“Hope everything is going down OK”, questioned the waiter, upon serving us a gross combo of pulled pork, veggie burger and vegan hot dogs for the big Euro 2020 soccer match between Italy and England.
It was as if we were all Barbary or Mulard ducks being “gavaged”: food forcibly stuffed down the throat, healthy livers diseased, heart palpitating, damaging brains cells. Except that we were doing the stuffing of our own bodies ourselves.
Back to the USA
I had been out of the USA for almost 2 years due to Covid travel restrictions and had forgotten the taste and voluminous quantity of the average American cuisine. I had also forgotten the excessive amount of extra salt and sugar that was put into almost all commercial foods.
At the sports bar, sweet potato fries sounded like a good idea as opposed to traditional fries (which, by the way, originated in Belgium, not France), but these were saturated in cheap cooking oil, and seemed to be coated with both salt and sugar. The non-descript veggie burgers and vegan hotdogs (spiced to imitate something like meat) tasted like the Dead Sea. And the California wine tasted much too sweet as compared to French wines of roughly the same price. Instant headache!
I think the idea of going “beyond meat” is excellent, but why try to imitate the taste and look of real hotdogs and hamburgers? Black beans as a substitute for hamburgers, for example, should be much healthier. Such real plant foods not only taste better, but should help to decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and the overall mortality rate while also promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight. Then again, better ask a nutrition expert.
Shrimp tasting like a plastic bag
The pulled pork (a not so politically correct choice) didn’t taste like pork; in fact, it had no taste at all except for the sauce that was spread on top. It seemed absolutely imperative to add extra flavoring (with condiments that also contained plenty of excessive salt and sugar) to almost all kinds of food. These condiments included taco sauce, soy sauce, pickled relish, tabasco, different flavors of ketchup, aioli, mayonnaise, or others. Some were spicy, extra spicy, or “normal.” And too many jalapeno peppers! There was a bright yellow-colored mustard that did not taste anything like even the most inexpensive French mustard. I guess it tasted “yellow.”
In fact, in one “famous” seafood place (I can’t even call it a “restaurant”), one could not tell if it were the thick Cajun sauce that was being served as a meal or the boiled shrimp submerged deep beneath that sauce. In any case, the shrimp tasted like the huge clear plastic bag that the meal was served in!
Then again, how can anyone be blamed for wanting (and needing) to cover over the taste of industrially processed (and often carcinogenic) dog food!
“Vegan does not mean healthy!”
In looking over a display of phosphorescent cupcakes at a local bakery, where the advertising proudly declared solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the Rainbow flag, I saw a donut coated in what appeared to be a sugary pink glue. As it surprised me that it was marked “vegan,” I asked, as if I didn’t know, what makes this donut “’vegan’ if it is coated in so much sugar?”
The tall (and thin) young lady behind the counter with the snarling black dragon tattoos on her forearms smartly replied, “oh, vegan, that does not mean it’s healthy!” After that remark, I chose a brownie for dessert that turned out to have chunks of salt inside, after finding out that the ice cream was made with “diary-like” substances, but with no explanation as to what kind of substances.
Even more upsetting was the fact that, unlike the case in France, it was virtually impossible to find anyplace that served freshly-squeezed orange or grapefruit or lemon juice. And I had thought Florida was a big producer of such fruits… But the citrus greening disease is not the only reason for the decline in Florida orange production and orange juice drinking. New eating habits (such as running off to work without breakfast) and the sale of non-fresh artificial substitute drinks have inundated the market and mass publicity.
The attempt to change diets
I recognize that Americans, and many peoples around the world, are trying to radically alter their culinary habits. Although it is still a small percentage, there are many people who honestly want to eat more natural and healthy foods and more non-polluted vegetables, grains and fruits. They genuinely hope to reduce (or eliminate) the slaughter of chickens and cows and other animals (and the unethical gavaging of ducks). In addition, the reduction in meat and dairy consumption also helps to reduce greenhouse gases.
On a global scale, livestock and their byproducts account and land use changes account for 24% to 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Changing diet is definitely better for the environment, but health and aesthetic taste should be taken into consideration as well—in the development of an ecological aesthetic consciousness!1
The gavage of America
What struck me immediately upon arriving like Rip van Winkle in the USA from France was the incredible number of overweight and obese people. This starts with the line-up of wheelchairs in exiting the airplane, where helpers with wheelchairs wait not just for those who are in some way physically handicapped, but for people who cannot walk long distances due to their size and weight.
