The Junk Food Fix is More Than One Person’s Bad Choice. It’s an American Problem.

The Junk Food Fix is More Than One Person’s Bad Choice. It’s an American Problem. June 10, 2015

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Maurice Svay

My brave, witty and beautiful colleague, Katrina Fernandez, writes with the uninhibited gusto of a natural born wordsmith.

She has her finger on the pulse of the American condition. Her struggles with making ends meet as a single Mom in our current “jobless recovery” echo those of a lot of people I know, including my own family members. Her passion for Christ and His Church, her love of art and her fearless honesty make her one of the best reads on the internet.

Katrina has lately taken on the bugaboo of a whole raft of us working class Americans:  the demoralizing and doomed-to-defeat battle against overweight. Every word she writes, I can affirm from my own overweight life. Every defeat she encounters, every frustration and every small victory are experiences that millions of us have shared.

This topic of discussion fascinates a lot of us for the simple reason that Katrina is not alone in her predicament. Most of us live our lives in what Thoreau once described as “quiet desperation.” The difference is, in today’s world there is nothing quiet about our desperation.

We shout our frustrations for all the world to hear, but, despite our shouting, we do not comprehend them. How much of our food obsession and chronic widespread obesity is a reaction to the larger desperation of people who are pushed as far as they can be every single day of their lives?

All you have to do is leave this country and spend a few days in a place like Spain to come back and see and feel for yourself the driven, nerved-up atmosphere of our America. We are living through an implosion of our national wealth which is being siphoned off from the many and redeposited in the bank accounts of the very, very few.

We are, in fact and in truth, being systematically stolen blind by our government, which is the operative force in this theft.

What I’m saying is that we are getting poorer every single day. It is becoming harder and harder for ordinary Americans to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and a running car in the garage.

We have splintered our families to the point that vast numbers of Americans are trying to row their boat with one hand. Single parents try to be two people. But they can’t. Not really.

We work long hours for low pay and fewer benefits every year. We send our children to substandard schools that throw them into contact with drugs, gangs and that teach them moral nihilism. Our tax dollars are used to manipulate our children into a valueless worldview that is anathema to us and to their futures.

We are forced to leave our children alone in our homes for many hours a week while we try to make a living. We face a future in which any chance of getting off the treadmill to retire is being challenged by politicians who work for corporatists who want this last big pool of money, which is the retirement savings of generations, for their own use.

We are tired to the point of exhaustion almost every day of our lives. We do not have the energy and leisure for reflection and thought. At the same time, the media bombards us constantly with one pounding crisis after another. We are propagandized, lied to and manipulated in a deliberate fashion on a constant basis by this same media.

At the end of our long day, we do not feel like cooking a meal. We are too tired to wheel a shopping cart through a grocery store. It is simpler and in fact less expensive to go through the drive-through at the local fast food joint and pick up a sack of something. We can be sure that this something will be heavily seasoned with fat, sugar and salt. We can be equally sure that it will not contain anything resembling a balance of food types and nutrients.

But we have learned to find satisfaction in the sledge-hammer hit of fats, sugar and salt. The carbs and fats hit our systems like a drug fix. They energize us for the moment and the powerful tastes assuage our longing for pleasure. Eating this stuff passes for a momentary time-out. It feels like comfort.

Food, used like this, is not about nourishment. It is not the pleasurable and relaxing experience of partaking of a well-balanced, home-cooked meal with family and friends. There is no lingering over the last morsel and laughing about the day’s problems.

This kind of eating is a buy-it-quick, stuff-it-down fix. We need the outlandish calorie counts supplied by all that fat and sugar to satisfy our hunger because the food itself is so low in so many essential nutrients. The sugar-fat-salt fix soothes our taste buds and raises our blood sugar so that we feel a short-lived high.

Of course, this doesn’t last. Unlike a real meal composed of good food, the high from this something we’ve bought at the drive through goes away in a relatively short time. Unlike a meal at the kitchen table with friends and family, it does nothing to relieve the day’s pressures and assuage the anxieties that keep us up at night, even when we ache from tiredness.

Before we have begun to burn the high number of calories we’ve consumed, the gnawing hungers, both physical and emotional, are back. Our bodies push us to eat again because they haven’t been properly nourished. Our minds beg us to binge because we need surcease from being, as Alcoholics Anonymous says, too hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

We have nobody to talk to. We have no other outlets in our time-starved lives where we can vent. We are pushed around, abandoned, scared and alone with our miseries. We really are too hungry, angry, lonely and tired to fend off that call for a junk food fix.

