Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Poor Are Getting Fat

And it's not because they are getting rich, but quite the contrary. This must be a first in human history: poor people dying of obesity and its attendant miseries because they can't afford to buy fresh foods.
The poor used to be skeletal and emaciated, and in some countries of the Third World, they still are. But in most developed and developing countries, obesity has reached epidemic levels, and populations who used to be of normal weight are now fat.
I'm not the kind of person to blame the US for everything, but I certainly blame it for this.
As this article by Michael Pollan explains, it all comes from processed foods, which are always cheaper than fresh.
A scientist conducted an experiment:

Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

Well, there you have it. And countries that always relied in fresh food preparation, like Mexico, are now inundated with junk and snacks and fat poor people.
Mr. Pollan explains further. The reason why everybody in the world is ballooning is because of the US government's farm bill, which subsidizes mainly carbohydrate crops like corn, wheat, rice and soy. So my instincts were right. The US is totally to blame for this eating crisis:

To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.

It's just depressing. Stop eating Twinkies.

1 comment:

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