The statistics indicate that my eyesight is not blurring due to computer screen fatigue that makes everyone’s body appear warped out of proportion. More than 40% of the adult American population over 20 now look like one of Fernando Botero’s paintings or sculptures, while another portion is just plain plump and overweight.
It is a very sad phenomenon that about 36% to 39.6% of American adults were considered obese in 2016, as compared to the already high figure of 14% in the mid-1970s. More recently, in 2017-18, “obesity prevalence”—the proportion of the population who have obesity in a given time period —had risen to 42% in adults (age 20 years or older) in the USA. Also, in 2017-18, sadly enough for minority populations, non-Hispanic Black adults had the highest prevalence of obesity (50%), followed by Hispanic adults (45%), and non-Hispanic White adults (42%). In fact, the US obesity rate is just below that of Americanized Kuwait and that of a few Pacific island states!
This is simply outrageous for the most “advanced” country in the world. Even as American joggers, bicyclists, workout freaks, vegetarians and vegans are all fanatically trying to make sure that they still fit in their pants and skirts, the statistics of obesity continue to skyrocket!
And not-so-ironically, this mass gavage is all self-inflicted by the agri-industrial corporate system that refuses strong health regulations and by a government of corporate flunkeys who refuse to enact enforceable food and health legislation that clearly identifies how, and with what, food is prepared.
Fast food nation expanding markets
Most venture capitalists and CEOs rarely eat at the fast-food chains that they invest in, and if they want, they can pay the high price of fresh foods direct from smaller farms—and even more so after Trump’s tax breaks.
One of the major rules of capitalism is to never invest in something that appeals to your own personal tastes and standards, but only in something that appeals to the tastes of the vast number of consumers who determine the market—but whose tastes you also must try to influence through advertising hype, and without exposing anything to the public about the secret tricks of the trade… i.e. in what ways firms are able to cheapen the production of the product.
That rule appears to be generally true except, perhaps, for Warren Buffet and Donald Trump, and a few others who claim to love fast food. And not-so-ironically, both these very different individuals appear to love McDonald’s McMuffins. Assuming it is not a public relations stunt, Buffet purportedly likes to eat such unhealthy goodies in the morning, depending upon the rise or fall of the stock market.
The fast-food game, dominated by an oligopoly of 20 chains—of which MacDo’s/ Mickey D’s is at the top (the nickname depends upon which side of the tracks you were born on)—is just one of the major investments that concern the rich and super-super rich. Yet a number of billionaires, or at least pretend billionaires in the case of Trump, want to expand that market even further… by taking over the UK’s agri-food and fast food markets (among others) after Brexit.
Chemical-washed chicken and Brexit
I feel sorry for the Brits because many of their pro-Brexit venture capitalist leadership wants to force the UK into making a post-Brexit agricultural trade deal with the US just after the European Union had rightly refused to make such a trade deal. At this writing, a US-UK trade deal is being held up ostensibly because the US Congress wants to deal with the US-EU Boeing-Airbus subsidies dispute first. Nevertheless, despite EU and domestic UK opposition, the UK venture capitalists (with their offshore holdings) still hope for a US-UK trade deal.
EU (and UK) opposition to a US agricultural trade deal was due to a number of reasons, including the fact that the US permits chemical-washed chicken, for example, while agri-industrial standards of cleanliness are much higher in the EU and UK where only water washes are permitted. The EU and UK also possess stronger legislation dealing with animal welfare and agricultural labor rights—an issue for which the American meatpacking industry has been heavily criticized due to the rapid spread of Covid among workers in meatpacking plants.
The US also permits food products to possess a larger amount of pesticide residue than do UK regulations and allows the use of some 70-80 pesticides that are banned in the UK (while laws to limit or ban pesticide use still need strengthening in all countries). And US law permits American farmers to plug animals with roughly 5 times more antibiotics than does UK law. And then there are disputes over the American use of animal hormones, as well as Genetically Modified Organisms, Frankenstein foods and seeds.
Right now (in 2016), the British population stands 36th in the world in the rank of obesity, with 27.8% of its population obese. My guess is that figure will probably get even worse once the Brits begin to stuff themselves with the hormones of humongous American Turkeys.
It is time for Scotland to secede and try to rejoin the EU. Unfortunately, that will not be an easy process for the Scots and it could also result in a struggle for Irish unity as well. Let us hope not with renewed violence. Bye-bye British empire! Bye-bye Britain! Just thank the Brexiteers and their alliance with the Trumpists!