Our national problem with obesity is not so much a problem with food as it is that we don’t have healthy options for dealing with the many desperations of our existence. We live in a nation that has been at war for almost 15 years. Our country has been economically at war since around 1939.

Our government has been hijacked by corporatists who are draining the national purse as well as our private purses and taking the money for themselves. The government tells us that inflation is flat, yet every time we go to the grocery store or fill a prescription or guy a gallon of gas, we know that this is not true. Inflation is, in fact, running pretty high. The government has just cooked the books so it does not have to admit it.

The stock market has been going up and up, yet the people of this country can’t find jobs and when they do find jobs, they can’t live on what they are paid. They do not have retirements, the roads and bridges aren’t being repaired, tuition keeps going up and scads of people can not afford the health insurance being offered by the Affordable Health Care Act.

There isn’t time in most people’s lives to drop in at a gym and work out every day. Besides, people who never get enough sleep at night don’t feel like working out. The only pleasure a lot of people in this country get on a reliable basis is stuffing down that junk food they got from the drive through.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we will not solve the problem of widespread obesity in this country until and unless we solve the problems of lost community, no free time and fear of the future that haunts the American people. I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s up to us to do this for ourselves.

Widespread obesity is a symptom of many huge problems facing the American people. If you find your community on the internet, instead of the flesh and blood people around you, if you are chronically exhausted from lack of sleep, if you ache all over from lack of exercise, if you can’t find a job or if you have a job, it doesn’t pay your bills, if you have no idea whatsoever where you would go or who would take care of you if you got cancer or when you grow old, then you are not living the American dream. You are living the American nightmare.

Is it any wonder that you find it so hard to give up the one pleasure you have? When a Big Mac becomes the best thing in your life, you won’t be able to stay away from it, no matter how hard you try.

We the People tamed this continent. We built railroads across the wilderness, created an industrial empire like nothing the world had ever seen. We won world wars and put men on the moon. We created a standard of living, not just for the few, but for a whole nation of Americans, that, again, the world had never seen before.

Now it is being taken from us. The only thing our government seems capable of doing is waging constant war. It will not spend our money on us. It does not build roads, does not provide decent education. It goes in your face against our values and needs.

The government has steadily siphoned off the wealth of this great nation for decades now. It has transferred monies that once enriched all the citizens of this nation into the hands of a few. It has exported our industrial base and the jobs that go with it. It has ignored the people on a consistent, bi-partisan basis.

Meanwhile, We the People tear our lives apart with senseless divorces, too much debt, increasingly splintered communities, zoning out in front of the computer or the television, and of course, those trips through the junk food drive throughs.

We are sitting by while we are being stolen blind by our own government, while our young people turn feral from no family life, bad schools and sicko social values and while we commit slow suicide from overeating, under exercising and constant sleep deprivation.

I am not speaking of these thing from the outside. I am one with most of these problems. I eat out too much, don’t exercise enough and so seldom get enough sleep that when I do I am astonished by how good I feel. Over-eating, under-exercising exhaustion is my normal.

I’ve decided I’m going to join brave Katrina Fernandez and blog about my own battle of the bulge. I’ve done this before when I published a series of posts under the title, Less of Me. I’m going to resurrect that title and post under it again.

I see overweight/under-exercise/lack of sleep as a widespread societal problem and a deeply humiliating and utterly defeating personal problem.

If there is a way out of this cycle, I have never found it.

If you want to read something like Ten Quick Fixes for Weight Loss, you need to skip my discussion and go somewhere else. However, I can guarantee you before you go there that it will not help you one bit to read those ten quick fixes. Because there aren’t any quick fixes. Because the problem itself is bigger than the individual. Because when an entire nation of people experience such a devastating malady as this, there is much more afoot than simple lack of will power and bad personal decisions.

The junk food fix and everything that goes with it is a societal problem. It is a maladjustment and a source of illness for tens of millions of Americans.

I am one of those Americans.

Let’s talk.





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7 responses to “The Junk Food Fix is More Than One Person’s Bad Choice. It’s an American Problem.”

  1. By all accounts, I should be dead.

    At least that’s what everybody kept telling me at the time. After being hospitalized for slipping into a diabetic coma, the first few weeks out were the worst.

    Can you imagine what it must be like to be starving, in the middle of a shopping mall food court but with nothing to eat in sight? I felt as if I were being surrounded on all sides by flashing signs labeled: “Poison!”.

