Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Last year 12 million Americans were worried that they couldn't put food on the table, while another 58 million were classified as obese. It's hard not to wonder about America's dysfunctional relationship with its dinner.

We've all read about factory farming operations and how they jam chickens, cattle and pigs into tiny spaces and stuff them full of hormones and antibiotics before selling them to us. Yum, yum!

Did you know the same is true for fish? According to commentator Jim Hightower, "80 percent of the salmon sold in the U.S. today comes from fish farms. These are increasingly corporate-owned operations that jam tens of thousands of fish together in ocean pens.... Packed together, they suffer abrasions and diseases that are treated with pesticides and antibiotics... The toxins in these pens contaminate the surrounding water, as does the enormous amount of fish waste."

Factory salmon may grow huge, Hightower says, "but they have twice the saturated fat and less of the fatty acids that are good for us. They also bring more toxic contaminants to our tables and -- get this -- they have to be artificially colored. Petrochemicals are added to produce a made-to-order color range from light pink to red."

Thinking of becoming a vegetarian? Read these gems extracted from "Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture," edited by Andrew Kimbrell:

  • It takes 10 fossil fuel calories to produce one food calorie.
  • At least 53 different pesticides, classified as carcinogenic, are applied to our major food crops.
  • More than one million Americans are drinking, bathing in and cooking with water containing pesticide run-off from farms.

  • * Pesticide residues are found in more than 35 percent of the food tested, with many U.S. products testing more toxic than those from other countries. American cherries rank as the fourth most pesticide-contaminated types of produce on grocery shelves, with peaches ranking 5th and apples eighth.

On television, Kentucky Fried Chicken (emphasis on "fried") is now selling itself as health food, a la the Atkins diet, while seafood chains show us plates heaped with breaded shrimp (emphasis on "breaded") for ridiculously low prices. Wander the aisles of the local supermarket and marvel at our abundance.

Then try to understand how that abundance ties in with the recent news from the Agriculture Department that about 32 percent of American families experienced someone going hungry at one time or another last year. It was the third year in a row that the department saw an increase in the number of households experiencing hunger.

Hunger in America is a serious issue. But how does it compute with our popular trend for competitive eating, where people see how many hot dogs they can stuff down in one sitting while others cheer them on and award prizes?

These statistics from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases might give you pause:

  • Forty million Americans are obese.
  • Three million Americans are morbidly obese.
  • Twenty-five percent of white American children are overweight.
  • Thirty-three percent of African American children are overweight.
  • Eight of 10 Americans over 25 years of age are overweight.

Obesity is as serious as hunger, but there's worse news yet. Tied to obesity is a silent and far more deadly epidemic: diabetes. Here are some statistics from the American Diabetes Association:

  • Seventeen million people, or 6.2 percent of the population, have diabetes.
  • In 1999, approximately 450,000 deaths occurred among people with diabetes aged 25 or older. That made it the sixth leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates.
  • Overall, the risk of death among people with diabetes is about two times greater than for people without it.
  • Because of the dangerous combination of obesity and diabetes, people are now having premature heart attacks when they are only 30 or 40 years of age.
  • In 2002, the American Heart Association and the American College of Endocrinology declared diabetes a heart disease.

Commentator Dick Dorworth believes that American society's dysfunctional relationship with food is directly related to its rampant lack of self-control.

"The personal, social, economic, medical (and health; which is not the same thing), spiritual and environmental costs of the out of control dining habits of America are beyond calculation," Dorworth said. "Those habits are both encouraged and rewarded in our industrial economy of unlimited selfishness."

Dorworth challenges the idea that America has the highest standard of living in human history.

"This amorphous claim can easily be challenged and, in any case, is a different matter from quality of life," he said. "If the U.S. truly had the highest standard of living in history, more than a third of its population would not feel compelled to eat themselves into a state of unhealthiness. Such compulsion is a sure sign of a lack of control."

Dorworth argues that America's lack of self-control relates directly to much larger issues.

"If we lack self-control in an industrial economy that doesn't permit us to control ourselves by limiting the causes of, say, industrial pollution, environmental degradation, poverty, corruption in places both high and low (increasing economic disparity between the haves and the have nots), the largest deficit in the history of the United States, a military budget larger than that of the combined military budgets of the next 20 nations, and preemptive warfare as an economic strategy," Dorworth said, "how can we reasonably expect, much less have the effrontery to demand or, even, ask, the rest of the world to take control of, say, anything?"

Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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