Over the last few months as I have been moving toward wellness and healthier habits, I have discovered a few things: education about nutrition is important; healthy food often costs more than less healthy options; healthy eating requires planning and dedicated time and effort; and healthy eating requires at least some food preparation skills and a means to prepare such fare. I’ve known these things, but this journey has increased my awareness of these issues, allowing me to better articulate them.
Nutrition education is critical if one is to make healthy choices. Though nutrition labels are now included on all packaged foods, what does all of that information mean? What is the appropriate number of calories one should consume in a day? How many servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, meats or other proteins, and fats or oils are appropriate? Is consumption of oils even acceptable? What’s the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates? With the plethora of diet and nutrition programs on the market, there is a lot of conflicting information. In this technological era where information is literally at our fingertips on a touchscreen, it is easy to get overwhelmed. As I have read and researched nutrition options recently, I realize that there is a lot of misinformation out there and determining which sources are reliable is critical. I am grateful for access to information through trusted programs like Weight Watchers, but I am keenly aware that the cost of such programs denies access to many.
My grocery bill has increased since starting Weight Watchers. Lean meats are more expensive than their fattier counterparts. Low- or no-fat cheese and yogurts cost more than the processed stuff. Pastas and other less expensive foods that can be stretched on a tight budget are not the healthiest options for daily consumption. I live in an agricultural community and have parishioners who make frequent deliveries of seasonal vegetables including tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, corn, and string beans, but those living in towns and cities must purchase these items.
As I consider the financial costs of healthy eating, I ponder the connection between one’s standard of living and obesity. In this country, obesity rates are at an all-time high and the number of people living in poverty is ever-increasing. While I know there are exceptions of some “fat” “rich” people and some “poor” “thin” people, I can’t help but think that there must be some correlation to these statistics. Consider the fare provided by food banks, soup kitchens and other programs designed to help those in poverty and low-income situations. Most of the food is canned or boxed – i.e., processed. The reasons for this are many including limited storage and refrigeration, ease of distribution, and the dependence on donations. On a limited budget, these helping organizations must serve foods that can be stretched to feed a large crowd. One place where I volunteered often received “day old” items from a local bakery – a variety of breads and bagels, cookies and cakes. These donations were certainly appreciated, but posed a great challenge for diabetic clients and others who needed a more balanced and nutritious fare. I volunteered at another food bank that frequently received donations of fresh produce from local farmers, yet many of the clients did not know how to utilize these foods or have the means to prepare them. This is not an indictment of these programs and the people who run them who are doing their level best to help others, but it is clear that more education is needed.
Obesity, poverty and healthy eating are complex and multi-faceted issues, and like other social concerns in our culture, there are no easy answers. Yet we must consider them, engage in dialogue about them, and take steps, even small “baby” steps to address them. Our future and our very lives depend on it.
Until next time, peace …