Last Thursday afternoon, having forgotten my lunch at home, I spent an hour trying to find something to eat. I walked and drove up and down a number of streets in a small corner of the GTA, passing by 4 Tim Hortons, 3 Pizza Pizzas, 8 Subways, a Wendy’s, a KFC, 2 McDonald’s, and a Pizza Hut. One day later, driving north from Toronto on highway 400, I was overtaken again by hunger. I passed a couple of large service stations that had a wide array of food options from Pizza Pizza to Starbucks to Wendy’s to McDonald’s to Tim Hortons. Avoiding these, I then I took a number of exits between Toronto and Barrie but had no luck in finding something that would cure my appetite.
Some might say that my ravenous hunger was left unresolved because of the overwhelming selection that paralyzed me with decision anxiety. Others might say that I must just be an elitist food snob who just can’t bring himself to fast food outlets unless they serve lattés and filet mignon. Nope, that’s not it. I just prefer not stuff my body with food that will kill me prematurely!
Over the last several years, it seems harder and harder to find something relatively quick to eat that doesn’t involve ingesting crap! There are several reasons for this difficulty, but here are two: First, knowledge of what constitutes unhealthy food has grown substantially in the last decade so people's awareness of what to stay away from now casts a fairly wide net around many food outlets. Oh, how the phrase “ignorance is bliss” carries particular relevance right now. Second, major routes and populated areas are overwhelmed with a relatively small number of familiar brands that may seem diverse on the surface (pizza versus subs versus hamburgers) but are in fact identical in the egregious ingredients that make up their menus.
If one wants a legitimate reason why obesity has become such a major issue in our society, you only need to consider that, in the two scenarios above, my options are to starve myself or succumb to what is available to the mainstream public. I balk at those pundits, especially those from the food and beverage outlets themselves, who argue that obesity is a matter of personal responsibility where consumers need to simply choose those foods that are healthy for them. But this argument assumes that consumers do have a choice in the market. Consider a young family or single mom in a suburban neighborhood with their children famished after a day of school shopping. What are the parents’ options? How can they be responsible when their options are 1) to feed them this deplorable food or 2) to avoid these outlets and let them starve?
An Ottawa food bank declined to provide those in need foods that don’t meet nutritional standards such as Kraft Dinner, hotdogs, pop, potato chips, candy among other foods. Although the manager has received tremendous slack from critics arguing that some food is better than no food, she argues the whole point of helping people is to make sure that the food available to them isn’t going to make their situation worse. First of all, shame on those donors who provide food banks with the bottom of the so-called nutrition barrel. Ya, let’s stick it to those welfare leaches!! Second of all, it’s no wonder that there is a strong correlation between income level and obesity rates when you have the cheapest unhealthy food widely available to the poor. Third, recipients of the food bank are in an even more precarious position when it comes to food choice. Blaming these people for being a burden on our health care system would be like the Police in a small Missouri town beating the crap out of an unarmed black man and then suing him for bleeding on their uniforms. Oh wait, that already happened!
In the fog of a totally screwed up restaurant industry, there is a beacon of hope and opportunity for those moral entrepreneurs who want to fill a clear void in healthy alternatives to match an ever-growing demand by increasingly educated consumers. If you see a middle-aged Italian wondering the streets a bit pale with hunger, I’m interested in spending some cash for something, anything that doesn’t shorten my life or push me into the next weight bracket.