Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Bit of a Rant Today on the Passing Scene

I had cereal today - Wheaties - it was low in calories as far as cereals go, and judging from the nutritional value as decent as you’ll find in the grocery store. I just had a desire for Wheaties, that’s all. Can’t remember the last time I had them! Anyway, with some soy milk they were very good. But, yes, a bowl of oatmeal or fruit would be better for me, however, looking at my breakfasts this past month has been excellent – a good mix of oatmeal, and fruit, and only a few days of cereal.

For lunch I had another client luncheon – this time with a pregnant woman! She was keen for Greek, so off we went to Molyvos again. I had humus with pita bread and olives. Of course it tasted good, but I felt guilty – too much pita, and too much oil from the olives. I had the Greek salad without the feta cheese, and of course, too much oil. I guess I could have ordered no oil on the salad, but when I am in the company of a client, no matter how friendly I am with her, I just feel like an ass making suggestions to my meal. I need to find a restaurant which serves a great menu for “normal” people, and a large hearty salad for vegans who are looking for a nutrient-dense meal without much dressing at all. It was a great conversation about dieting - she is pregnant, and her husband is on a hardcore 90-day eating and workout regimen. We also discussed why women not only assumed I would cheat on the diet, but are a little miffed I have been so diligent. Her theory is that women diet all the time, and cheat on their diet all the time, so the fact that a man can just decide to flip a switch and be militant to a new healthy lifestyle is confounding.

I then met up with my old boss, who had also invited advertising clients, to the Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden. I was not hungry, but even if I had been, there was nothing to eat at the The Garden. I must say, I saw a neat little gadget. They were selling beers in a plastic mug, and in the handle of this mug was a slot to stick a large pretzel stick. Maybe I was envious of their afternoon drinking at a basketball game, but I thought it rather ingenious. From amazing seats we watched the University of Connecticut get crushed by St. Johns University. Although it looked like a persistent street mugging (The Big East plays that way), it was entertaining. Of course the image that stuck out the most was seeing some players from the previous game walk into the stands – young men in impeccable shape – drinking sodas. I guess youth is really wasted on the young.

The more I hear about this soda tax the more disingenuous it sounds to me. It is just another revenue stream for the state that will not do one bit of good to help reduce childhood obesity. First of all, increasing a can of soda from $1.00 to $1.12 will not deter any lover of soda from that soda, no matter the income level. But let’s say it does, for the sake of argument – what about candy bars, ice cream, and all that fast food which is even worse for childhood obesity? They are not getting taxed. If somehow this tax resulted in every school having mandatory Physical Education and Health instruction at least three times per week, then I would be willing to listen. But, as it stands, this tax on soda will accomplish none of its goals, and in the end, it is the parent’s responsibility to raise their children in a basic common sense, and healthy manner.

Another element of state-sponsored misguided do-gooderism is the banning of bake sales in NYC public schools. Why? Because cookies, and brownies are unhealthy. Oh, OK, let’s look at the American tradition of school clubs, and sports teams, and organizations holding bake sales at their school to raise money. Let’s look at it for the past, Oh, I don’t know, 75 years. Look at the all the children who had a few bake sales each year in their school in, say, 1935. Go, ahead, grab your Grandparent’s school yearbook. Ok, how about looking at all those millions of school kids where bake sales were tradition in, say, 1948, or 1957, or ’63, or ’78. What do we see? Most every child was thin! So, in current day NYC, in a school district where there is an epidemic of obesity, and a fast food store on every corner acting as these kid’s daily nutritional intake, and a rather inactive and sedentary student body, some Ivory Tower politicians decide that the best way to combat this serious problem is to make Coke a few pennies more, and prevent Margaret from selling her brownies to raise money for the Key Club. Insanity!

I say let the free market determine the cost of goods and services, and really attack this problem of obesity. Even though the rearing of children must be the responsibility of the parents, schools should be aggressive in the teaching of nutritional health, and home economics so children can learn what to eat, how to cook it and why. Sadly, today, those courses are largely non-existent. Also, rigorous instruction and participation in Physical Education every year is a must.  Additionally, a letter sent to all parents explaining the difference between Asthma and fatigue, and to be excused from full participation in PE class the child must bring in 7 letters from 7 doctors, and go before a panel made up of former Draft Board members from Southern States who served between 1967-1971 before they are allowed to sit out a game of dodge ball.

I know that advertising junk food is an enormous influence on children – the McDonald’s ad during the Winter Olympics saying, “Today we eat like an Olympian,” was outrageous. Bruce Jenner probably never ate a bowl of Wheaties until after he won the Gold Medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Summer Games, but I can assure you he was not feasting on burgers and fries while training either! But, simply penalizing the free market economy and those who spend the most on advertising is not the right idea on many levels. The bottom line is that the state has the children from 8 AM – 3 PM every day for years, and that is plenty of time to educate them on good nutrition and the perils of an unhealthy life.

I am making more of a stand here in this debate, and I would cherish some dissenting opinions.


Vegan Epicurean said...

Interesting post. Not certain where to begin my comments.

I think your pregnant client is wrong about all women cheating on their diets as I don't cheat. It is a matter of what is important. If you are eating for health it becomes a life style not a diet. If however you are eating to fit in your jeans, then it really isn't that important so why not cheat. A diet is very different from a life style change!