The Europeans are better off, but not perfect!
By contrast, if one can trust the methodology and statistics of the CIA World Fact book, the Europeans appear somewhat better off in terms of body fat content.
Germany stands at 79th with 22.3% obese and France at 87th with 21.5% obese, a figure that is expected to rise to 30% by 2030 despite French boasting about the quality of its cuisine. The reality is that many French love MacDo’s. And the Italians, who possess the stereotyped international image of being massively overweight, rank 107th at 19.9%. This appears to show that there are benefits to locally grown food in Italy’s quest to institute “kilometer zero” food consumption and “slow food” without the use of pesticides if possible. (Now you know why I was rooting for Italy, and not Britain, in the Euro 2020 soccer tournament.)
While foods such as fois gras are forbidden in a number of US cities, gavage is prohibited by law in all 29 countries in the European Union that ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Farm Animals (Directive 98/58/CE) in 1998. Nevertheless, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Spain were granted exceptions because gavage has been considered a “common practice.” There have been some efforts to find alternative methods, but have generally not been very successful.
Causes of obesity
To return to the American scene, it appears dubious that genetics and ethnicity can fully explain the reasons for the rapid rise in American obesity given the relatively short time span involved in the rise of obesity as a major American (and world) health concern. Instead, obesity appears to be primarily a result of the rise of a society of mass consumption and of the fast food and agri-industry’s quest for bloated profits through processed foods.
Yes, there are many other possible causes for obesity, such as lack of sleep due to anxiety and poor working conditions, lack of exercise, the taking of anti-depressants and other drugs, lack of temperature variation due to excessive air-conditioning, etc. Yet the fact that average American restaurant meal portion size is often four times as large as portions in the 1950s and that 96% of entrees at chain restaurants tend to exceed dietary guidelines for fat, sodium, and saturated fat, with some meals even coming close to exceeding daily intakes needed in just one meal appears to be a major cause.
This means that the “fast food nation”2 is literally stuffing the body mass index of its own inhabitants to death in the name of the greatest “happiness” for the greatest numbers—in the utilitarian assumption that stuffing oneself with food actually makes one “happy.”
There are many health problems that go with obesity… heart conditions… cancer… susceptibility to Covid… Obesity has accounted for 19.8% of deaths and 21% of healthcare spending in the United States in a situation in which the average US health care provider hardly covers all the costs. 4.7 million people died because of obesity in 2017—an increase from 4.5% in 1990 to 8% of the world population.
The gavage of the American Dream
There are further contradictions in American claims to be the most “advanced” and “developed” country in the world.
These false claims are illustrated by a number of those malnourished and who suffer from food insecurity, who may also, not so ironically, be some of the same people who suffer from obesity due to lack of proper nutrients and vitamins. In 2017, before Covid, the US government itself found that 12.3 percent of American households remain food insecure. This means that some 1 in 8 households in the United States had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food and had to choose between eating and health care, for example. Not everyone can achieve the American Dream.
And the present situation, in part due to Covid layoffs, the concentration and conglomeration of major industries, and the digitalization/robotization of the US and global economy, is only going to get worse, particularly with the coming crisis of housing and apartment evictions in the USA.
If not bailed out by the already heavily indebted federal, state and/or local governments, more than six million American households could face eviction and homelessness in a very short time. At present, renters owe about $23 billion overall or about $3,700 on the average.
There is a federal emergency fund of $46.5 billion available to help those at greatest risk, but the money has not yet been distributed. And even if it is properly distributed, the question remains as to whether it be enough to truly help those in need in the longer term—if no dramatic upturn in the economy is forthcoming. We are already beginning to see tent cities for the homeless prop up in a number of major cities—much as took place during the Great Depression.
The gavage of the American Dream has resulted in outrageous distortions in the distribution of wealth with the top 1% making outrageous fortunes, while the bellicose overseas misadventures of the US government have overextended its empire, with the combined impact perverting the hopes and aspirations of Americans and the world. In short, the American Dream is suffering from grotesque hallucinations of grandeur: There is a significant risk that the gavaging of the domestic and international dimensions of the American body politic, the poisoning of its liver, heart and brain, are now reaching the point beyond surgical repair.
1 Hall Gardner, American Global Strategy and the ‘War on Terrorism’, (Ashgate 2005).
2 Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, Penguin Books, 2002.