    I gained a new appreciation for diet beverages, salads and whole wheat. Heck, they even know me by name at my local Subway. Its not that I’m an uber-fan of the place; its simply the least dangerous fast food option I have available. Before, when shopping for groceries, I tried to get the most for my money. Now, my primary concern are the nutrition facts. I pick the items that have the least amount of sugar, fat and sodium, even if they are more expensive, which is always.

    Throughout this process I remember feeling angry. On how the entire food industry seems geared toward overloading everything with sugar. On how you have to go out of your way to eat healthy instead of that being the default choice.

    Ironically enough, a few weeks before being hospitalized I was talking to a health insurance representative about purchasing health care insurance. After I got out and met with her again, in a spirit of full disclosure, I explained to her what had happened. I expected to have to pay a more expensive policy based on my condition. Instead I was flatly denied.

    I waited until the Affordable Care Act came into effect before attempting to purchase health care insurance again.

    To all those people who keep trying to repeal Obamacare and are rallying against the First Lady for trying to get our kids to eat healthier: you’re a joke. (forum rules prevent me form typing out what I reeeally want to say here)

    This problem is not limited to people with obesity. I’m not and have never been overweight, yet I nearly died as a direct result of the food I was eating. When all the options within arms reach are bad for you, why should this come as a surprise?

  2. I know several people who were able to get health care under the Affordable Health Care Act who were not able to get it before. One of them has leukemia. Self-employed people have also benefitted from it.

    On the other hand, people who work at jobs which don’t pay a living wage — which is becoming most working-class Americans — can not afford it. I personally know 7 people who are employed but can not afford the premiums of the Affordable Health Care Act.

    One of the major problems with the Act is that does not provide health care to the American people. It provides a guaranteed profit to health care insurers.

    Now, to the really important point: I am very glad that you got help and that you survived your illness. Diabetes is a killer. It is also insidious. Take good care of yourself, my friend.

  3. Rebecca, this is all so, so true. It is almost impossible to survive these days. Everything goes up except income. Thankfully, my truck driver husband makes a decent living for us. But, we are struggling too. I have never had to work full-time (I stayed home to educate our children–a blessing in itself), but have worked part-time, minimum wage jobs up until a couple years ago. (I cannot understand how anyone can make it on minimum wage. They can’t. ) So, I have always been able to put cooked-from-scratch meals on the table. My husband considers himself fortunate.

    There is diabetes in our family, both parents and two siblings, one of whom is on insulin. My doctor has been very watchful about my sugars over the past couple years. At my last visit, she said I must lose about 10 pounds, maybe 15 (at 5’8″ I weigh 150, not really a whole lot, but there are the genes), go back on low carb and STAY on it. And exercise. I lost on Atkins a few years ago, but never figured out what a safe carb amount was for me. I fear it is quite low. So, I ended up back on my regular diet, which never has been a fast food diet (gluten keeps me away from a lot of that) and regained all I had lost. Now, there is no way around it. I must take her advice seriously. I NEVER want to be forced on insulin and I don’t really want to be on any diabetes medications. I am facing the fact that there are some things that can NEVER be part of my diet again and lots of other things that I love that can be eaten only rarely from now on, like bananas, and bing cherries, and mangos and fresh pineapple and brown rice and granola. All good foods, but with too many carbs for me. Hopefully, it will get easier. But, right now I look at the Bing cherries at 1 gram per cherry and wonder how many I dare eat when I can only eat 40 or so carbs/day.

    There is so much more to comment about in your article, Rebecca, but I will leave that to others. I do enjoy reading what you have to say. On almost a daily basis.

    Thanks for the link to Katrina’s blog. I have bookmarked it.

    Have you ever read Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat? Or any of Michael and Mary Dan Eades’ writings or Johnny Bowden’s? Or their you tube videos. Very, very enlightening. There are a few others very knowledgable about the science of fats, whose names I have forgotten who also debunk the typical American diet of high carbs. Unfortunately, carbs are usually what’s cheaper to buy.

  4. 1) They use, or at least used to use, I don’t know if they still do, artificial estrogen to fatten up livestock. There’s probably a lot of it in the American environment now.

    2) It doesn’t take any longer to go through the local grocery store’s salad bar than it does to go to the fast food joint, and the food’s a lot better for you.

  5. I haven’t read or seen them Mary Fran. I’ll give them a look. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Our crockpots have saved us from the ff lane too many times to count (Our groceries don’t have a salad bar–that would be awesome.)