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      CommentAuthorBrianMowrey
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009 edited
     (6467.1)
    This has been a popular distraction topic in the USPolitics thread, so now's as good a time as any to give it a new home, since it's less politics and more lifestyle/science. To import a bit of context from that thread, the Urban Institute just recommended taxing fattening foods to fund health care reform. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just proclaimed that "as obesity rates increased from 18.3% of Americans in 1998 to 25% in 2006, the cost of providing treatment for those patients' weight-driven problems increased healthcare spending by $40 billion a year" (same link).

    What is good food? Why is good food so fucking hard to find in poor areas? How can we get people to eat better? And seriously, ok, Burger King -- why do people even go there?

    Let's start the discourse with some more high-fructose gubbament data, namely:
  1.  (6467.2)
    USDA food availability per capita statistics charts-on-demand!. Fooking cool. You input the foodgroups and it creates the charts. Also called "food loss", the numbers track how much of what types of food shows up for domestic sale, since 1909, which is meant to reflect consumption. The resulting trends reflect trends in consumption. (If you have Excel, you can download their adjusted-for-waste estimates of food-group actual intake here.)

    The most interesting trend is that this country doesn't eat too much more food than it did 100 years ago, even though food costs us less than half as much of our incomes as it did then, and we sure is fatter.

    The fatter part is certainly helped by the sweeteners: HFCS has bumped us up, from its conception in 1970, taking over half of sugar consumption by 1984 (while total sweetener use was stable), but then continuing to rise after that while sugar was stable, bumping total sweetener intake from 122lbs/year to 151lbs/year in 1999. Followed by a HFCS reduction since 99 that brings latest total sweetener to a less scandalous 136.29. Soda has gone up 50% since 1979 (15 gallons more per year -- but also decreasing since 1999, which accounts for HFCS moderating).

    Meat is less intuitive. Beef almost doubled from 1909 (51lbs/year) to 1976 (89), but then experience a strong correction, even though the late 70s brought huge consolidation and cost-cutting tech-and-genetics-use in beef production, so that as of 2007 we're back to 62! Pork consumption has not trended up significantly at all (despite horrendous industrial cost-cutting methods.) To some extent, this is accounted for by the poultry revolution -- cages, hormones, and refrigerated shipping/interstate grocery networks, which changed chicken and turkey from a marginal part of our diets to nearly every-day fixtures: we eat 5.75 times more chicken and 17.48 times more turkey, combined contributing 62 pounds more meat to our diets per year. (This might be a good thing in health terms, if it wasn't probably half from KFC.) Dairy has also gone up: we take in 56lbs less milk (14 gallons) per year, but we've gained more than that in cheese, and then an extra 22 in frozen treats. We've slowly climbed to 5lbs more fish, but balance that with 4lbs fewer eggs (44 units -- eggs peaked at 400 units per year in the 40s, but have declined steadily since the 50s because of cholesterol and later salmonella stigmas (seriously though eggs are tops)).

    Fresh and total vegetables have never significantly declined, and has gone up since the mid-eighties, probably because fresh cooking became fashionable among yuppies (processed vegetables have been totally steady): we're from 336lbs/year in 1909 to 416. We've inched our way up an extra 25lbs of fruit, to 264 per year.

    Coffee, interestingly, doubled from 1909 to 1946 -- but we've slid back down to original levels! Cocoa went up 4.8 times, to 6lbs/year.

    I draw two conclusions from this surprising data. One: too much soda, KFC, and ice cream. But, two: not too much of everything else. Most groups have not increased in proportion to how much more affordable food is now, and instead reflect general growth of adjusted income. For example meat has raised, but it only reflects fruit and vegetables -- and cocoa, which never gets less expensive (why it's not a big part of most American "chocolate" candy), has pushed up simply, it would seem, because more people can afford it. I.e., most of these increases reflect more people who couldn't afford enough to eat now getting it, on average. As a corollary: if our diet problems are not in fact as grand in scale as our obesity problem (keeping in mind that moderate fat is arguably healthier than being thin, but this country passed moderate fat ten laps ago, and then took a break and accidentally fell asleep on it, causing it to asphyxiate), then really we just need to get off our god damn asses. Maybe we should do more farmwork!
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009 edited
     (6467.3)
    "The most interesting trend is that this country doesn't eat too much more food than it did 100 years ago, even though food costs us less than half as much of our incomes as it did then, and we sure is fatter.

    The fatter part is certainly helped by the sweeteners: HFCS has bumped us up, from its conception in 1970, taking over half of sugar consumption by 1984 (while total sweetener use was stable), but then continuing to rise after that while sugar was stable, bumping total sweetener intake from 122lbs/year to 151lbs/year in 1999. Followed by a HFCS reduction since 99 that brings latest total sweetener to a less scandalous 136.29. Soda has gone up 50% since 1979 (15 gallons more per year -- but also decreasing since 1999, which accounts for HFCS moderating)."


    I'm sure it's also helped by the fact that people are exercising less and that on average jobs are a lot less physically demanding.

    There'd also be a big impact from the aging population since people tend to put on weight as they age.
  2.  (6467.4)
    The aging of our population also would have a moderating effect on total food consumption (since old people eat less in general), so if adjusted for population-age-distribution, the increasing trends would hike up a bit closer to what I would have expected. Especially sweeteners/soda, which I think old people probably have much less of, skewing the per-capita downward. I don't know if there's a breakdown for that somewhere in the Actual Nutrition spreadsheets.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.5)
    Coffee, interestingly, doubled from 1909 to 1946 -- but we've slid back down to original levels!


    That probably ties into the increase in soda consumption. Drink more caffienated cold drinks, drink less coffee.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.6)
    Australia has similar problems with food deserts to the US. But with some major differences - there's less of a traditional of inner city living and while its increased in the last couple of decades it's mostly been yuppies while the poor tend to be ushed out into the outer suburbs of the majrot cities.

    Anyway, the major Australian supermarket chains have come up with ways to address the problem at least in part. They've developed smaller versions of traditional supermarkets (typically branded as "Metro" or "Express") with no on-site parking nd a reduced range of products that offer prices similar to suburban supermakets and a much wider selection of products than corner stores.

    They've also partnered with the major petrol station chains to install similar shops in petrol stations in suburban and rural areas.

    The solutions that work in Australia wouldn't necessarily work in the US. (For example yuppies are obviously a more profitable market than the urban poor.) But it shows that solutions are possible if the corporate sector put their minds to it.
  3.  (6467.7)
    Perhaps the fact that sugar is a subsidied food item has a bit to do with it. I find that disgusting.

    Having lived in notorious bad neihborhoods in NYC, I can explain plainly why the poor the fat. Look at what's sold in a local corner store, and compare that with the amount of food one is given when on food stamps. There's all sorts of food one can buy that ranges from a quarter, to 2 dollars, and all of it is mostly sugar. Compare that to, say, fruits, which tend to sell for a dollar or more apiece. Do you think a strugging mother is going to buy peaches at $2 a pop when she can get a 50cent "fruit" pie for her kid?

    It used to be that to be poor, you'd be more likely to end up with the raw materials of meal-making, and most of that would be vegetables. Now, it's far more expensive to find raw, untampered food, and the cheapest is almost always chock full of the aforementioned HFCS and/or low grade animal products.
    • CommentAuthorPooka
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.8)
    Convience is another factor. I don't think alot of people put as much time into the kitchen as they used to. These days tv dinners and microwavable snacks seem to have taken over alot of peoples diets, and the prices don't seem that bad (until you realize that buying ingredients for a big pot of stew may cost about the same as four tv dinners, but then you have wholesome leftovers for a few days).
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      CommentAuthorsneak046
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.9)
    @Rachael Noel

    Things are similar to that over here in blighty, but today the government has announced plans (after a succesful small scale trial) to encourage local shop keepers to stock in more fresh produce - in the trial area of 88 stores, consumption of fresh fruit and veg increased by 40%. The scheme, part of the "Change4life" movement is a dept of health funded partnership that aims to encourage exercise, healthy eating etc.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.10)
    > consumption of fresh fruit and veg increased by 40%

    Does it even have to be so fresh?

    I've just made soup for example using tinned tomatoes, and onions, carrots, and soup-mix (rice, barley, split peas), olive oil and veggie stock cubes. The main, fresh ingredients (onions and carrots) last for weeks, and the other ingredients for months: but it's healthy enough to eat IMO (healthier than "KFC and soda"). It took 1/2 hour of prep time. I'll have some today; and put more servings in the freezer, for later.

    Vegetables can also be frozen, which are virtually as nutritious as fresh.

