by Pasckie Pascua
When I was kid, my Dad always castigated us – nine kids in the family – whenever we talked or engaged in even itsy-bitsy conversation while at the dining table. He would grumble, “In case you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say them when you’re in fr0nt of your meal! Respect God’s grace.”
I remembered those words so clearly—especially after I read this “weird” news from Rhode Island... The Catholic St Rose of Lima School in RI has recently banned students from talking during lunch after three recent incidents of choking in the cafeteria. They choked while they’re eating—because of that, the school banned kids from talking while having lunch! Uhhh, isn’t that stretching it too far? What are these kids eating anyway? I bet, not Nathan’s hotdogs—otherwise, the school will have to solicit some advice from undisputed hotdog-eating champ, Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi (another Japanese like Ando San). This average-built dude could easily gobble up three dozens of hotdogs without choking at all—smooth dude!
That’s something serious that we have to think about... How come Mr Kobayashi manage to keep a “slim” physique despite being one of the world’s most voracious eaters of junk food? We certainly don’t see a lot of these occurrences, do we?
During the past 20 years, obesity among adults has risen significantly in the US, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Thirty percent of US adults 20 years of age and older—over 60 million people—are obese. This increase is not limited to adults. The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980. Among children and teens aged 6–19 years, 16 percent (over 9 million young people) are considered overweight.
For a time, some states tried to implement certain programs to abet obesity. I believe both North and South Carolina still offer tax exemptions to health-related activities, like gym visitations and Weightwatchers class attendance. Arkansas schools send home obesity report cards to warn parents of overweight kids’ health risks (although that may change because Little Rock is now opposing it).
SOMETHING ABOUT America that still fascinates or perplexes me is – while more and more people are sinking into a deep well of funk and blues (so many reasons to get depressed really) – the number of obesity also steadily rose to unprecedented heights! My understanding, before I decided to live in the US, was that—sadness, misery and loneliness make people’s appetite for food shot or low. I still feel that way, mind you – when I am pissed or upset, it’s hard for me to enjoy my ramens. It’s also economic – in poorer countries where poverty means grave shortage of food at the table, human beings just swallow their saliva for dinner or they drink more tap water to fill intestines up.
“So that you will get full fast, drink more water!” I always heard that ruthless admonition by parents to their kids in impoverished shanties in Philippine barrios.
But, it’s different here... Last year, one of my Candler homeys, Gwennie Twinkie, got really saddened and disheartened that Katharine McPhee lost out to Taylor Hicks in the last “American Idol” finals that she spent an entire month eating all that she could find in her fridge and pantry. As she ranted and raved and cussed and cursed—afront the boob tube, on her pitiful couch—her gargantuan mouth devoured tons and liters of krispy kremes, marshmallow peeps, mickey dees, little ceasar’s, wonka zoids, cokes, Einstein bros bagels, KFCs, booster juice, haagen-dazs, fast franks, wingstop wings etc etc etc. So, what do you expect—she shot up to 250 from 190 in just four weeks!
Meantime, my cousin Brigham The Gum who visited his in-laws in Sylva recently – and got caught up with the snowstorm scare – spent almost $300 on foodstuff to stock up in case Armageddon happens in the Appalachians. But it didn’t happen... So he and his wife, Laura The Fauna (she looks like Tinkerbell on dreadlocks) got really sad upon realizing that they just “threw away” all this money. So to appease their sorrow, they gobbled up all the food and soda (Banquet frozen chicken, Laura Lynn sweet corn, Sanderson Farms canned ham, bags and bags of Dorritos, Pepsi, 12 kinds of TV dinners, loaves of bread of all shapes, Oreos and Chips Ahoys, Reese bars, M&Ms etc etc). It’s good that they didn’t chow down pounds and pounds of Bounty toilet papers that they bought—although their dog Zsa Zsa swallowed a box of cherry-flavored condoms. Oh, man!
I mean, seriously... when are we going to learn—and do something about our eating habits? I mean, I don’t mean – don’t eat – otherwise, you’ll turn into a Nicole Richie. Just take it easy...
These increasing rates of obesity in the US of A raise concern because of their implications to our health. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including hypertension, dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
Although one of the US government’s national health objectives for the year 2010 is to reduce the prevalence of obesity among adults to less than 15 percent, current data indicate that the situation is worsening rather than improving.
But are we listening at all?
Well, you see, I know that many people have reminded or cautioned me a lot about my ramen noodles diet. But, what should I eat? Wendy’s $2.99 burger or baked taters? I mean, the late Mr Ando has said and proven that eating is good, per se—and even though a Cup-a-Noodle could only churn out an iota of nutrient, what the hell? Right? I mean, the Japanese are still the world’s healthiest human beings. There are an approximately 28,000 citizens in Japan who are 100 years or older—up from 1,000 in the early 1980s. And the world’s oldest living person, Yone Minagawa, is 114—a Japanese woman!
I FIGURE, one of the culprits of unhealthiness (or obesity) in most people these days is the over-availability of food choices flashed in front of our gluttonous faces, day in and day out. Food, food, food – more food, more and more food.
