Hunger Hell

By Madronna Holden

What is your idea of hell? In 1976 Lower Chehalis elder Henry Cultee (from the Grays Harbor area of Washington State) told me his version of the traditional story in which Bluejay visits the Land of the Dead. There, amidst entire nations of Indian people and animal species, Bluejay found a white man, munching away, declaring, “Eat it all up!” Cultee’s version of hell was tragically prophetic. In a consumer society that seems hell-bent on eating up the natural world, we also have a current epidemic of obesity among children. As indicated in the PBS special recently aired on this topic, the loneliness, shame, and personal agony of these overweight children does not seem far removed from anyone’s idea of hell.

At the end of show a panel discussed ways to address the childhood obesity epidemic. It is no small health challenge. Those who suffer obesity at such a young age tilt the odds toward losing their eyesight to diabetes before they reach thirty. Panel members spoke of regaining cultural choices in place of fast (maybe we should call it “fat”) food. They also discussed impoverished food choices in underprivileged communities, where less expensive foods supply calories without nourishment. How many white bread buns or candy bars or chips does it take to give the body the nutrients it needs? Until its nutrient needs are met, surely the body will still hunger. I love one solution to changing their children’s eating habits put forth by members of a Latino community on the PBS show: sharing meals together.

One thing the panel did not address was what the desperate hunger of these children might be telling us, especially when we place it alongside the other diseases of hunger in this nation of plenty—such as anorexia and bulimia. When a child cries over a hamburger he feels he should keep himself from eating, we feel his helplessness, his sense that he has no real power—or right—to nourish himself.

Certainly our media works to distort and manipulate our sense of our own hunger. It is more than lack of exercise that associates obesity with hours of television viewing; it is exposure to this kind of propaganda. Disassociation from our authentic hunger is a boon for a system built on consumption. As an addiction counselor once phrased it, “We can never get enough of what we don’t want in the first place”. Those who never get enough will never stop consuming.

Only a nation out of touch with its own real hunger would allow the pollution of its food—and reward those who create such pollution with financial profits. How can we tell children that they should limit their eating when consumption is so tied into with success in our society—even as our levels of consumption are undermining the natural sources of our nourishment?

Take the pollution of breast milk, which Sweden (but not the US) has effectively addressed by prohibiting the use of dangerous chemicals found in that milk. The chemicals in breast milk reflect the chemical burden we all bear, though infants bear this burden especially uneasily. Their own chemical exposures are linked with escalating rates of autism and developmental disabilities—and of cancer, which is currently the main killer of children in our society.

Recently, a study of the Mohawk community at Akwesasne, where diabetes is epidemic, found that the larger their body burden of particular chemicals, the more likely they were to have diabetes. Tragically that body burden is linked to the consumption of the traditional healthy fish diets of the Mohawk. The problem is that these fish now come from polluted waters—not, need I say, polluted by the Mohawk.

Another growing body of research links obesity with body burdens of particular chemicals as well. It is no surprise that endocrine disruptors should disrupt our body’s ability to metabolize food and regulate our weight. And it is no secret that impoverished communities bear the brunt of environmental pollution and so have the highest body burdens of endocrine disruptors such as dioxin, chlorinated pesticides and fire retardants.

A nation that sanctions such pollution by rewarding it with profit is also a nation divided. It is a nation very different from the kind of society where hunger is shared and satiated by those who live close to the earth that sustains them. In the traditions of elder Henry Cultee’s people, only “low class” people failed to share food with others. “If someone was hungry, somebody else would come along to help”. In this context, it was bad manners even to ask, “Are you hungry?” You just brought out the food. Cultee’s views were linked to an intimate respect for the shared earth that sustained his people for generations.

There are parallel beliefs where people live close to the shared earth that nourishes them. An elderly neighbor of mine tells me that in her natal Czech farming community one did not say “thank you” for a gift of anything—such as the fruit or flowers I sometimes bring her—that comes from the earth. She lavishly praises me (far beyond what my small acts deserve) for my labor and thoughtfulness, but for the gifts themselves she thanks the earth. My Czech grandfather had a similar reverence for the natural world—a reverence that also mandated sharing. My father tells of the time the police caught two men stealing meat from his tiny Iowa butcher shop. When they asked my grandfather if he wanted to press charges, he replied, “If they are hungry, the meat belongs to them. Give it back.”

Hunger is not a sin, nor is nourishing ourselves. Nor is poverty, for that matter. I agree with my grandfather’s assessment that true poverty is expressed by those who have too much when others are starving.

I would like to suggest that if we wish to cure the epidemic of obesity outlined in the PBS special, we should feed ourselves well, addressing our hunger for such things as community, belonging, purpose, acceptance, creativity, time to ourselves, and physical exercise—not to mention sustaining food, fresh air and clean water. One of the hopeful signs I see is the (literal!) sprouting of urban gardens in which healthy eating, care for the land, and community are combined.

A world in which we truly nourish ourselves would be one in which we listen to our bodies to tell us how to meet our physical hunger (even if we have to work to relearn this), and our hearts to tell us what unique gift each of us is meant to give back to the life of our shared world.

In which we care together for the earth upon which we rely to feed us all—rather than “eating it all up”.

You are welcome to link to this post.  Note, however, it is copyright 2008, Madronna Holden. Feel free to email me if you wish to pass it on in any other way than linking to it.

209 Responses

  1. What an amazingly true article. The concept of obesity in our children is in fact a deeper hunger. In essence the emptiness found in consumerism while others go without becomes a starvation of the soul and hunger of the spirit. The imbalance of this society has and continues to have unfortunately major affects on our children such as obesity. I do like Elder Cultee truthful story as a mirror reflection of a society of consumerism. I do appreciate the inclusion of indigenous people who may eat a healthy fish diet but be affected because of the chemicals which come from toxic wastes often dumped in indigenous people, people of color, and poor people’s communities due to their marginalization in the society. The continual saturation of our food with chemicals can’t help but affect our bodies especially the children. The concept from diverse cultures of nurture and care for those who are hungry is an example of sustainable societies that recognized and honored the earth which is the sustainer of our lives and therefore they are able to honor the lives of others. The food that our children need to overcome obesity is care, nurturance, love, natural foods that are not filled with poisons, and an ecofeminist culture that will undermine the cultural structures of consumerism which conceives itself as self-hatred within. When one lives in a culture where humans are considered seperate from the body of the earth and nature, is it any wonder that our children don’t feel comfortable in their bodies? This is a hunger that can not be quenched until we dare to live from a place of interconnectedness with the universe and all that is in it.

  2. A wise comment, indeed, Frances. Thank you. I couldn’t concur more. I especially appreciate your elaboration of how we might feed our real hungers as we nurture ourselves and our communities.
    As always, your personal warmth shows through here!

  3. It is amazing to me that more attention is not paid to truely hungry people. The earth is generous and abundant, and we should not restrict that abundance to only those that can afford it. True physical hunger is unacceptable in this light. Emotional hunger howerever, is more just as detrimental, but does not necessarily require the earth to provide to fulfill that hunger. Emotional hunger can be fixed by the supporting players in someones life. Reteaching people how to treat each other is one way we can work on this as a society. Not judging and accepting people and including people will help us get well on our way to keeping our children happy, healthy (less obese children) and socially accepted. The children are not the only people that need saving from obesity…they are usually learning these lifestyle and eating habits from their adult caretakers.

  4. A caring response, Kelly. Interesting that whereas we can perhaps fulfill our physical hunger by ourselves, we can only fulfill our emotional hunger in community, it seems. So we are the “social” in offering our children, for instance, social acceptance.

  5. The story about the two men stealing meat from your father’s butcher shop reminded me of a show I once watched where the host would travel to different parts of the world to learn about the native culture. The host was in Alaska or Canada interviewing some Eskimos and the Eskimos showed how they left their freshly caught fish outside because it was so cold, it was like a refrigerator. When the host asked if they were afraid someone might steal their fish the Eskimos smiled and replied, “If someone is going to steal the fish than they must need it more than I.”

  6. My favorite part of this article is how they not only explain the problem, but propose a solution to it. I think that obesity and its causes have become so common in our culture that we have become blind to the disease. It is fascinating to me that we can cure such a huge problem with something as simple as community; and yet, I could not agree more. We are culturally conditioned to want what we don’t need, instead of appreciating what we do have. I appreciate the Czich grandmothers sincere respect for nature. Indeed, this connection with the earth and those that inhabit it seems to be a great solution for not only the problem of obesity, but so many others that exist in our society.

    • Hi Katelyn, I am glad you liked the part about community here–I think that is a very important element in healing this disease (which also entails cleaning up our environment, since there is much more data coming out on the links between obesity and the body burden of particular chemicals since I first wrote this post. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I found this article very true, and inspiring. The obesity level is on the rise in our country and all that is being done is people stating the problem, but not giving true solutions to the problem. I like how this article addressed the issue and took a different approach to the problem. I found the story about the two men who stole the meat very interesting and very true. If we would help ourselves and then those around us, think of where our world would be today.

  8. Yes, I agree that American children are hungry because they aren’t given good food choices. These kids eat more because they aren’t getting the nutrition that their bodies need. I am guilty of the same thing, I bought food that was quick and easy for my boys to grab on the way. What I didn’t realize is how easy it really was, not only to grab and go but to put on weight. Now my nine year old son is 35 lbs over weight. He has a handle on it now and has lost 14 lbs and 2 pants sizes. If you were to ask him how he has done it he would say “I just make better food choices and watch how much I eat”. That is the key, parents need to read labels and bring in healthy food. If the junk is in the house then they will eat it. They won’t be as hungry and they will be much healthier children when they eat healthy food

  9. “When a child cries over a hamburger he feels he should keep himself from eating, we feel his helplessness, his sense that he has no real power-or right-to nourish himself.”

    That statement really struck me. The sadness is, he has been neglectfully trained by the media and parents to eat in a manner which is not in balance with the needs of the body or of nature. The child is conditioned and does not know any other way. When he is overweight and told he must stop eating all the foods that he is accustomed to, it is emotionally and physically difficult to adjust, especially when the media and culture make such foods the cheapest, most advertised and readily available. To change the diet, requires a change in thinking and a more involved relationship with food. It means more work, and maybe even more money, which means for poor people it is even harder.
    The obesity epidemic is truly one of the biggest challenges our American way of life has created for our nation. It is going to need to be supported by community, school, family and media. It goes beyond food, to the structure of our lifestyles, expectations, definitions of happiness, and level of social interaction. I am happy to see that Michelle Obama is making this one of her projects to focus on.

    What is sad in the above scenario of the child who is hungry, is the feeling that it is not okay to nourish yourself, and I think that message extends to the lack of family, community and social nourishment we give our kids. This also seems to stem from the fact that children are often left alone while parents work, and parents do very little cooking because they are too tired and they can buy it cheaper at a fast food place.
    Another striking point is how pesticides are linked to our bodies endocrine systems, linked to diabetes, etc., and yet, our government is unwilling to address these things, I guess because there is so much corporate greed at stake.

    • Thanks for your very thoughtful and caring comment, Lesley. You have brought up some key issues here in the intersection of the child who is taught it is not okay to nourish himself with corporate over-nourishment– and the general ethic of consumption in our society. More and more data has come out on the intersection of diabetes, obesity and pesticides since I originally wrote this.
      And while we have an epidemic of childhood obesity, we have also have an epidemic of young women starving themselves to death. Obviously we need to right our relationship with both our own hunger and the lands that feeds us.

  10. As I read this insightful article, I could not help but think of how “waste” we create surrounding food. There is no doubt that we need to teach children, at an early age, to not over indulge. At the same time, we need to teach ourselves how to propose the right portions to children and adults, as well, so that we do not throw away wasted food in the garbage. Many times, we tend to tell children “you need to eat your peas……do you know how many hungry children are out there who would love to have those peas”. The fact of the matter is that we, as adults, are responsible to take action on both sides of this issue. We need to be careful not to overfeed children while, at the same time, we need to teach children the value in not creating excess waste. These are positive actions toward Earth. If all of us contribute, then, less will need to be grown and less will need to be collected as garbage.

    I want to write more here; but, I am limited. I found the fact that dangerous chemicals may be aiding obesity and diabetes very, very interesting as well!



    • Hi Paul. I think that this issue begins with ourselves and what we ourselves model. I also think limiting children’s food is not the answer, nor reminding them of starving children elsewhere. We need to be in touch with our bodies (so that we understand our own fullness and hunger), in touch with the land to grow healthy food–and we need to STOP peddling over-consumption in the realms of food as everywhere else. We are in effect force feeding our entire society with much more than food in consumerism.
      Thanks for your comment!

  11. I appreciate this post. I have noticed an increase in my own child’s interest in eating well. She has come to me recently saying “I don’t want to drink pop anymore, it’s bad for me.” Her health teacher seems to be making a positive impact on her personal choices for healthy eating. I have noticed an inclination for her to be a bit “overly” concerned for her body shape/image. I realize this is normal for a 14 year old. I think this article points out the important issue for my child and all of us. A deeper look into our physical, emotional, spiritual needs can uncover the vital nutrients for health, including healthy food choices. Community, sharing, giving, and receiving love also contribute to the cravings of our bodies that “empty food” does not fulfill.

  12. It’s heart breaking to think of the children that go without food on a daily bases. I have put in many community service hours at a food kitchen over the years. I have gotten to know the people and have scene them struggle to get through the hard times. The community kitchen that I use to work at would make sure to make health food for everyone that came through. I just wish our public schools would start to make more healthy food choices for our children.

  13. I cannot imagine how helpless some of these families feel as they watch their children starving on a daily basis with no end in sight. Most of us have felt like we were starving at one time or another. However, the difference is we know that at some point relatively soon we will be feeding that hunger. I admire the programs in place like WIC, which encourages healthy eating habits. I would love to see more programs like this that give clear guidelines on what is healthy and what is not rather than leaving it up to choice- where the food assistance ends up being spent to buy chips, soda, hamburger helper and wonder bread. I would also like to see the checkers in the supermarkets have a little more compassion and discretion for these people rather than making them feel humiliated for using government assistance. Everyone has the right to eat!

    I also feel for the obese children who are also starving inside for a sense of purpose. They are searching for what makes them whole and so often food is the only thing they can find to fill the void. They are stuffing themselves full of food to feel complete for a moment and then when the moment passes they are looking for more.

    • It is a great tragedy to see one’s children starving with no end in sight, as you point out, Anedra. Indeed: everyone does have a right to eat!
      Perhaps you have heard of the “obesegens”-chemicals in the environment now definitely linked to obesity. Time to stop blaming the victim here, especially children! Thanks for your compassionate comment!

  14. Contrary to what this article states, our society views poverty, and all those issues the impoverished must face, as a sin. In a country that believes all people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and that the American dream is obtainable by all, those that suffer the deprivations of poverty are made to doubly suffer the stigma that accompanies poverty. Hunger is not a sin, nor is the poverty that oftentimes causes it, and until we understand the forces that work against the lower classes in this country, until we recognize the inaccessibility of the American dream, millions will continue to inhabit the American nightmare forcing children to go to bed with rumbling tummies.

    • I agree with you absolutely that hunger is not a sin–and it doubly painful for families not to be able to feed their children (the greatest proportion of hungry in this country are children) and to suffer a social stigma on top of this. If as a society we truly believe in both democracy and justice, we need to do better in this respect. Thanks for your comment, Tabitha. What a strange worldview we have that tells us we must “earn” a living– for as natural creatures we are born to life. We do not have to “earn” this. To the contrary, any baby born to our society should be welcomed and cared for. Thanks for your comment, Tabitha.

  15. As a society, we have been conditioned for so long to see proverty as a failure. There is so much shame attached to poverty and hunger. Overweight people are also looked down upon. Our society values money. McDonalds is a business that makes a lot of money targeting little kids. The kids today are told that they should be “lovin’ it”. The shame of hunger, poverty, and obesity must be so confusing to a child.
    There should not be any shame attached to being poor. Those that look down on those without, and do nothing to help them, should feel extremely ashamed. Those obese children should not be burdened with shame; they have an enormous challenge ahead to get healthy. Their parents should feel ashamed; they failed their children. It is the responsibility of the parent to nurture and nurish their children. A child will eat what is available to him.
    The hunger of our society is created from our lack of interdependence. My child’s teacher has an interesting thing she does with them. She taught her that each person has a well or is like a well. A person’s well is not only filled by herself, but others can fill or take from that well. To fill someone else’s well, she can be kind, say something kind, do something kind or help that person. The giving of yourself fills others. This simple concept is what the earth does, and these young children are giving the gift of themselves to each other, and learning about the true happiness that is in nature.

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin. I think it is tragic to blame the poor for their poverty: that makes them doubly cursed. I agree with you that shame is counterproductive in terms of creating an atmosphere that promotes a child’s physical or emotional health.
      I like your statement that the hunger of our society is created by our lack of interdependence (of community).
      Lovely idea of the well and the way it teaches reciprocity to these children!

  16. I must say that the thing that struck me as most powerful was the story of the Iowa butcher who allowed the thieves of his butchery to keep his meat because they were hungry. It is disheartening to know that so may people are driven to thievery simply because they are starving, while others, like myself, throw away hundreds of pounds of food a month. I hope that I can one day have the same kind of empathy that the Iowa butcher had for his thieves.
    The other thing that struck a cord with me in this article was the section on contaminated breast milk. For some reason, I had no idea women’s breast milk was contaminated by all the chemicals we ingest, although it makes perfect sense. Now I’m questioning how I’ll feed my child once I reach that stage in my life. What should we, as women, do about this problem? How do we save our babies from our own contaminated bodies?

    • Hi Randa, you raise serious issues. Perhaps if we shared our responsibility for our earth the way that this meat was shared with the thieves, we would stem such contamination– we would simply not put up with it. I do want to stress that breast milk is still by far the healthiest way to feed your baby BUT the contamination in breast milk echoes the contamination in all our bodies– which should sound an alarm bell about particular chemical usage. As in the article that you also replied to on breast milk contamination, each of us can make a difference by not using things like lawn chemicals and supporting sustainable rather than chemically dependent farming.
      It is also important to find women of like mind (as in some of our health links) that can pressure our government to show at least as must integrity as EU countries in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

  17. It’s clear to me that now more than ever balance with ourselves, with others and with the earth is crucial to our survival and the slowdown of diseases like obesity and diabetes. If only we could stop genetically modifying food, focus more on whole foods, grow and supply only enough food to keep ourselves healthy, and to control portion control in restaurants we could probably make a dent in these terrible issues. Education is a good start, but I think we need to get more drastic. Shift the financial power to those restaurants and businesses who care about portion control, labeling their food with nutritional statistics, cutting out refined and overly processed ingredients, and so on.

    • I absolutely agree with you about balance–and shifting our financial priorities, Amy. Right now we have far too many “perverse subsidies”– which make it cheaper to buy chemically drenched food trucked or flown in from great distances than healthy local food grown sustainably.
      I read a recent report that indicated that sugar, salt and fat are all addicting when we eat them in concentrated fashions–and fast food producers and advertisers have done some careful research on just how must of these things to put in our foods to lure us into eating far more than we should.

  18. There is also documented scientific work done on BPA’s as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine distruptors cause synthetic changes in hormones released in our bodies. Big chemical corporations like DOW spend billions to lull citizens into feeling safe about their products by blaming their victims. This fits well into the patriarchal society where mothers are to blame for their child’s obesity or autism. And for the blame women put on themselves for not having that 12 year old boy figure. These same chemicals that are emitted onto our air, and dumped into our oceans so that predator fish like tuna built up toxic levels that do not wash out of their systems. These chemicals are also epigenetic disruptors that take hold onto our DNA and can be passed on evolutionarily. The profoundness of epigentics is that the predisposition they create towards autism, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, become stronger each generation. If your child has obesity due to endocrine disruptors, he will pass that mutation on to his children. Those children will then be exposed to the same chemicals creating an even higher chance of genetic predisposition, thereafter. This is a perfect cycle for companies like big pharmaceuticals, the diet industry, and big food industry, because the blame is passed on to women, the external costs are never placed on those who are the true villains.

    • Hi Val, thanks for your comment here. Important information about chemical contaminants– chlorine-based pesticides, bleaches and plastics are culprits in hormone disruption and endocrine disruption. This is one reason why chlorine-based paper bleaching (there are alternatives) is outlawed in some EU countries. Mercury (a primary source is emissions from coal-burning) is a likely suspect in many neurological disorders. POPs or Persistent Organic Pollutants are dangerous in very small amounts… ways to avoid these are listed in consumer info links here. But in fact, the REAL way to avoid them is to clean up our environment- for this is not just an individual issue– which is why it is a matter of blaming the victim to attribute some of these health issues to individual irresponsibility.

  19. It breaks my heart to understand that we are degenerating at an age that is over half as young as the U.S. average life expectancy for men and women. It is the first time in the history of our records that the the average life expectancy is LOWER than the previous generation of people. With such a technologically “progressive” society, why are we dying sooner than our parents and grandparents? I think food, nourishment, and livelihood should be an unquestionable priority in terms of what world issues to tackle. I do believe that this is a matter of choice, to an extent. More specifically, it is a matter of distribution too. We have more than enough food on our planet to feed every individual that inhabits it. This is hell! This is a chemical burden! We, Americans, are obsessed with diagnosing and medicalizing everything! Unfortunately, with our disconnect with nature, it is not surprising to me that these complications are arising. Forget Atkins; forget the South Beach Diet; listening to your body is the best diet you can sign up for!

    • Hi Dana, thanks for your passionate response here.
      One of the tragedies of the cancer epidemic is that it hits so many younger victims. In the film, Rachel’s Daughters, which is the story of research conducted into environmental toxins conducted by parents of women with breast cancer, they chronicle the heartbreak of having generations die out of turn. Why should the youngest generations be the most vulnerable? I have seen speculation that they are subjected to more chemical assaults than those of us who lived out our years before so many of the 84,000 new chemicals had been released.
      I absolutely agree with you– listening to our bodies is something each of us should do.

  20. This article made me think of the book I read my freshman year by Dr. Anita Johnston, Eating in the Light of the Moon. Johnston uses stories, myth, and symbols to help explore and explain the emotional and spiritual struggles that women experience when struggling with the relationship between their heart and mind. There are many themed sections of the book, such as viewing hunger as a metaphor, reclaiming the body’s wisdom, and embracing the feminine. The book seems to reflect much of what the article says about society today and the distortion and manipulation of our bodies and hunger. Indeed if we are to genuinely feed ourselves well, we must go beyond food nourishment (though very important), and feed our needs for “community, belonging, purpose, acceptance, creativity, time to ourselves, and physical exercise.” I couldn’t agree more that to truly nourish ourselves we must listen to our bodies and what they tell us about meeting our physical and emotional hunger. What a beautiful and fulfilling life that would support.

    • I hadn’t heard of this book, Kirsten, but it wounds very powerful. Thanks for passing along the resource. I will have to look it up. This is an eloquent comment in terms of finding the full spectrum of nourishment each one of us needs to fulfill us.

  21. I agree so much with this article, and identify with it as well. In my case, I have tried to “eat away my feelings.” Throughout my adolescence, I had a lot of problems with my anxiety/panic disorders and depression. I would eat because it made me feel good, even for that split second that the food was in my mouth. It felt like something I could control. It probably goes without saying that during this time I was a horribly unhealthy eater (which is still somewhat true, but I am trying in earnest to improve).

    It is so true that eating food just to eat it does not really help your hunger. You might not feel hungry after eating junk food rubbish, but your body cries out for nourishment. I know that sometimes, when I have been only eating junk food and things that are bad for me, my body will have an intense craving (similar to what I would assume that pregnant women have) for fruits or for vegetables. I know first-hand that just shoving food in your face will not solve your hunger. Working meticulously with your body to make sure that you are giving it what it needs is the only way to feel nourished. I also agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we are setting children up to fail with their eating choices. Our society seems to be all about getting more, being more, spending more. Why not eating more? Our capitalist market trains us to look for the best price. When we do that, are we going to buy the organic milk from hormone-free cows or the two-dollar Walmart brand gallon? As a society, we are not trained to make good choices, just choices that give us the most crap for our money. This is so problematic to me!

    • Thanks for sharing your personal struggle on this issue with us, Amanda. I am willing to wager that there is scarcely a US woman today who is not troubled with unhealthy eating habits to some extent. You have a great point about the emphasis on “more” in this society–which merges with eating more as well. Good perspective about thoughtful purchasing as well: that is nourishing rather than mere caloric chocies.

  22. I am truely touched by this article. I feel as a woman and a mother of a teenage daughter the topic of nutrition, being “fat”, and the desire for the “something we can not name” affects us deeply. We are a nation of seperate individuals. My Grandfather used to say to me that the worst thing that has happened to communities was the elimination of the porch for many new homes. He said this was a place of connecting with others, acceptance, and bonding. I can see his point.

    I struggled with too much food, then not enough food for many years. I felt alone, unloveable, and unwanted. Now I watch my child do the same. Yet sometimes it is not the idea of body image (though that is frequent) but the more deeper, unconcious words she uses about not feeling she belongs, not feeling accepted as she is, and not feeling there’s a “place” for her. This desire, combinded with the artificial cheap prices of harmful foods that target low-income families like mine, keeps her in a see-saw game of filling the hole with food, or starving herself. This is one epidemic that is killing our young people. I must be honest and say I don’t know what to do to help…

    • Thanks for your feedback, Shawna. Your grandfather’s opinion on front porches is seconded by some sociology studies.
      I am sorry that both you and your daughter have and are suffering from this epidemic of greed and thoughtlessness. I know how much grief there is in watching a daughter go through this–and feeling helpless. But you can share your story and your love– never lose sight of the power in that, even if you don’t see the result in the immediate future.
      You might like to check out the book, The Mother Daughter Revolution, which talks of ways we can affirm our daughter’s power and voices.

  23. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that if you are hungry then you should eat but don’t just eat to eat. The obesity rate is what it is because people will get bored and eat even if they are not hungry and they will not eat the right foods. Everyone like to eat “junk” food every once and a while but everything should be in moderation. I think the idea of an urban garden would be great for small communities to grow there own foods that are healthy and natural.

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughts here, Jayne. You might like to visit some of the links (like “sprouts in the sidewalk”) that depict urban gardens and their various successes.

    • Moderation. Exactly. Everyone enjoys eating junk food once in a while and anyone that has tried to diet can vouch that completely cutting out unhealthy foods is not an easy task, because let’s face it – they taste good. Obesity is rising rapidly and it’s because of what is ‘normal’ to our society. When you watch a movie, one thinks to make popcorn or grab a soda, maybe a candy bar … it just continues and continues.

      • Giving ourselves a sense of deprivation to go with malnutrition is not the right course–and actually, the film The Famine Within, argues that obesity is caused by dieting– since dieting changes metabolism.
        Food processors work very hard to combine salt, sugar and fat in just the right proportions to trigger our positive brain responses– but perhaps we could fight back by truly enjoying healthy foods. (That does not claim I have never had an unhealthy snack– but I am thinking of ways to do better).

  24. The feeling of never getting enough is an interesting phenomenon that we currently are experiencing in our over-developed over-consumptive nation. I agree with the addiction counselor quoted above about the fact that “we can never get enough of what we don’t want in the first place.” Our society and much of the world has lost sight of what truly nourishes us and now blindly grasps at whatever it can to fill the endless void that we feel. That void comes from being so disconnected to the earth — our life sustaining ally — that we are willing to destroy it in our attempts to fill the empty space that can only be filled by that which we are destroying!

    When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn’t discover until the end of the pregnancy that there was a clot in the umbilical cord and he was barely getting enough nutrients the last two months. He was fine as soon as he got some breast milk in him. However, what I’ve since noticed (he’s 14 now) is that he is never satiated. He never feels like he’s getting enough. He was disconnected to his life source in utero and has not fully recovered. I think the same thing is happening in many cultures today. We are disconnected from our life source, be it culture, roots, earth, family, food, etc. and we are constantly trying to fill the void left by that disconnection.

    • Thanks for sharing some powerful points here. Your son is fortunate to have such a perceptive mother. I was just re-reading the statement of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers that our disconnection from the earth is responsible for not only our ability to satiate ourselves, but our anxiety and violence. For if we have no sense of belonging to our life source (as you put it), we have little understanding of how to connect with one another.

  25. It’s so sad to me that there has to be such drastic differences in the way that people approach food. We seem to either overindulge, finding food as a source of comfort and acceptance. Or we deprive ourselves, denying our bodies essential nutrients so that we can fit our forms into the mold created by the media. It’s also so devastating to see people who live in such desperation for food while others through out their leftovers as a regular practice. It makes me think of the lyrics from Brett Dennens song, “All we Have”

    and there’s enough wealth for everyone
    but some have the most
    and most have some
    and there’s enough food for us all to flourish
    tell me why are so many malnourished

    It’s interesting that wealth, progress and class are represented in how much we are able to consume. Pretty opposite of how we should be looking at the world.

    I liked your solutions to fight obesity. I agree that, getting out, being active, enjoying the fresh air and being aware of what we put into our bodies, is a great starting point to our nations problem with obesity.

    • I like the words of this song, Alyssa. Thanks for sharing it– maybe I will look it up and listen to it. It makes a great point.
      You have a powerful point in the idea that “wealth, power and class” are all represented by consumption. This is the opposite of how we should look at the world!

  26. I think that a large part of our nation’s obesity problem is due to families feeling pressured to do too much. Kids aren’t really allowed to be kids anymore. I’ve been in school districts that required about two hours of homework each night, for kindergarten children! When does a 5-6 year old child have time to play when they are expected to do that much homework every single school night?

    Older children, even those without assigned homework, are often shuttled from one activity to the next after school. Sure, many of these activities involve sports of some sort, but they also lead to children getting less time to sleep than they need. Lack of sleep contributes to poor health, as well as a tendency to eat junk food (or drink high-calorie “energy drinks”) as a way of staying alert.

    Another problem in our society is the fact that the internet seems to have empowered pedophiles to act upon their fantasies and kidnap children. Unfortunately, these men also tend to kill their victims, since dead children can’t describe their torturers. Because of the very real possibility that my children, particularly my daughters, could easily be kidnapped, I am much less likely to allow them to roam the neighborhood freely. When I was younger, I spent hours on my bicycle, exploring the town, visiting the library, and buying myself candy at the little grocery store on the corner. Children now aren’t really free to do that anymore. That loss of freedom limits their ability to exercise, which leads to poor eating habits and obesity.

    In my own household, I am trying to have my family eat together more often. It isn’t easy, but we’re working on it. I have always been a huge proponent of sleep for children; most of my friends let their kids stay up until 11 p.m. on school nights, when I try to have my children in their rooms for “reading time” by 7 or 8. Again, it’s not always easy, but to me, it’s worth the effort.

    • Very interesting point about doing too much. I had not thought of this, Roxanne. I do think stress certainly plays an essential role in eating disorders. Congratulations on your effort to share meals in your family–and the other things you are doing to bring your children peace and security.

  27. It is a valid point indeed that consumption is often tied to success, and that production, no matter how vile the product or the consequences for its production, is usually rewarded. I have too often seen episodes of the Maury show where two year olds who weigh over a hundred pounds are paraded onstage. The horror! Personally, I have always felt that these children are victims of child abuse, but I was instinctively loathe to blame the parents – most of them single Moms. Aside from the obvious poverty associated with poor nutrition habits and lack of access to education on the issue of proper nutrition, these mothers are victims themselves. It seems to be a vicious cycle which, unfortunately, only perpetuates more poverty and sickness to a sea of women and children, while fast food joints continue to fluorish around the world, amassing wealth and creating unhealthy addictions.

    I also think it is important to put the whole issue of addiction into perspective – when toddlers are addicted to food, and kids a few years older are hooked on video games and tv – it makes me wonder about the merits of such an insecure society, where people are constantly seeking out inanimate entities in order to satisfy an emotional need that is obviously not being fulfilled. I suppose this is why, according to the series “Intervention”, it is estimated that over 22 million americans currently suffer from some form of substance addiction; the vast majority of episodes I have seen center around items that can be legally acquired, from alcohol, to prescription pills, to computer cleaning spray. This is indeed a tough lesson that we are an intrinsic part of nature – when we make the natural world sick, we show symptoms, ourselves, of being a sick society. But you know what – consume, consume, consume – and quickly – before people start thinking you’re a communist 🙂 (just kidding, but you know what I mean?)

    • Hi Hannah, it seems that such addictions as you mention here play off our unhappiness in order to hook us.
      As you indicate, substance abuse is a massive problem in the contemporary US–and linked to a culture which advertises instant (and purchaseable) fixes for all our ills. Their is untold human pain in the story of each of these 22 million whose lives are no longer their own because of their chemical dependency. And while we are on the topic, it is far less expensive to treat these individuals rather than to jail them. Seems we need to shift from punishment to restorative justice.
      And as for obesity (as if junk food and fast food were not enough) there is the fact (in terms of not blaming these moms) of “obesegens”– toxins in the environment that cause obesity by destroying the body’s ability to regulate weight. More of more of these are being found among the 84000 man made chemicals we currently have in our environment.

  28. The obesity is increasing today for many reasons. One of the main ones is the bad influence from the media. The media convinces our children that fat food is the best while it is totally harmful. I also like this idea ” I agree with my grandfather’s assessment that true poverty is expressed by those who have too much when others are starving. ” And that is right eating too much is like the hunger because both of them make us sick.

  29. As a mother of three young children, two of them girls, I find myself often checking and double checking our famililial eating habits. Especially with my girls I am struggling to find a happy medium. They are active and play hard, so they are hungry at mealtime, but how much is too much? Teaching them to listen to their bodies and try to figure out if their tongue wants them to taste more food or if their tummy is still hungry is a hard thing to teach. I wonder if some parents don’t bother trying to teach that lesson and just assume that they will stop eating when they are full.

  30. I currently write blogs for a website dedicated to helping improve our minds and bodies by clearing away chemicals and getting back to healthy eating habits. The guy I work for recently said something that sounded so true to me. He said, food is not just to satisfy physical hunger, but is associated with mother, comfort, and safety. Hearing that, I thought, simply “food is mother.” And I think that is the truth. Food is mother. When we stop going to our mothers for food, we start going to the Earth. Except now, we start going to the grocery store, or the corporation, and the “food” there, is the opposite of nourishment, comfort, and safety.

    • Thoughtful point, Michele. Nurturing ourselves is about comfort and safety as well as physical nourishment; and there is the way we think and feel about our food- and the women’s bodies that first provide it as well. Thanks for your comment.

  31. This article reminded me of a book entitled “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Their books attempts to combat one of the primary issues discussed here: dissociation from authentic hunger. In a society where we are so pressed to consume but at the same time deny our body its needs (especially as women), it is no wonder that a large number of chronic dieters are left frustrated and unsatisfied. This is largely due to to the dissociation from authentic hunger. The book discusses ways to listen to the body’s needs. This concept is much more in line with a concept of being attuned to nature. It seems that often a disconnection with nature is tied to a disconnection from oneself.

    As a student of dietetics, combating the nations rising obesity crisis, as well as eating disorders, are always topics of discussion. An additional challenge arises in using food as medicine for those who suffer conditions caused by environmental factors, such as pollution and additives. It is often the impoverished who are obese because the most readily available is the most void of real nutrients. Those with access to more natural products are those with more money or access to land. As far as healthy bodies go, there is certainly something to be said for food that comes from the Earth and cultures that subsist off of these natural foods. This method of agriculture fosters a better association with authentic hunger and a better connection with nature and one’s personal needs. In the obesity epidemic, technology is often blamed, but what we tend to neglect is the fact that nature has been left out of the lives of many today and perhaps this is the root cause of many of our food related issues. Where there is technology, there usually is no nature. The ideas are interconnected, but technology is the only one ever blamed by media.

    • Thanks for bringing up this book, Ellie. It sounds like a good one. I think it is naive (and only part of the answer, as you indicate) to blame technology, since we have had technology since we became human– indeed many other species have it as well. Technology simply means “tool”– and the issue is what KIND of technology we have.
      You might be interested in an interview with Kelly Brownell, professor at Yale who studies psychology, epidemiology and health expressing his views on healthy eating in the context of modern society in the latest Nutrition Action (published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, May 2010).

  32. As a gym owner and personal trainer I deal with a lot of clients that suffer from self induced obesity. The American obsession with junk food is often at the forefront of my life. Helping people become reconnected with what real food actually is has been a big part of my job. Recently my father visited and told me of all his health problems, almost all of which I attribute to a lifetime of terrible eating. My father’s idea of healthy eating was eating processed foods with the word “healthy” on the box. In his entire life, he had never been taught to read labels, to distinguish between whole foods and processed foods, or that orange flavored sugar drink is not the same thing as fruit juice. For an experiment, I had him pour a glass of store bought apple juice. Then I put 5 apples in the Jack LeLane Juicer and had him compare the 2 liquids. He had to admit there was very little similarity. This makes me sad, because his whole life he was misled about the importance of food. He was victimized by advertising agencies, that color boxes with cartoon characters and tailor make their products to taste good rather than nourish bodies. This is a rampant problem in our country. People seem to have no idea what they are eating and no control over their diets. Food is produced for profit and health is only a side benefit. This type of alienation with our food and our environment seems to be product of our Western heritage. We have to get back to a more natural way of living. Home gardens and farming provide solutions that we can all use to help escape the tyranny of corporate food domination. Unfortunately many people are learning this lesson on their way to the hospital.

    • Alienation from our natural environment and our own bodies is certainly an “inheritance” we need to change. And as for your dad, he may well have come through some economic hard times that made him even more susceptible to manipulation. I know that a good many food ads play up security and well being in contrast to deprivation– and there is nothing quite so desperate as real starvation.
      Thanks for sharing your experience here, Joshua. In terms of self-induced obesity, yes and there is our environment– social and physical. We have recently discovered that certain chemicals act as “obsegens”, spurring obesity and diabetes especially in certain children. And junk food ads so manage our media that researcher Kelly Brownwell observed these kids “don’t have a chance” at health unless we stem the junk food industry.
      At least those who come to your gym seem ready for a change.

    • And I am with you on the apple juice difference!

  33. It is extremely sad to me when I see very young children that suffer from obesity. These children usually don’t have the mental capabilities to make smart choices about the food that they are eating, and very often don’t make any choice on their food choice. They eat what is given to them by their family. While I’m sure if we sat down with these children, and told them that if they eat a certain way, they can become sick and develop many health issues, they might not want a McDonald’s happy meal. While I know this is somewhat of a far fetched scenario, and most of our youth don’t know anything about heart disease and diabetes, it is then the adults in our decade that can make a change. By teaching their children about the dangers of unhealthy eating, and making sure they have a well balanced, healthy meal to eat every day, they can make sure these children are set up to live long, healthy lives, and are much more likely to do the same for their children.