    Fresh summer fruits (peaches and berries) are nice, but perishable (which is an explanation of why they're expensive and/or unobtainable); apples and bananas keep better.
    • CommentAuthorLani
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009 edited
     (6467.11)
    Any Michael Pollan fans here? I'm working my way through In Defense of Food at the moment. Despite the fact that he confuses the words "hypothesis" and "theory" (as most people do, which is one of my biggest pet peeves), overall he makes a pretty good argument. He argues to stop focusing on specific nutrients in foods, and just "eat food [vs processed food-like substances], mostly plants, not too much". He points out that old cultures, such as Mediterranean or Japanese cuisine, can't be that bad for you since those peoples survived on it just fine for centuries. This compared to food scientists who can only study specific nutrients in isolation from overall diet/environment/other health-related behaviors, which gives us such an incomplete picture to be unhelpful and potentially dangerous. Case in point: moving away from butter to margarine, which of course the early versions proved to be much worse for you in reality.

    ...I actually have loads more to say on this topic given it's strongly related to my master's degree and my upcoming doctorate, but I have to get back to the wretched packing/cleaning/prepping to move 1300 miles. Perhaps after I get settled in my new digs...
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.12)
    Not to contradict the basic premise, but even as the cultures survived the people died young, neh?
    • CommentAuthorLani
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.13)
    Cause of death is the important difference - dying from something like tuberculosis, versus cardiovascular disease-related problems.
  4.  (6467.14)
    today the government has announced plans (after a successful small scale trial) to encourage local shop keepers to stock in more fresh produce - in the trial area of 88 stores, consumption of fresh fruit and veg increased by 40%.

    Nice! Here's the link for that. The trial took place in your North East, which apparently has the lowest GDP per capita in the UK save for Wales, so it's encouraging that the program was apparently so well-received by shoppers and retailers. The program included "a fruit and veg makeover, stocking a wide range of fruit and veg, displaying Change4Life posters and signs, and appointing a member of staff to champion fresh fruit and veg in store."

    However, we intrepid Americans don't have a Department of Health. We have a Senate Finance Committee. It is not at all the same result.

    Government support is probably key in making a great program like this work, since distributing fresh food to local shops means tossing what doesn't sell in time, making it a lot more expensive than big-store produce or, like Rachael says, the cheap and worthless shit that our urbanites settle for now. Even here in central Austin, where local shops cater to a more affluent, loyal, and health-conscious populous, the fresh-produce section in a corner store tends to be four-feet wide, twice as expensive per item, and half-rotted on any given day. It doesn't say so on the Change4Life site, but I assume NHS is subsidizing loss, to keep prices down and stock fresh.

    I don't know how we can get that in the states, because as of this week healthcare reform is getting CBO'd to death like it's 1994. Instead, we can only hope for a capitalist solution, as with Kosmo's Australia example: a large company that creates a nimble distribution network, kicks out local stores in low-income areas (sorry, but you're not doing your job, which is to take care of your neighborhood), and markets no-frills health food basics. Only limited, carefully-selected fresh items, more frozen and canned: but everything real, non-hydrogenated (hydrogenation is a trans-fat-generating heart-killer designed to prolong shelf-life, and is a staple in those "fresh" two-dollar pastries that populate 7-11 check-out counters in recent years), and no empty calories. Alternately, fresh food can be sold more efficiently when the store operates a restaurant under the same roof, because that's guaranteed inventory turnover; however, I don't know of any company that's made that work on a smaller scale than large-grocery stores -- smaller budgets lead to shitty food preparation that no one will buy -- and anyway it would require something like a complete revamping of the urban food economy, putting local shops and restaurants out of business. But that sort of revolution is what is called for, if real food is going to become affordable in low-income urban areas through retail.

    A more feasible and forward-looking solution might be urban gardening, community gardening, and green-roofing. Forget the corner shops, sell this stuff on stands: distribution would be local and pedestrian, and loss-by-spoilage marginalized, so that fresh food could actually be cheaper in urban areas than suburban super-stores. Green-roofs also absorb less heat and more rainwater, making the urban landscape more energy efficient -- in fact it is speculated that wide-scale green-roofing will lower ambient urban temperatures, moderating our heat islands -- but requires a lot investment to make most roofs suitable for use. Corporations don't fit here, because there's no profit-from-consolidation, but on the other hand a few hundred-million in government-funded infrastructure and community-training would work wonders, and be relatively easy to legislate without scaring capitalists. Failing that, maybe a web-based micro-lending program, managed by a well-run non-profit.
    • CommentAuthorLani
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.15)
    Brian, you're an Austinite? Nice! I'm just down the road from you in San Marcos...at least, until Friday morning.

