I think in this new year, I want to talk this week about America’s self-image and promises we should all make to ourselves about how we can all – as a society – improve. Things we can all do to work on systemic issues that are interrelated and cause great harm. What am I talking about?
The issues of physical and mental health that we as Americans face are multifactorial, tied in with income levels, community support, gender, race, opportunity, predisposition (social and genetic) and the invisible barriers that are created for all these things.
The issue of how these things are related is complicated, but it’s not hard to see why they are linked: pressure influences our choices, pure and simple. Break down the pressures people feel like food insecurity, money insecurity, body insecurity, stereotypes and complications of/with being a minority (race, gender, identity), expectations/restrictions from family and/or culture, and we have a large, complex picture that is hard to explore. These factors are huge, however, and carry weight.
Unfortunately, we have dug ourselves into a hole – food is so cheap that if you have the pressure of money, it makes it hard to turn down. And, unfortunately, cheap food is cheap. Encouraging this cheap for cheap exchange are food subsidies for families like SNAP and WIC that don’t cover 100% of food costs – economic concerns are still in the periphery for poor families. On top of that, we have issues of access to information regarding proper nutrition (internet availability, internet competence of the user, proper knowledge of what to look for, etc.), the information regarding nutrition itself (conflicting at best), cultural standards of seeking information, knowledge deficiency… And that is just IF you WANT to know. What about if you are totally ok with the standard of food? If your status quo is completely acceptable to you?
The point that I’m making is that there are so many damned concerns relating to elevating our nutritional understanding and output (and intake) in the U.S. that simple things on the ground floor like marketing juice cleanses, imposing sugar taxes or regulating the size of sodas can not be effective without a massive overhaul of the way things are done within our government. The issue with measures like this are that they fall in line with the idea of consumer responsibility. On a certain level, this is fair. We are technically the ones driving up to the Wendy’s window and handing over our own money… but what isn’t fair is that this is our status quo. The perception of the public is that we are making a choice between satisfying our very real food addiction/sacrificing health/choosing affordable food/picking “taste” and getting healthful food.
We don’t have a regulatory agency that is a consumer protection agency in the same way some countries do – I think that’s a huge first step towards taking care of our people; to take care of ourselves. For our (somewhat late) New Years Resolutions, I think we should all be shifting our gaze towards an empowering image of ourselves, and towards taking care of our affairs. Why not help the health of our nation and of ourselves? More on this later.