Monday, October 27, 2008

Paying for gyms for obese children

From Yahoo News:

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea plans to help obese children pay for health club membership and other activities that can help them lose weight, an official said on Wednesday.

Health ministry official Chun Myung-sook said the rate of childhood obesity had tripled over the past three years due to a changing diet higher in fatty foods and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Under the government plan, elementary school students whose body mass index indicates obesity will be able to receive up to 40,000 won ($33.58) a month to help them bring their weight down.

"Kids won't be able to waste the money on eating sweets. We will give them electronic vouchers that can only be used in designated places," Chun said.

Costs to the government and the economy related to childhood obesity were 2 trillion won in 2006, the ministry said, making the voucher program cost effective.

(Reporting by Kim Junghyun and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need. -Marx

People tend to ask me often, and rightly so, how I managed to find nutrition from philosophy--two disciplines that seem so unrelated that most people wouldn't even consider them potential bastard cousins. One is steeped in the humanities, the other in empirical data and science. When I was in undergrad, I read a lot of philosophy, including some political/social theory by Marx which had a resounding influence in my life, especially his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, specifically his alienation theory.

Simply put, Marx's theory explicates the idea that the Industrial Revolution, through the advent of mass production and mass commodification, has made us more alienated from each other as human beings. To paraphrase, Marx says that one of our greatest attributes as human beings is the ability to create, to be creative, to make (and in fact this is what sets us apart from animals) and to be able to share those creations with one another. The idea of mass production not only negates the ability to exercise our minds through creativity (a worker on an assembly line is simply going through the motions that someone else has told him/her to do), but it also extracts this relationship of creator to recipient of the creation. Taking away these enormously important human traits makes us unable to self-realize. When you subtract this formerly very interactive, rich, meaningful exchange, everything becomes simply commodity from unknown to unknown. It all loses so much meaning. To have so much means to value everything a bit less as well.

There are more facets and stronger philosophical implications to this theory that I also draw from frequently, but for our purposes this might work (please ask if you are confused).

Suffice to say, I became fascinated with food in France. This is such a truncated version of a story, but it's a blog and I know people do not care to read forever.

I connected the idea of alienation with this new food movement--mass production, unrecognizable ingredients, 30,000 new products a year hitting the market, of course coupled with fierce marketing campaigns; You begin to see this lack of connection between farm and plate, between creator of product or food itself and consumer of it. You also begin to see a real lack of human connection with food, where it used to be. You're probably starting to get the idea.

Well, reading Michael Pollin's new book, In Defense of Food, the other day I found he summed it up incredibly well when he was advocating shopping at farmer's markets as opposed to grocery stores (pp. 159-161):
"If you're concerned about chemicals in your produce, you can simply ask the farmer at the market how he or she deals with pests and fertility and begin the sort of conversation between producers and consumers that, in the end, is the best guarantee of quality in your food. So many of the problems of the industrial food chain stem from its length and complexity. A wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers, and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides. Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they're growing food for actual eaters rather than for middlemen, and consumers can easily forget that growing good food takes care and hard work. In a long food chain, the story and identity of the food (Who grew it? Where and how was it grown?) disappear into the undifferentiated stream of commodities, so that the only information communicated between consumers and producers is price. In a short food chain, eaters can make their needs and desires known to the farmer, and farmers can impress on eaters the distinctions between ordinary and exceptional food, and the many reasons why exceptional food is worth what it costs. Food reclaims its story, and some of its nobility, when the person who grew it hands it to you. So here's a subclause to the get-out-of-the-supermarket rule: Shake the hand that feeds you...
...Regulation is an imperfect substitute for the accountability, and trust, built into a market in which food producers meet the gaze of eaters and vice versa."

Philosophy has a place in nutrition and now it is time for me to learn the science. To be a comprehensive researcher and writer, both disciplines will come into play, ideally. I want to take this idea that Pollin puts into motion here, even further. Nutrition is becoming part science, part philosophy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Let's Catch Up Over Soup

We are truly on the verge of a revolution in diet in this country--solid, lasting change will persevere. As Americans we have been on a fast track toward wrecking our bodies as a species constantly barraged by mixed messages, inundated with mass media and advertising, and bombarded by 30,000 new products introduced into the food market a year. It is natural that our understanding has been skewed. But when a book about the history of four meals and a synopsis of modern agribusiness can become a bestseller, it says to me that people are paying attention to the inextricable link between diet and health. Well, diet and mortality for that matter. Even more importantly, we are awakening (some say re-awakening) to the idea that our food choices are linked, in some good ways and some bad, to our environment and also to each other. We're not only seeing wont for delicious, nutritious organic foods, but also for sitting down, slowing down, enjoying foods, savoring them, getting back to simplicity in cooking and flavor, creating a symbiotic relationship with our environs and using the dinner table to fortify relationships.

It feels like such a good time to be going into nutrition.Change is afoot. Look at all the resources I've found so recently posted on the internet. The NYT Magazine's last issue was devoted entirely to food--just a month before election day, one of the nation's most influential newspapers decided that this was a major issue for the American voter. Here are some great articles I found from it:

Please check out this particularly apt article in the New York Times by Michael Pollin, whose latest book, In Defense of Food, I am currently reading. The article is great for a couple reasons, mostly because it sort of summarizes the great points of the book I am reading, but also because I feel like Pollin really emphasizes the idea that a large part of each of our carbon footprints is from agribusiness and, quite simply, the food we eat. It is so easy to forget this when we're toting our canvas bags to Trader Joe's, but in actuality, when you drop that papaya in your basket, you're paying for something that was flown across the globe using gallons of fuel and causing detrimental impacts to our globe. Pollin takes this encompassing look that is intensely admirable--he always incorporates sustainability information and global impacts into his work while at the same time not losing nutrition or the savory, wonderfulness that is EATING and food.

Check out this article for how indicative what we put in our mouths is in regard to our choice for presidential candidate. Something I've explored before.

Here's an article on Obama and McCain and where they stand on Farm and Food Policy. You will not be too surprised by what you find out, most notably that neither of them are taking any strong stances or moves in any direction. Food will be a major political issue in the next four to eight years in this country, but is unfortunately currently being back-burnered for more pressing issues.

Finally, I want to say a little bit about eating seasonally. Many people emphasize eating seasonally because it is simply going to be fresher, taste better and naturally encourage locavorianism. But I also genuninely believe that it puts one in a relationship with the environment that is has been something we've lacked since the beginning of exploration and trade. It's clear that we'll never be in a spot to simply munch what we are able to hunt or gather again (though there are interesting studies on aboriginal cultures in this aspect), we can try to achieve some sort of spiritual connection to our ravaged Earth, even as city dwellers! Isn't eating seasonally (and locally) one of the simplest ways to do so? Doesn't making pumpkin soup around Halloween sound just delicious? Why not carry it a little farther. Here are some easy resources I found for finding out what is good to eat in your location during any particular season:
I still have some questions about stuff... like, are grains seasonal? What about fish and seafood? I'll try to explore this when I have a bit more time, but this is at least a start. I think autumn is the most amazing time to think about foods and start trying new recipes.