The junk food tax won't fix anything until we get America off the couch. The problem is both too much high calorie food and not enough exercise! Since I worked in hospital administration for a long time I know that overweight people have less positive outcomes. But taxing junk food won't change that. I would like to disagree but I think you are right here. ;-) The junk food tax is another way to "raise tax revenue" to be wasted by politicians on some useless government program to their political cronies.


horsiechick1127 said...

You just made me want a brownie.
Thanks Terry!

Terrence said...

Thanks VE - I think the woman argument was certainly an exaggeration.

Mo - there are great vegan desserts, but a better bet would be a bowl of strawberries.

Tony V. said...

"I say let the free market determine the cost of goods and services, and really attack this problem of obesity."

I agree with this statement, however, as I have stated before, government subsidies of corn and other farm products are the primary reason soda is cheap and plentiful in the first place. So if you really want to stop obesity and save the government money, stop subsidizing the growing of corn.

Also, I know you think that raising the price of a can of soda from $1.00 to $1.12 will not deter people from drinking soda, but the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Increasing the price of soda will deter soda drinking, to the tune of millions of cans a year. Comparable taxes on cigarettes has led directly to a decrease in the number of cigarettes being sold and I would imagine consumers would be much more willing to give up soda in the face of a price increase than cigarettes.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree Terry; Tony V. has cited the evidence we have about tobacco tax and smoking rates. In fact, adjusting "price" is one of the best (but not the only) strategies we have in preventing problems associated with products, including tobacco, junk food (like soda) and yes, even alcohol. Studies have shown that these items are very price-sensitive as relates to consumption. There are many very interesting studies that identify this link.
Another point is that there is quite a bit of focus right now on the impacts of the "built environment" on all kinds of health outcomes. Built environment includes, but is not limited to, advertising and promotion of certain products. A huge part of the effort to reduce smoking rates many years ago was to implement policy changes that: reduced the number of places where smoking is allowed; removed tobacco advertising from television; raising the price of cigarettes through taxes. These efforts made deep impacts in smoking rates; far more than were made though "education" approaches to try and get people not to start smoking or to quit.
Yes, yes I know that some here will say, "Well I know plenty of people who smoke." it's true - no no one strategy/effort for everyone. The role of these kinds of efforts is to impact the most number of people possible, keeping in mind that some folks will need more individualized support to take on healthy habits or to stop unhealthy ones.
Ok - my rant is over for now.
Is that what you were looking for Terry?

Denise D'Agostino said...

That McDonald's commercial made my blood boil!!!!!

Terrence said...

Thanks for the spirited responses. Clearly, any debate about farm subsidies can take us into much more complex areas, like Ethanol production, sugar tariffs, etc. and not really needed for this conversation. From the little research online that I have done - reading reports from both emphatic advocates of repealing corn subsidies and calling High Fructose Corn Syrup the root of all evil, to reports from Archer Daniels Midland, and everything in between.

I don't think the issue is as simple as Tony and Anon so eloquently laid out. Although the end result might prove correct - that corn subsidies ultimately contribute to obesity because of the High Fructose Corn Syrup in everything, it also appears that out of the total cost of manufacturing a soda, only 1.6 % is from high fructose corn syrup, so not sure if eliminating subsidies would do too much. Also Pepsi and Snapple are touting their drinks for using cane sugar and not HFCS.

I have seen the results of taxing cigarettes - which is an overwhelmingly significant contributor to lung cancer. This is not a penny tax, but a punitive tax, and now that cigarettes are $10 a pack in NYC I know people who have curbed, or quit entirely. A can of coke is just one of the many, many contributing factors to obesity, and a penny per ounce tax (as opposed to a dollar per ounce tax) will not lead to any mass curbing of soda purchases since a $.99 liter of soda in the suburbs will now still be less than $2. Even if a liter of coke becomes $10, you can still get a complete, high fat meal for, loaded with chemicals, for $2 at any fast food restaurant.

Finally, eating a healthy diet, and exercise is the only solution for curbing obesity, with or without a tax, subsidy, or tariff.

Sassy said...

What is a "Normal" person in your eyes?

This is so typical, you get a little international exposure and BAM you start to grandstand about issues that are not related to you new vegan lifestyle. Stick to the reason why you started this blog. Some of us could really care less about your feelings of child obesity and what they were selling at bake sales in 1935.

Now that my rant is over, love your blog, have been following you for a few months and have shown it around to some fellow workers.
Keep up the good work.

Terrence said...

Sassy - How eponymous.

Thanks for the post - greatly appreciate it!

First, I assure you, my interest in writing about the world around me, no matter how seemingly insignificant, or divergent, is a passion of mine whether I have 2 readers or 2,000.

Sometimes I just have nothing to write about, and the "Had oatmeal and salad today" blog gets tedious. Also, living in NYC we are forced to stick our nose in political things, and venture an opinion.

Lastly, "normal" is a self-deprecating jab at me. I'm vegan who could laugh at himself, and make sure not to insult others who eat in a decidedly anti-vegan fashion.

Thanks again for the response, and compliments.

Let me ask you, Sass, what do you enjoy reading most about the blog - the diet I follow, or the internal pains and triumphs I share?

LorettaLJ said...

I agree that the soda tax will not help the obesity problem in children. A better idea would be to subsidize fruits and vegetables so they are as cheap to buy as twinkies. Make it easy for folks to buy good food. But that idea would not result in new tax revenues...which is the ultimate purpose of the beverage tax. I agree that the whole thing is disingenuous.