Eating ourselves sick


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 12 Jan 04


Never mind that some key Government departments still don't have a photocopier, the "first world" manages by way of globalisation to dribble its way onto our scrappily managed islands.


Internet banking is happening, so is text messaging, everyone has a cell phone, its not inconceivable that soon we'll be shopping online for our groceries, and phrases such as "operation anaconda" make us practically American or first world or wherever you'd like to be.


Okay, so we are mimic men but in a world where one man called Bush owns the biggest propaganda machinery in the globe, has the power to bomb the life out of anyone who's against him, who's fighting it?


Never mind that 23 per cent of the population is totally illiterate, that the school system annually spits out thousands of teenagers who can't read, that more than 300,000 people live on less than US$2 a day.


Let the empty shell rot. It's the veneer that counts. But nature abhors a vacuum (created by our pompous, self seeking politicians) and globalisation gladly fills it with sausage meat. Literally.


The reality is that globalisation, instead of being the great equaliser of this century is exporting ill-health to developing countries to those who can least afford to get sick. In two words: fatty foods.


The December 13 edition of The Economist has a graphic cover showing the evolution of man from ape in a series of images-the one following man is alarming -an obese man hunched with fat holding a large plastic glass of soft-drink.


The blurb reads "Much of the world is getting fat. It's unhealthy, and it costs everybody money. Politicians are wondering whether to act."


The Economist refers to three Harvard economists who point out in their paper, ‘Why have Americans become more obese?’, that in the past, if people wanted to eat fatty hot food, they had to cook it. That took time and energy-which discouraged consumption of that sort of food. Mass preparation of food took away that constraint. Nobody has to cut and double-cook their own fries these days. Who has the time?


Returning to sausages. I nearly gagged at The Economist's description of what goes into it.


"Cheap sausages have for years been made largely of fat, re-hydrolysed "drind"-dried pig rind, which expands when water is added to it. The rest is mostly rusk, which gives texture and holds water, with a bit of sugar for browning the outside and a lot of salt to make it taste of anything. The result is a limp, fatty, pink cylinder, about as unhealthy as a food can be." Uggg!


Apart from our addiction to sugar (which we can blame on our colonisers) the mimic men amongst us must be proud to say that we are equally, if not more at risk than the Americans for obesity and its attendant diseases.


Dr Geoffrey Frankson who runs a wellness centre has been warning us for over a decade now that we are dying of lifestyle diseases-meaning we are too fat. Obesity he says is directly linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, the works. Put bluntly, American fat and Caribbean sugar is killing us.


And while America can afford to spend millions in correcting the damage done by fast food companies, with high-end gyms, organic foods, designer diets, trainers, and more importantly mass education and a decent health care system where does that leave us?


Our disintegrating health care system (that is discriminatory towards the poor) can barely handle the every-day cuts and bruises of our population and is appallingly deficient and unable to handle the fat related diseases or "lifestyle diseases" from which most of us die.


Dr Frankson once brought the point home hard when he referred to our blithe unawareness (and the irony) of the high proportion of fat and obese nurses who everyday take care of patients who are in our institutions dying of fat related diseases.


The Economist writes:

"There are moves afoot to restrict companies ability to sell to children. Those who support such moves argue that once people are fat, it is hard for them to get thin; and tastes are established early.


"The touchiest subject of all is a "fat tax". At present, thin people subside fat people. According to a study by America's Centres for Disease Control and RTI International, a consultancy, obese people cost Medicaid an extra US$1,486 each. Med extra $864 each and private insurers an extra $423 each. So, the argument goes, just as governments tax cigarettes both to discourage smoking and to pay for its consequences, they should tax the things that make people fat.


"Nineteen states and cities in America, including New York and California, levy special taxes on snack foods, sweets or soft drinks. Australia's "general sales tax" introduced a couple of years ago, is levied on snacks and convenience foods. The fat tax is already here, and is likely to grow."


With the FTAA barking at our heels, it is perhaps time we fill up our empty caverns of ignorance and poverty with the health foods that are abundantly available to us all-from the everyday pumpkin and callaloo, to the homegrown provisions and fruit around us. We can use our savannahs and our beaches and roads to work out, we can buy a gym membership instead of a ‘brand name’.


And even if we can't do anything about our lifeless education and health systems, about successive governments that have failed to protect consumers, educate our people, or act in our interests, (a fat tax? how can they act when they are unaware of the problems?) we can start by saying "no" to unhealthy exploitative globalisation in our own way by taking charge of our own bodies.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur