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Do you have a Standard American Diet(ary) Attitude?

posted Sep 8, 2010, 10:36 AM by Hildreth England   [ updated Sep 15, 2010, 6:59 AM ]
I was reading an Op-Ed piece today from October of last year, and it got me thinking about why some people see food and nutrition choices as completely up to the individual who's making them. 

I see (and study) eating behavior as a combination of social determinants and individual choices, which is a reallllllly tough, chewy, hard little nugget for some friends and family of mine to swallow (oh, nutritionist puns).  Whatever food you choose to eat is one of the most independent, personal choices you can make, right?  Or is it?

Let's go one step further for a minute...could how we choose to eat be connected to the characteristics by which we, as Americans, love to define ourselves
 
Stay with me here...We Proud Americans are very protective of our due, our 'fair share,' and we still believe - by and large - that anything is possible for a person if they put in enough good, honest work.  It doesn't matter where we came from or who we are - each of us is ultimately individually responsible for "making it" or not.   Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Franklin helped shape this American Dream through their 'self-made man' theories. In Douglass' autobiography he states that...

Self-made men […] are the men who owe little or nothing to birth, relationship, friendly surroundings; to wealth inherited or to early approved means of education; who are what they are, without the aid of any of the favoring conditions by which other men usually rise in the world and achieve great results. (pp 549-50)

Oh....with respect, Mssr. Douglas - I disagree. I think we can connect this idea of utter self-reliance to our current problems with obesity.  No matter who or what we are, or where we come from, what we choose to eat is solely our own choice, and couldn't possibly be dictated by something beyond our ken and control, right? Things like - where we were born, how many restaurants were around our house (and sidewalks to get to them), or our education level.

By this way of thinking, new studies on the genetic and biochemical determinants of obesity would also be circumspect.  So would enormous quantities of data that suggest that eating behavior really is an aggregate of dozens of other factors.

Art by Paul Robinson
  Thinking about food choices in this very American way - that it's solely one individual's responsibility to eat 'right' - might very well be one of the culprits for all those nasty diet-related diseases we're facing.   It also seems that this Standard American Diet(ary) Attitude could be preventing us from helping our fellow countrymen who truly need it.  Especially those who are accused of not eating healthy because they simply "don't try hard enough" or, in the case of children - whose parents simply aren't making the "right" choices for them.   We need to help each other with our food choices, folks - everybody's gotta pitch in to bring healthy food back to all the tables in America...not just the ones who 'deserve' it.
  
Go forth and absolutely be a good, honest, self-reliant American - but be careful not to think like one about food!