Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Why fast food isn’t cheaper than healthy food."



Dr. Tim Harlan did an outstanding job making a case for eating home-cooked food on Huffington Post today, but he seemed to have neglected two important things: our healthcare cost and how to eat better and control our costs by reducing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Those diseases are leading our nation in spending comparing to the rest of the world. I think if we are talking about fast food and health, then we should address the connected and pressing problems. I wonder why Dr. Harlan neglected the issue.

Well, perhaps it is because he is a certified internist and reducing medical cost by reducing demand would mean reducing his profession. That’s like a lawyer wanting to popularize the law and let everyone get a legal education. But that would be a bad assumption to make, surely he wouldn’t jeopardize his professional responsibility to public health. I think Dr. Harlan wanted us to draw our own conclusion.

An obvious conclusion.

wait, i think i've got it!
 I learned from Dr. Campbell’s book, The China Study, that eating more whole food and plant based proteins, and decrease our in-take of animal based proteins, we can reduce our chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, etc. This matters to me personally because I have high cholesterol. I am an average height and weight, mid-thirties, male. I run two or three miles every other day most of the year. I do strength and endurance training as well just in case I should get the chance to dive again in the big great ocean. I am otherwise healthy but I can’t seem to shake this high-cholesterol problem.

And I think I know why.

I eat too much meat. I can’t seem to help it. It’s my vice that goes with drinking microbrews and cigar once in a great while. (I use to chain-smoke, as a philosophy student, but I quite after a year smoking harsh Turkish cigarettes without filters; I finally told myself not to die from lung cancer.) But I still drink a little bit too much at times and I eat too much red meat, bad habits from my risk taking days I guess.

I have always cooked my own meals a lot because I chase a reminiscence of the taste buds form my childhood. I also can’t get that authentic Chinese taste from any restaurants here in the States no matter how hard I try and look. So I cook the stuff myself, replicating the best I could my mother’s red-tofu-steamed-pork-belly and other delicious thing that were too expensive back in my China days. I also love to grill. My army buddy Paul introduced me to the taste of a medium rare stake, and I love grilling out to this day for the thrill of getting that perfectly done medium rare. I also try and grill a lot of vegetables and I do have a tendency of grilling too much and eating it all in one sitting. You should think since I eat a lot less fast food, and a lot more vegetables and home-cooked meat, I would not have the kind risk for killer health problems like stroke and heart attacks.

Again, I remind you I have high cholesterol and I am at-risk. I know, I complaint too much. It seems after I passed thirty, all I do is grip about what isn't going right. I sure hope this isn't a sign of old age.

Back to Dr. Harlan’s point about cost and health of fast food: granted eating less double Big Mac with cheese and more home-cooked pot-roast will be better for you. By all means, eat less Big Mac. The kinds of meats served at these fast food joints are also most likely from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Think about how much pollution we can help reduce. But eating a lot of meat with your meal doesn’t make you that much healthier and buying a lot of CAFO meats from Kroger is just as bad as buying them from Burger King.

Believe me, I check my blood to know. Since reading about the health benefits of plant-based proteins from Dr. Campbell’s book, I have reverted back more to my childhood’s eating habits: consisted of mostly vegetables and tofu. Lauren and I have cut back to eating meat about once a week. We also try to buy our meats form local farms as much as possible. I’m hoping to have my cholesterol checked again in a few months to see if I’ve made any improvements.

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This brings me to a few more points Dr. Harlan overlooked. All of which I assign value to so it's a factor in my consideration for "cost." Eating home-cooked meals brings your family together more, you eat around a table instead of in cars. You are more time efficient because you can be sharing valuable family time together cooking a lot of different things in just under or about 30 minutes to an hour (about the time it would tak you to get into your car, drive to a place, wait in line, and get a meal to bring home). You are also not burning gas getting to the fast food place, exhaust surf the turf waiting in the drive-through, and then bringing it back a brown meal half way cold.

So if your family is still eating fast food on a daily basis, you should really think about reading Dr. Harlan’s blog post (it's worth the read). But just remember that if you really want to make a meaningful impact on your own health and on the health of our planet, eat more vegetables and less meat, a lot less meat.


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