In the year 2030, 50 percent of Americans will be obese. In 13 states, the rate of obesity will exceed 60 percent. There will be dramatic increases in diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. Health care costs will skyrocket up to $66 billion.
Not to worry: McDonald’s has announced that it will post caloric information on its menus and drive-throughs. McDonald’s representatives have also proudly stated that over 80 percent of its national menu items are less than 400 calories. We should all feel healthier already.
Beyond the illogical assumption that when people go to McDonald’s they only order a single item (and do not order any sauces or dressings), the typical meal at McDonald’s will probably account for somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s daily caloric intake. This depends on your gender, age and size. Then again, who’s counting? There is little scientific evidence that posted caloric information leads to any significant reduction in caloric consumption.
There is an obsession with counting, managing and quantifying how much we eat. Serving sizes and calories create a mind-numbing haze of meaningless numbers. Bravo to those who look up the precise caloric information of every consumed item, precisely recorded in a food journal, but the reality is that most people aren’t counting.
We are told again and again that Americans need to eat less, but there is little discussion of what we are eating. The super healthy Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap from McDonald’s (a lean 250 calories), contains 18 ingredients in the chicken breast fillet, not including the additional 15 ingredients in the liquid margarine with which it is prepared. Some highlights include yeast extract, maltodextrin, chicken skin and sodium phosphate.
Mystery ingredients are not merely a fast food phenomenon. Even things in the “organic” aisle sometimes top 15 ingredients. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” perhaps said it best, arguing not to eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize or anything with more than five ingredients. Everything else, dig in.
The problem of the American diet lies not in the quantity but instead with a disregard for what is eaten. Other cultures eating habits are focused on what is accessible, local and fresh. This attention leads to healthier diets and healthier people. There should be no limits to eating fresh fruit, vegetables and local fish and meat. No counting is necessary.
While raw-food diets are beyond most people’s self-discipline, there is something admirable in ensuring that what you eat is pure food, absent of any “bonus” ingredients. My attempts at a raw food diet typically fail around lunchtime. Despite those failures, there is something deeply satisfying in knowing exactly what I am consuming. There is no ambiguity, no maltodextrin and, more importantly, no counting.
Sam Mendelson is a sophomore in the School of International Service.