    Another option that is growing in popularity is the Community Supported Agriculture, in which members pay a fee which directly funds a farm's operations. In exchange, they get a box of whatever's in season every or every other week. I've participated in one with Johnson's Backyard Garden (and volunteered there on a number of occasions, too). The vast majority of the produce is picked the morning of the delivery so it's at the peak of ripeness, they frequently grow different varieties than are offered in most stores, therefore supporting diversity in crops, and frequently grown using organic and/or sustainable methods. It's a ridiculous amount of food too - one box is meant to feed a family of four for a week. The only downside is you don't get much choice in what you get, and sometimes you get a crapton of one thing - for example, right now, you'd probably getting tons of sweet and hot peppers, squash, okra, and maybe a few other things...not so good if you don't like, say, okra.
  5.  (6467.16)
    This compared to food scientists who can only study specific nutrients in isolation from overall diet/environment/other health-related behaviors, which gives us such an incomplete picture to be unhelpful and potentially dangerous. Case in point: moving away from butter to margarine, which of course the early versions proved to be much worse for you in reality.

    I definitely support that. Diet-food is what keeps many of the suburban middle-class not much better-fed than the urban poor. Studies of artificial sweeteners and fat-substitutes are less than utterly damning, to be sure -- but basic fucking logic says this stuff isn't food, it's poison. (Plus one time I had three diet sodas, and I felt nasty -- I've never touched the stuff since). Regardless, real food (unprocessed carbohydrates and natural fat levels) are, in my opinion, always healthy, and the availabilty of diet food just gives people another excuse not to excersize, which is what I think most actual health problems stem from. For example, studies are consistent that taking up even slight exercise in people over 60 has dramatic and near-instant effects on their "real age", which I would expect in turn reduces care costs. Maintaining exercise at younger ages, then, would have a dramatic effect on this nation's long-term healthcare expenses.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.17)
    > However, we intrepid Americans don't have a Department of Health. We have a Senate Finance Committee. It is not at all the same result.

    There is a Food and Drug Administration.

    > hydrogenation is a trans-fat-generating heart-killer designed to prolong shelf-life, and is a staple in those "fresh" two-dollar pastries that populate 7-11 check-out counters in recent years

    Wow, look at Trans fat in Denmark:

    This regulatory approach has made Denmark the only country in which it is possible to eat "far less" than 1 g of industrially produced trans fats on a daily basis, even with a diet including prepared foods.[71] It is hypothesized that the Danish government's efforts to decrease trans fat intake from 6g to 1g per day over 20 years is related to a 50% decrease in deaths from ischemic heart disease.


    So; if you don't live in Denmark, an alternative to those "fresh" two-dollar pastries (which are called "danishes", ironically) is to beware "prepared" foods.
  6.  (6467.18)
    @racingpenguins

    yeah, Johnson's is great. However, I'm like Fan, I stay away from fresh vegetables and stick with stored, which are just as healthy (or I have Pei Wei cook a big pile of rice and fresh veggies for me), because I know I can't make myself cook stuff before it goes to waste.

    @fan

    I am referring to our current health-care reform, which is currently being killed by conservative Democrats and Rebublicans in the Senate Finance Committee. The only person in that committee who isn't more interested in protecting insurance companies than getting this country out of its healthcare crisis is, pathetically, the Rebublican from Maine. I'm not a liberal, but Democrats whose agendas prioritize reducing government expenditure are fucking hypocrites that piss me the fuck off. Montana? Why is a Senator from a state with three people in it in charge of this country's health-care future? Who's fuckup was that.

    Anyway, the FDA exists to make industrial agriculture run profitably, by promoting excessive meat consumption and managing quality to a standard that it food is just-decent-enough to ensure consumer complacency. The Food Pyramid is just designed to keep farmers in business, and ties again into our distracting focus on "nutrition" as opposed to "living well". The FDA is not a Health Service.
    •  
      CommentAuthorbrittanica
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.19)
    Regarding Urban Gardening:
    Sometimes it's not so easy to just do it.

    Here in Nashville, we just recently passed this ordinance.
    Basically, it used to be that if someone wanted to start a garden on land that they own with their neighbors, even for their own use or for donation, it would be in violation of zoning laws.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeJul 29th 2009
     (6467.20)
    Does anybody know the effect that Foodstamps play on US Health? When I was younger, right after my mom split with my dad, we went on them for a few months while she got on her feet. At least back then there were limitations on where you could shop (certain grocery stores catering to low-income families that stocked mostly poor quality, unhealthy food) and what you could by (all but the most basic fresh vegetables and fruits (lettuce, tomatoes) were off limits).