Sunday, March 18, 2012

Balancing Act

"Consumers need a healthy balanced diet and they need balanced, credible information," [said National Hot Dog & Sausage Council President Janet M.] Riley.  "When it comes to nutrition and cancer, check with health sources such as your doctor, dietician or the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. You can be assured that they will tell you that a healthy diet can include processed meats like hot dogs alongside your vegetables, grains and dairy."
Uh huh. I can tell you right now that if I swore off hot dogs for life, my doctor would pretty much immediately break into his happy dance. But as much as such obvious damage control as Riley's statement is often termed "irresponsible" and "deceptive," one has to wonder: Is anyone ever really fooled? It's not much different that displaying sugary breakfast cereals along side from fruit, juice and the occasional waffle and declaring it "part of a balanced breakfast." As one wag is said to have pointed out, you could swap out the cereal for dry dog food, and still say the same... (Actually the dog food, from what I understand, is better for you. Sure there's a higher allowance of bug parts and the taste isn't said to be anything great, but when was the last time you heard of a dog developing diabetes from eating Eukanuba?)

The cynic in me says that very, very few people are convinced that hot dogs are health food based on a statement from the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, and parroted by the American Meat Institute. "Never take at face value someone you already know has a reason to lie to you," may not be stamped on one's forehead at birth, but it's not rocket science, either. After all, these are companies that derive their profitability from selling us stuff in the here and now, and aren't going to be on the hook for what happens thirty years from now.

Rather, it's all about cover. Cover for the person who enjoys the taste of hot dogs, but wants to deflect criticism that they're placing food above their health. Cover for the parent who wants to avoid a public meltdown by placating their child with a box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. Cover for the person who's buying the cheapest, most filling food that they can find, but doesn't want to think that they're compromising their future health because of it. Cover for the shopper who's too "busy" to know what's in half the food they eat, but still wants to think that they'll looking out for themselves. Cover for the person who wants to outsource the thinking to government and/or corporations, by convincing themselves that if it were that bad for them, it wouldn't be on the shelves in the first place. Cover for an entire society that has invented the idea that children should be allowed to subsist on a high-carbohydrate, sugar-laden, high-fat, obvious-vegetable-free diet until they either graduate high school or are unable to move unassisted. (And then allows itself to think that voting age will bring with it an 180° turnaround in eating habits.) Cover from the pressure that we put on ourselves and each other, and are afraid to stand up to. Cover that we wouldn't need, if we had the courage to stand up for, and to, ourselves.

We take all sorts of risks on a daily basis - most without a second (or first) thought and many of them unnecessary. Saying "Yes, I understand that if a long, healthy life is my top priority, I shouldn't be eating this, but I'm willing to trade a month or two off the end to indulge in yumminess today. Now go get bent and let me eat," might do us all a world of good. It would most certainly let food producers off the hook from having to nearly lie to us to our faces on a daily basis. Acknowledging that we enjoy certain foods that, while they made sense for lumberjacks, pioneers and serfs, are way out line with our current lifestyles seems to be one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves these days. Not everyone is of the opinion that the future must always be prejudiced over the here and now. Maybe the most unhealthy part of our diets is the groupthink that we attach to them.

Hat tip to Mike Elgan.

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