Physical Training Aug 2001

Our Food Culture is Fat

By Chris Gilham
Copyright © Chris Gilham 2001. All rights reserved.

We deserve to be fat.

Forget the surveys about how much we exercise; we give ourselves way too much credit. North American society suffers from a serious problem with over-consumption.

We want and absorb way too much.

After four years in Japan I returned to western society with an uncanny ability to look in on the ship in the bottle we call society. After being out of that bottle for so long you gain an ability to see things from the outside in. Expatriates can suffer because of this insightfulness. I’m no
exception. What I see is often troubling, disconcerting, and sometimes down right sad.

Forget the Tim Horton’s cups lying on roads all over the city and county: It’s a shameful problem that vexes me way too much.

Soon after returning from Japan I ordered a Shepherd’s pie in a diner.  When the waitress came out with at least a bag of potatoes worth of French fries on a plate, next to a pie almost the size of grandma’s apple pies, I nearly fell off my chair.

“Is that for me?!” I asked jokingly, half shocked. Geez, I really was back in North America.

“Sure is.”

“Heck, this could feed an entire family in Japan. Not that they’d eat this much grease and fat in a year.”

She looked at me as if I’d just come back from Mars.

Forget my insightfulness. Most of us are intelligent enough to see what I’m talking about. Look around; it doesn’t take long to see the gluttony in our lives.

We drive around in minivans, pick-up trucks, and SUVs at a time when most of the modern world agrees that we’re causing serious problems to the environment.

But it’s not our fault: it’s the fault of everyone else around us, especially the Americans and our government. Canadians don’t vote politicians in, rather, we vote them out. We are no longer responsible as individuals.

Even if we admit some responsibility to the environmental changes coming about, how many people do you know are heading back to the car dealership to trade the van in for a car that is more environmentally responsible? Heaven forbid, not here in Windsor.

It’s like the kid at school who admits to ‘doing it’ but after apologizing, goes right back outside and does ‘it’ again. ‘OK. So I did it. What do you want me to do about it?’

There are new homes all over the city and county ploughing into the last remaining four percent of local forests. Many of us shout and point fingers, but do we point at ourselves? ‘No sir. No ma’am. It’s not my house tearing into what’s left of LaSalle. Even if it is, I gotta live somewhere. It’s my right.’

And we don’t build reasonably sized homes anymore. We build enormous homes. Homes with rooms we don’t really use, and rarely if ever efficiently serve a purpose or have utility.

Wasteful, excessive, unnecessary and shameful: that’s what we are. The way we eat takes the cake, really. We eat to gorge, with foods that scream against the body’s needs.

I was transferring at an American airport once and I watched a lady, with hands as heavy and large as a bear’s, but much more billowy and soft looking, stuff them continuously into a large bag of M&M’s and then empty them into her mouth. She sat there, chewing cud as it were, as the bag soon disappeared. Hundreds of grams of fat later, she washed it all down with a Coke. Throughout four years in Japan I’d never seen this kind of slothful gorging. Nor did I see junk food aisles in grocery stores like you’d find here. A convenience store in Japan really is convenient.

Japanese girls who come to North America to study or homestay usually end up putting on several unwanted kilograms. Our food and eating style does it to them. Forget the argument that Japanese people are thin genetically, they may very well be, but they eat less and better than we do. They also get more exercise because they walk from their homes to public transportation stations or ride their bikes.

When we want a drink, we grab a ‘soft’ drink like diet Pepsi—please spare me. In Japan people grab unsweetened Chinese tea, or vitamin enriched water. We sit down to eat and end up with a large plate of food that we know we mustn’t waste. We eat to finish it all.

I can hear that guy from Monty Python moaning, “Not another bite...” “Go pull up the truck honey—I’m stuffed.” You know you’ve said it at least several times before.

In Japan, many small plates of various dishes come out in turn, so that people have been raised to eat with a pace, and in portions appropriate to healthy living.

A barbecue here involves whole steaks and hamburgers and chicken. The Japanese barbecue uses thin, small slices of meat, bite size with lots of veggies. Eating is about contentedness, not excessiveness.  You can’t have a vegetable here without putting it into a salad loaded with fatty sauces or dips.

We live in a society where schools have hot dog and pizza days. Pop is served too. You should see what’s in the lunch boxes of children these days. Well, maybe you shouldn’t.

In Japan, junk food is prohibited from school premises. Parents in Japan would view a hot dog day as a severe and cruel punishment. At the core of our gluttony lies the psychology of ‘big is better’ except when it comes to bodies. Big things are in, have always been, but more so in
good times.

Great economy? Big cars and homes become the must have things. Poor economy? People downscale only because they have to, and that’s if they downscale at all.

My grandpa says that people have no sense of value anymore. Young people often go into enormous debt in order to live the good life; to be in the ‘in’ though not consciously engaged in keeping up with the Jones’s. Where’s the value in that?

Irresponsibility often goes hand in hand with gluttony. The Japanese aren’t perfect either. I’m not saying that at all. The problem of obesity isn’t just about food and eating habits. It is only one of many problems stemming from a fundamental rottenness with our society in general: We’re too used to having it good and the result is we’ve become a society of impatient slobs.

I know you don’t like to hear that, but you know it’s the truth for a majority of us.

Chris Gilham is a sword instructor and school teacher who has recently completed a world-wide training tour and is writing a book about his experiences.
Physical Training Aug 2001