A husband, a wife and two kids are grocery shopping. It takes two overstuffed carts and $250 to haul what must be 150 lbs. of high-fructose-laden pabulum to their SUV. They push the two carts down the aisle side-by-side, a benighted, overweight child stuffed behind the steering wheel of each grocery-cart-plastic-car. And they buy this much every week.
If you needed a vision to calcify America's decline, I'm not sure you can do better than this. For all it means, this is the end.
We've created an economy that not only promotes, but requires this kind of weekly consumption by average Americans in order to simply stay afloat as a country. There is no billboard, broadcast, movie, magazine or NASCAR that crosses our path without endorsing something that is really, really bad for us. And we oblige, mostly because we're simple people who will take our happiness in tiny, fudge-covered moments if that's where we can find it, and because it seems we have no choice.
I feel that rational, intelligent people can reasonably fall on either side of most political ideas. I'm sure Michelle Obama thought she was choosing as easy a fight as Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" to drugs campaign when she picked childhood obesity and school lunches as her cause (hopefully-not-so) celebre. But the First Lady was just packin' rationality into her reusable hemp-based Whole Foods sack. She brought organic field greens to a honey bun fight.
Sarah Palin, looking for any opportunity to endorse laissez-fair government, quickly screeched from her stump that the initiative was a "nanny state run amok" and that Michelle was trying to take your children's cookies from them.
And, look, I believe that when a government starts labeling every sharp stick in the forest, it's the first sign of a government in collapse, but good God, what choice do we have now? Our kids look terrible. And either the parents aren't helping, or the schools and chain restaurants are too formidable to fight.
We see them everywhere we go. Red-faced and out of breath at the playground. Sneaking dad's second pork chop off his plate at Dixie Cafe. Deftly keeping their T-shirt on when they get in the pool. Yes, there has always been childhood obesity. Yes, it's not as easy for some kids as it is for others. But here's what I know just by looking: Obese children, in both numbers and sheer size, didn't look this way when I was growing up.
Or, to put it more convincingly, one in three children in America is obese. That's not overweight. That's obese. Hospitalizations from childhood obesity nearly doubled between 2001 and 2005, at costs that jumped from $126 million to $238 million. Lost productivity and missed days from work have cost $115 billion a year due to disability and related costs for obese workers. And in a time of our greatest military need in decades, the proportion of recruits who were rejected went from 12 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2008, and the military discharges more than 1,200 new enlistees each year because of weight issues, at the cost of $60 million annually to train their replacements.
No one truly interested in smaller government wants to pay for that.
But here's the biggest problem of all: America is the greatest country in the history of the world at making every freaking feature of every meal delicious. A county fair is fat-covered death and there's a reason. Even bad food tastes good. We sell hamburgers that were made in a laboratory and cost a dollar. Guess what? They're great. And I will eat anything. French-fry-coated-hot-dog-on-a-stick? God yes. Truck stop burrito? Absolutely. I eat Corn Nuts, people. Do you know anyone who eats Corn Nuts? Processed, packaged, irradiated. They're music to my ears.
I believe in the power of personal choice as much as anyone, but they're not making our job as consumers an easy one. Hang out in the Sam's Club or Costco parking lot and watch people pack their cars. Next time you're at Outback or Red Lobster, look at the size of the plates alone. It takes a soldier's discipline for someone with impeccable genes to stay healthy, so what hope do the rest of us have?
Diet is a class issue. The faster and cheaper it is, the worse it is for you. And when the system is fixed against the betterment of the population, I'm all for regulation, or at least some help. At the very least, if you are a good parent giving your child good food, you don't want school lunches, restaurants and fast food to categorically undo all of your hard work.
Arkansas is the ninth fattest state. There are sharps bins for diabetics next to the ashtrays in the bathrooms of Tunica casinos now. All of Michael Pollan's aphorisms about "If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made by a plant, don't" or "shop around the edges of your grocery store" are clever, but are easily muffled by that 100 count box of Slim Jim's for $19.95.
It's hard to fight against the decay of our democracy from a Hoveround. Just look at us. We need help.