In most countries, you don’t have much of a choice. When you say, “sandwich” – that’s usually chicken, ham, egg, cheese... and they’re all prepared, ready-to-go. During my cousin Brigham The Gum’s first day in America, he got really nervous and stressed out—because he found it such an ordeal to buy sandwiches in fastfood stores. One time he strode in a Subway store...
The “sandwich specialist” behind the counter glared at him like an irritated Charles Barkley: “What kind of bread? Rye, wheat, white, blue, brown, Slovak, Polish, what?” / “Jalopino? How much, this much, not much?” / “Ketchup? Spicy, hot, how hot, medium hot, super hot” / “Mustard, little bit, more, less”? / “Olives, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers”?... He didn’t know what to say, what to respond—he wasn’t prepared to be interrogated like that. He just wanted to have a Subway sandwich, for Christsakes! So instead of getting one, he simply whispered to me, “Cousin, can we just get a hotdog?”
I mean, we are so pampered in America. So pampered and so privileged that we are also allowed to do whatever with our food. Like, how about make your frankfurters taste like asparagus, fish fillets look like chicken nuggets, ice cream smell like Busch beer, mozzarella pizza bloat like magic carpet... and, donuts as caffeine-spiked breakfast chow—like Dunkin’ Donut and Starbucks coffee in one! Dr Robert Bohannon, a molecular biologist, recently unveiled the world’s first caffeinated donut. By “microencapsulating” caffeine particles inside the doughnut, Bohannon says, he’s created a “buzzed” doughnut that need not be dunked in coffee. Tada!
Meantime, some people also push humankind’s “food-fancy” to the limit by doing ridiculous spectacles out of it. Recently, high-rolling food lovers flew to Bangkok from Europe, the United States and around Asia for a swashbuckling dinner, which carried a price tag of $25,000 a head, excluding tax and gratuities. Six three-star Michelin chefs from France, Italy and Germany prepared the meal’s 10 courses, each paired with a rare fine wine. Alain Soliveres, the celebrated chef of Paris’s Taillevent restaurant, for instance, was commissioned to prepare two of his signature dishes including the opening course: a creme brulee of foie gras to be washed down with a 1990 Cristal champagne — a bubbly that sells for more than $500 a bottle, but still stands out as one of the cheapest wines on the menu.
Can you beat that? I heard that the proceeds go to charity—for hungry human beings somewhere in the planet. If that’s the objective of such magnificently lavish show of “food insanity,” well—we gotta organize more of that. Summon the Iron Chefs, pronto!
YOU SEE, food are simply overflowing in our midst that we are simply having fun modifying, reinventing, rehashing or reinventing them. This happens while more than half of the world’s population remain super-starving.
Ten years ago, the World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome promised to reduce the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Will that ever happen, when there are more hungry people in the developing countries today – 820 million – than there were in 1996? The total number of undernourished in developing countries in 2015 was projected at 582 million. This would fall 170 million short of the WFO’s target of 412 million. Most of earth’s hungry are concentrated in South Asia and East Asia, with 203 million and 123 million respectively.
The signs and proofs are upon us like a cat’s blank stare. Not many people want to cook anymore, we all run to the nearest restaurant or burger joint. Find a town or city – big or small – in America without a McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Waffle House, IHOP, Burger King, KFC, there’s none.
The latest data says that more than 47 percent of the money Americans spend on food – and astounding $476 billion – are wasted away at restaurants. Hamburgers were the most popular menu item ordered by men at restaurants last year; French fries came in second. For women, French fries ranked first, followed by burgers. Pizza ranked third for both genders.
Clearly, even in a society where people are aware of the need for healthy habits, most consumers still appear to have one major goal when they eat out: indulgence, or overindulgence that is.
And the fast-food joints can’t complain either. Burger King’s breakfast sales jumped 20 percent thanks to its introduction of the Enormous Omelet Sandwich — despite its 730 calories and 47 grams of fat. The new triple-cheese Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza at Pizza Hut was such a success that it took in 20 percent of the chain’s business within four days of its debut. KFC is testing plans to bring back the Kentucky Fried Chicken name (a.k.a. fried foods), along with new menu items linked to its Southern roots.
But then, let’s ditch all these horrendous facts and figures, okay? Food isn’t bad at all... Peace prevails when food suffices. In the Philippines, we eat three meals a day, excluding meriendas at 10am and 4pm, and if you’re awake at midnight—just cook, eat more. Eating is a religious ritual—a devotion, a way of life. We love eating, I love eating, it’s great to eat. If we don’t eat, we die—period.
You see, I am almost sure, 114-year-old Grandma Minagawa – plus 28,000 more Japanese – know how to eat and still be healthy and live past 100. I mean, even my ramen noodle homey, Mr Ando died at age 95. I would love to live till 90, at least – well, unless I spike my Cup-a-Noodle with a Maker’s Mark or a Jose Cuervo. Of course, I will not do that, are you crazy?
Meantime, love good, live good—and eat good food!
First published in The Indie [2006, Asheville NC]
First published in The Indie [2006, Asheville NC]