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Archive for the ‘food’ Category

The skinny on fat

I’ve been doing a lot of research this week on the policy and economics of obesity in the US, preparing a paper on why and how Americans are obese. It’s pretty fascinating stuff…did you know that in 2004 the US food supply provided nearly 4000 calories per person everyday?

Which must mean there’s a whole lotta food waste, of course. 1400 calories? Everyday?

Before I started this research, I was a pretty staunch supporter of soda/fat/McDonald’s taxes. Across the board, I consider this stuff disgusting and soda especially, useless. Why not tax it and use the money to fund obesity prevention education?

Well, as I’ve learned there are a lot of reasons not to. A soda tax would be regressive, meaning it would harm poorer people, who spend a larger percentage of their money on food, more than wealthier ones. It’s also not necessarily going to target people who seriously need to lose weight—skinny people like the occasional Pepsi, too.

The problem is more deeply embedded in our society, in everything from how much cheaper our calories have become over the years (thanks in large part to government subsidies for corn and high fructose corn syrup practically becoming its own food group) to the shape and structure of our cities to how much time we have to prepare meals.

(For more on the soda tax and health reform, click here.)

Which brings me to a more interesting point. One of the studies I read, from the USDA, called “Who has Time to Cook?” places much of the onus of cooking on women. Although they write that regardless of income or marital status, women spend more time preparing food than men do (a fact is a fact), they say that “working full-time and being a single parent appear to affect the time allocated to preparing food more than an individual’s earnings or household income do.”

A)     Home-cooked foods are for the most part healthier than packaged/fast/restaurant food.

B)      Women are more likely to be single working parents.

C)      Women prepare most of the food.

Does this mean that women entering the workforce are somehow to blame for the obesity crisis?

It’s a tough question. I know there are so many other factors at work here and that it is possible to make cheap, easy, and nutritious meals daily (I do it myself…although I do have a hard time imagining feeding a family on the scrambled egg whites and spinach I eat many nights a week).

Meanwhile, I have big plans for sugar, butter, and chocolate tonight (speaking of obesity and women preparing food). I’m having friends over for a belated housewarming celebration of beer and baked goods. Do you remember the Suz who was afraid of cooking anything more than microwaved vegetables? No more. Tonight, we’re doing Smitten Kitchen’s blondies and cheesecake marbled brownies.

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Spotted Thursday night at Ben’s Chili Bowl: Wesley Snipes.

The actor visited the U Street institution for a late-night snack after a press screening of his latest film, “Brooklyn’s Finest.” The movie was shown nearby at the Lincoln Theatre.

(Hat tip: Dylan Perry)

The vegetarian chili was delicious.

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Whole Foods towed my car…

…does this mean I should boycott?

Okay, so I parked in a Whole Foods parking lot in Brighton a few weeks ago on a Friday night to stop by a friend’s party. 45 minutes later my car was towed. I get it…it was past closing hours and I wasn’t a customer at the moment. Still…really? Sometimes I think I should be able to get a permit that marks me as poor and helpless. Needless to say, I’m happy to be leaving my car behind when I move to DC (whose public transportation, I’ve heard, is much better than Boston’s awful awful Green Line).

Anyway, this article is really interesting and made me think a whole lot about Whole Foods and my relationship with it as a consumer. Frankly, I’m totally seduced by Whole Foods. As Nick Paumgarten writes in the New Yorker, that’s not a coincidence. It uses the new genre of “supermarket pastoral” (aptly termed by Michael Pollan) to sell you stories about the food you’re buying. And the visuals are set up so you want to buy more:

This store, like most, led with produce. “Nothing more whole foods than produce,” Robb said. “Look at all the colors.” There were thirty varieties of apples. “Most markets say, Let’s throw the food out there and stick it in your bodies. No, it’s a beautiful, stimulating experience. It’s a visual experience.” Sometimes the store deploys “dummies,” wooden or cardboard devices hidden under mounds of produce, to create an illusion of greater supply—supermarket Wonderbras.

Whole Foods, even if it is corporate and kind of a green-washer, is doing some good. Even though it has less than one percent of the American market on groceries, it has changed the way we all think about food and food distribution. Sometimes, the Whole Foods ethos seems like total bullshit when you see the shelves full of ice cream and potato chips (ooh, they’re organic).

The New Yorker piece mostly profiles John Mackey, the CEO. He’s a libertarian with some ideas I really disagree with—anti-unionism, for instance. But he’s a vegan and likes to go backpacking. That combination is kind of refreshing and made me stop to think a little bit about what his message is. His views on responsibility for your own self really strikes a chord with me. Sometimes, like when I think about the costs of higher education in our country, I totally support the idea of a Scandinavia-esque welfare state. Other times, like when I think about how much other people’s obesity will end up costing me (kind of a health nut), this viewpoint makes total sense.

In the end, I can’t even afford Whole Foods. The last time I was there I spotted some almond butter—something I’ve wanted to try. Too bad a jar of it cost like 20 bucks. Interestingly, the growth of Whole Foods has spurred even bigger and badder corporations like WalMart to include organics (Wal-Mart is now the biggest retailer of organic groceries, weird huh?). Maybe I’ll shop there instead.

Whole Foods wasn’t really created for me. I don’t like spending a lot of money on food and I tend to live on bags of trail mix from the drugstore until I get so sick of it I go on a bi-weekly fresh produce binge. If Whole Foods catered to a customer like me, it would probably go out of business. And hey, it looks like Whole Foods doesn’t really like me either. Or why would it tow my car?

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