I am part of a very fat country in a very hungry world. In the United States, two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese. Meanwhile, over 1 billion people throughout the world suffer of chronic hunger. It’s disgusting and disturbing.
Although my body weight is probably okay right now, I am embarrassed to admit that for a time, I was overweight, just like most of my fellow Americans. The causes were not so complex. First, I value taste. Like many people, I am often guided by pleasure. For me, the greatest pleasures in life are usually related to food. I think fried food is tasty, I enjoy cheese, chocolate and beer. I crave fatty and sugary sensations. Secondly, I value a certain body shape. I have a silly sense of body image and idea about the definition of beautiful. I dislike being too scrawny and hate it when people call me thin; I’d rather have a little “meat on my bones” than have my bones poking out of my body. I associate chubbiness with jolliness, and I want to be a jolly person. Plus, I love being lazy; lying around and eating while watching TV and reading give me so much joy. Relaxation helps me feel content.
I am personally aware of what caused my body to be too big, but when it comes to the entire nation, it is much more complex. We are a culture of abundance- and wastefulness. Although we also value pleasure and relaxation, we have a variety of ideals about body image, and for a lot of us, a healthy body could seem like an impossible dream, like joining the NBA or winning a Grammy. From there, the web of social problems very quickly becomes difficult to unravel. Our agricultural policies and practices are directed by big business. Basic foods are tampered with by industry, all eating is consumerism. The rich can afford to be picky, but poor areas typically don’t offer anything but fast and processed foods to their residents. In short, the systemic problems are a tangled mess.
Although the United States is a nature of abundance and wealth, it is more greatly a nation of injustice. The majority of Americans can’t afford to eat well and don’t know how to grow their own food, nor prepare it without assistance from companies such as Kraft, General Mills, Con Agra Foods or Nestle. Meanwhile, healthy and organic fruits and vegetables are easy to find for the elite. Although we have more than enough to eat, what we eat is controlled by the manufacturers, marketers and distributers.
Each year in the United States food is a trillion dollar industry. When the reality of how the money-maker impacts the health and life of people, the environment and communities bites, then there is little room left for glory in the dollars.
When the gloom of troubles flood our consciousness, we need not loose hope. In all stories of truth, there is redemption. Fortunately, Americans are waking up. The questions are shifting from “How can we make the most money on this food?” to “If food is a necessity, is it okay for it be tied to industry?” First Lady Michelle Obama has partnered with Disney and other major companies to promote healthy eating, exercise, gardening and nutrition to Americans of all types, especially children. Schools are starting to teach students how to garden, cook and eat well. Community gardens are emerging in every major city, often times led by youth and children. The demand for Community Supported Agriculture and other organic and local food is increasing and gradually bringing down the prices. Plus, due in part to the popularity of the film Food, Inc., and other media campaigns, awareness is increasing.
Americans are privileged to have so much freedom and so many choices. Freedom, we are learning, requires responsibility. As we decide that we want to be free from our obesity, we help others be free to experience humanity. Gradually, global crisis awakens our consciousness to the reality of interdependence and we see that together we really are what we eat. We chew more slowly between bites at the great human table hoping that more people can sit with us and taste sweet juicy justice, abundance and life. Then, we can all really relax.