—it also actually helps to shape them,” through the ways it creates products and markets them.”

My favorite part about Michael Pollan’s writing are always his euphoric references to our food future. Yes, there are problems and people are suffering, but the light at the end of the tunnel is awe inspiring.

“The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure…”

I love how he interweaves politics and beliefs into the piece (conservative libertarianism, comunitarian?). Then moves to explore the backlash against consumerism, “an attempt to redefine, or escape, the traditional role of consumer has become an important aspiration of the food movement”.

Finally, a solid reference to our beloved Farmers Markets:

…an activity that a great many people enjoy…(someone) is playing music. Children are everywhere, sampling fresh produce, talking to farmers. Friends and acquaintances stop to chat. One sociologist calculated that people have ten times as many conversations at the farmers’ market than they do in the supermarket.

The piece is well worth reading: The Food Movement, Rising by Michael Pollan

Being Obese Cost Individuals 37% More A Year

Just how fat are we as a country?

Well a recent report on obesity rates in America gave us an F. In fact, they even titled their report F as in Fat 2009, by the Trust for America’s Health. The reason being that they found that 2/3 of all adult Americans are overweight or obese. Where the “adult obesity rates now exceed 25 percent in 31 states and exceed 20 percent in 49 states and Washington, D.C.”

Only Colorado is exempt, but they have an obesity rate of 18.9 percent, not something to brag about. Especially considering that in “1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 1980, the national average for adult obesity was 15 percent.” We are now at more than 33 percent nationwide, it goes on to state.

1 out of 3 of us are obese.

2 out of 3 of us are overweight/obese.

I’m a little scared to pass along the facts about our children…

Utah and Minnesota had the lowest rate of obesity for their children at 23.1 percent. Our children are fatter than we are.  In some states the obesity rate is at rates of 35-45 percent.

Scary stuff.

If we look at this report (pdf) from the Center for Disease Control. It shows individual charts from 1985 to 2008. Each one lists all the states and their average level of obesity, based on BMI levels (body mass index; 30 or higher equals obese). I just flipped through the pages and watch the obesity trend like a comic flip book. In the beginning all of the states show no data or very low BMI’s. Then as the years progress all the states are in the fat quadrant.

They even had to add extra columns on the right to describe the higher levels of BMI.

What does this all cost us?

Cost is an interesting word. These obesity trends are having drastic impacts on the environment, our economy, and our family lives. But, here I just want to focus on dollars in health care since I have another report to share.

Many thanks to Ryan Huber for the tip on this article.

This report from a journal, Health Affairs, discusses the changes in health care spending from 1987 to 2001.

The Impact of Obesity on Rising Medical Spending, by Kenneth E. Thorpe, Curtis S. Florence, David H. Howard, and Peter Jorski. (pdf of full report)

The results show two things. Obese folks end up spending more on health care each year. It also hints that they cost the rest of us more money as well.

“Health care spending among the obese was 37 percent higher.”

The rate of obesity in America is increasing to and so are the costs. Being in this category means that we spend more on health care, that spending is increasing (compared to those not obese), and more of us are becoming obese.

This is normally due to the increased health risks that come along with this epidemic. They include risks of developing “diabetes, gallstones, hypertension, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, stroke, and some forms of cancer.”

Don’t think we’re safe though if we are just overweight since “the risk of death is higher among moderately and severely overweight men and women, regardless of age.” (bold added by me).

Finally, the report hints that 27% of all increases in healthcare spending are due to obesity. Since obesity is linked to so many diseases, each of which are on the rise, it is possible that we are all facing higher costs. This may just get worse too if our government move towards a more collective (socialist) form of healthcare.

Don’t Get Mad

I am not here to offend anyone. I am not here to place blame. But I cannot step around our obesity problem. In order to address it we have to face the issue.

In writing this piece I made sure to use we instead of you. This is not an individual problem or issue. It is a community issue. Together we must face it and together we can solve it.

I also understand how hard this is for us. I was once 60 pounds heavier than I am now. I understand how deep this feels.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments.