I was staring, sort of dumb-founded, at the dairy case. I'd stopped to pick up some cream for a pumpkin dessert that Lynn was planning. These days, in America, there's a million varieties of everything, so I was scanning the shelf to see what my choices were. Tucked among the rest, I came across the fat-free half-n'-half.
I thought I was inured to the idiocies of food marketing, but it seems they can still make me drop a step. Fat-free half-n'-half? What in the world can that be? Wouldn't you have to make fat-free cream first? And how can it be cream if you've taken out all the fat?
Turns out that it's milk loaded with corn syrup and a variety of chemicals. No fat, fewer calories, lots more sugar. Better living through chemistry.
I'm generally opposed, on principle, to fat-free foods, particularly when you get into the dairy areas where part of the point, it seems to me, is the fat. Reduced fat cheese? There's a better solution if you're concerned about the amount of fat you're ingesting -- eat less of it. Better for you all 'round. But consuming less is un-American.
A decade ago I was suffering from chronic gastric reflux. Occasional heartburn had gradually developed into nearly daily discomfort, which I was treating principally with Tums (which turned out to be the main culprit in an attack of kidney stones around that same time). I went to the doctor and he stuck the scope down my throat and said, yes, I can see that there's some scarring there, so you're definitely doing damage to the tissue of the lower esophagus. He gave me a prescription for a short course of prilosec and then maintenance pepcid. That would be two tablets a day -- forever.
"Is there anything that I need to change in my diet?" I figured I was going to have to start cutting out some of the really spicy foods I like or he'd tell me to cut back on coffee or whisky...
"Oh, no. The pepcid should take care of it."
And it did. Better living through chemistry. And for two years I dutifully took my pepcid and didn't have any problems.
When I hit forty-five, it seemed to me that I really wasn't feeling, in general, as good as I ought to at that age. I was overweight, sluggish, easily winded, with lots of little body aches & pains. I started a modest exercise program and cut back on portion sizes. I didn't change my diet at all -- I just quit eating as much.
I lost twenty pounds and between the weight loss and the exercise I was feeling much better. I experimented with not taking the pepcid. No more reflux.
I imagine that the doctor knew that if I lost twenty pounds, the reflux would go away. But he also knew that if he told me that I had to make lifestyle changes I'd be very unlikely to be able to stick to it, and I'd keep doing damage to my esophagus and stomach lining. Better to just give me the drug. The odds of my remembering to take my two pills a day were much higher than the chances of my actually changing the patterns of my life.
And so it goes. I don't know what the answer is. Lifestyle changes are tremendously difficult. In Alabama 20% of the population is diabetic. Much of that is directly related to the obesity epidemic. Losing weight isn't complicated -- it is just incredibly difficult, particularly in this country where so much of our economy is driven by overconsumption.
When you're bombarded on every side with messages to consume more, the challenge of simply eating less is overwhelming. Better to convince people that they need fat-free half-n'-half.
Not that it seems to be working.