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Abundant Food and Leisure: The Poor Are Hardest Hit

This just in: The war on hunger is over
 Listen to streaming audio of this column | MP3

This just in: The war on hunger is over — and Haagen-Dazs has won.

That’s pretty much the conclusion of researchers who met in Australia this month to discuss the growing worldwide epidemic of obesity. Among the findings reported at the meeting was the somewhat ambivalent news that the obese now outnumber the undernourished on our planet by – ahem — a rather hefty margin.

While 800 million humans are currently undernourished to some degree, a whopping 1 billion are significantly overnourished.

This news would be disturbing enough if it were just obnoxious middle-class Americans who were waddling around the globe, deservedly moribund with excess flabbage. But the news is even more disturbing when one learns that, once more, the poor are being hardest hit by this health crisis. Yes, the poor are now so oppressed that they suffer from diseases of affluence.

Long gone are the days when the poor could count on society to provide them with a properly restricted diet and plenty of healthy outdoor activities, such as ditch digging, rock lifting, and pharaoh-carrying. Now poverty is a nightmare of Ding-Dongs™ and Ho-Hos™ washed down by bubbly sugar water and endured in air-conditioned ambience on a large padded recliner marooned in front of a flickering image of “Girls Gone Wild!” on a huge color TV.

One could question the validity of any definition of poverty that included hundreds of millions so afflicted with purchasing power and leisure time that they can balloon up to prodigious proportions, but why stop a good poverty related crusade just when its about to reach critical mass, so to speak.

Indeed, the correlation between obesity and social class is well established and quite predictive. Once upon a time, chunky was so much of a status symbol that the world dreamed of rotund Rubenesque beauties letting a little flab flap enticingly in blurry visions of carefree corn-fed frolic. But today fat is more likely to be a low status symbol than badge of wealth and rank.

Thus, “plump” is now a legitimate post-Marxist, New Deal style, means-tested social cause on the increase. Especially when one considers that women and minorities have been hardest hit. Clearly, government action is called for here.

Among the recommendations of at least one medical researcher at the conference — and I must remind you that medical researchers are easily the smartest people on Earth — was that government begin using the nimble, unbiased and easily understood tax code to force people to eat and drink what government accurately determines is best for them, meaning “us,” meaning “you.”

"For instance, if we charge money for every calorie of soft drink and fruit drink that was consumed, people would consume less of it,” commented professor Barry Popkin. He continued, "If we subsidize fruit and vegetable production, people would consume more of it and we would have a healthier diet."

Unless, of course, someone decides to turn that cheap subsidized fruit into naughty fruit drink, and given the uncontrolled proliferation of juicers in our Wild West cowboy society, that seems a certainty to me. We would need to restrict refined sugar sales to licensed food technicians as well, so no more little packets of white powder on your table at the House of Pies, which again, might play games with wholesome fruit in a callous quest for profit.

Professor Benjamin Senauer agreed that high food prices are a good idea, noting that the Japanese are slimmer than most peoples and that "the average Japanese household spends almost a quarter of its income on food compared to under 14% in the U.S." So if we could just confiscate 11% more of Americans’ incomes, we might all be happier and healthier.

Uncommented upon was the fact that Japanese-Americans are both slimmer and wealthier than the American population as a whole. So maybe it’s not just the ability to buy food that determines how much we eat, but perhaps behavior is somehow involved. And again, it should be pointed out that the poor are, on average, fatter than the rich.

No matter though, because the same paternalistic attitude that brought us free food, now offers to bring us expensive food. Of course, “expensive” is a relative term, so perhaps food prices will need to be adjusted for income in the future. Surely there must be some way to link those little price tag scanners at the supermarket to the Internal Revenue Service databanks. “How much are these chocolate-covered ‘toaster cobblers’?” a customer might ask. To which the clerk would need to reply, “I dunno, did you bring your W-2, tubby?”

Yeah. That’s a world I want to live in. On the other hand, I could stand to drop a few pounds and dieting might be easier if Cadbury Eggs rivaled their Faberge cousins in price. And just think of the political possibilities: the tobacco tax and alcohol tax could soon be supplemented with a nougat tax. And some future President can bite his lip and report at the State of the Union address, “This year 20,000,000 Americans will go to bed hungry. It’s true that America has made much progress on this issue, but much remains to be done. Under my leadership we can get that number up to 25,000,000 hungry, thanks to my plan to tax pudding as a ‘destructive device.’”

And like all social problems, obesity can be solved not just through higher taxes, but also through better public transportation. Professor Senauer also observed that, "Japanese cities are based on efficient public transport and walking. The average American commutes to work, drives to the supermarket and does as little walking as possible."

Although, if public transportation is so “efficient,” then why is it so much exercise? Sounds to me like we have a deadly “efficient” transportation system and the poor Japanese are running themselves ragged — so many contradictions in such short quotations.

But for those that wish to use government as a sort of compulsory Jenny Craig, then might I suggest that we start with those folks that have already asked the government to provide their meals. Perhaps there should be a weigh-in before we charge up those food stamp cards every month.

Means-testing should be accompanied by lean-testings in the application: “OK, Ms. Potato, your income is certainly low enough to qualify for public assistance, and you have wisely accumulated no savings, but it says here on this scale that you have saved up an 8-month food supply in your ass.” “I’m sorry, you’ll need to get a job. Try a wedge of lemon and a lot of water. Gandhi could do that for weeks and he wasn’t nearly so adipose-affluent as you. NEXT!”

And for all those who campaigned for a higher minimum wage, I say to you: How could you do that to our poor overnourished poor? Do you know how much nougat an extra $0.50 an hour buys? I’m a low-wage humanitarian. You make people less healthy.

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Written By

Mr. Johnson, a writer and medical researcher in Cambridge, Mass., is a regular contributor to HUMAN EVENTS. His column generally appears on Tuesdays. Archives and additional material can be found at www.macjohnson.com.

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