    I personally have seen the dangers of obesity in my family. My cousin who is turning 15 next month, has suffered from obesity from a very early age. His mother never gave him healthy food, or taught him about food health, and he is the one who suffered. We owe it to our youth to give them healthy options to eat, instead of choosing their destiny to be obese, and be faced with health issues in their near future.

    • It is sad to see children suffer this way indeed. You might check out the interview with Kelly Brownwell in the latest Nutrition Action on this point. I am sorry that your cousin is suffering in this way–he is certainly not alone. Brownwell asserts that unless we stem the junk food industry, these kids “don’t have a chance”.

  34. I think that the proposed solution of sharing meals is a perfect match with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it right off the bat fulfills the bottom 3 levels, physiological needs, health and safety, and love and belongingness. I’m not saying Maslow is the end-all-be-all of theories, but it’s a good model. I personally know that eating meals with family or part of a neighborhood community (like in the residence halls) is one of the most genuinely fulfilling experiences. If there was a nutrition and community-oriented option for low-income families it would certainly be an excellent idea.

    • Great point, Findlay. I also think we might share cleaning certain chemicals out of our environment, as these are more and more linked to obesity in certain children–not to mention, the fast food industry– did you see our “quote of the week” on this point last week. (All past quotes are gathered on the “quotes to ponder” page).

    • I agree with you regarding sharing meals and the feelings and emotions that are both inferred and that result with you join a community and engage and help each other as well as yourselves. Regarding chemicals, in the state of California, the State and Regional Water Quality Control Boards have mandated new regulations for many cities throughout the state which set milestones and deadlines for 100% eradication of pollutants of concerns from our waters. Trash is a primary focus for the permit covering the bay area ( 77 cities throughout several counties surrounding SF Bay) but pollutants of concern including fire retardants, pesticides, herbicides’, motor oil, break pad dust, copper and mercury as well as dental amalgam are all regulated under the Regional Water Boards mandates. The hardest part about seeing these required reductions are met, is getting all members of the public on board and modifying behaviors. And then, as always the biggest challenge is big industry altering their methods, materials and end product to be more environmentally benign.

      • It is great that California is taking a proactive role in reducing chemical pollutants, Lizzy. It was heartening that states stepped up to this role in the wake of the Bush administration’s negative role in this arena. Getting both individuals and corporations to change their habits is obviously a big task: I hope that California’s experiences might be shared with other states working on the same process. Thanks for your own very important citizen interest here.

  35. The parallel between physical hunger that can’t be satisfied until its true needs for nourishment are met and the spiritual hunger that won’t be satisfied by consuming goods we don’t really need or want to begin with is striking. So are the impacts of both: obesity and other ill health effects, along with alienation and destruction of the environment. We send too many conflicting messages: diet and exercise vs. fast food and video games; stop destroying the natural world vs. consume more and more. No wonder society seems so schizophrenic at times.

    While I love the idea of sharing meals together, it’s not enough on its own. I’m thinking of parents who work two or three jobs, and thus may not see their kids for many meals. I’m also thinking of the parents I know who do eat with their kids, but eat the same sort of highly processed and essentially nonnutritious foods that contribute to poor health. I agree that it’s a good start, though–at the very least, it would help strengthen family ties (always a good thing). We can also tackle the issue from other angles at the same time; D.C. public schools have recently begun serving a third meal as part of the free/reduced-price meal program, and it actually serves kids fresh fruits and vegetables as an early dinner–definitely a step in the right direction, even if some kids seem at little reluctant right now.

    Our real problem seems to lie in the feeling of helplessness described in the article above, the feeling that we don’t have the power to get what it is that we really want (be it physical or spiritual nourishment). A big part of that probably lies in the fact that, for the most part, we don’t really know just what it is that we really do want or need; we’re rather confused since we’ve gotten accustomed to being told just what that is, but still feel like something is missing. We need to find a way to disconnect from the propaganda so that we can reconnect with ourselves–I know that’s easier said than done, though.

    • This is an issue about which you obviously have some personal insight, Crystal. D.C.’s program sounds great: I also like the fact that so many schoolyards now have gardens in them, and local farms are used as providers of school food in some areas.
      You have a great point about the issue of helplessness here, Crystal. It is important to empower our kids (not to mention to empower ourselves– after all, we are the ones to model this for them) to honor authentic personal voices. We can’t find what we want without practice and support. I like the idea presented by former Chemawa Indian School Director, Jacob Bighorn, who expressed his culture’s ideas that every child is born with a particular life gift come from the Creator-and it is the task of the adults in the community to help each child realize what that gift it.
      Listening to children is immensely valuable whenever we find the occasion to do this.

      • I really like that idea of the adults helping the child figure out what her/his own gift is–rather than telling the kid what that gift/purpose/talent/etc. is supposed to be.

        I’ve noticed that sometimes kids can refresh our perspective, simply because they haven’t become quite as jaded or cynical as we have, and so they often ask key questions or point out things that we’ve come to overlook as we get older, but should still take notice of.

        • Great point, Crystal. It think this goes along with the stance of adapting to, learning from others (including children) instead of trying to make them fit our purposes. I also think giving each child a sense (a community wide project) that they have something unique to do that no one else can accomplish would treat some of the consumerism and other ways that young people get lost in this culture.

      • I so agree with both of you here. Each child when born has a purpose in life and something to contribute. So many parents are simply distracted or too exhausted to help guide their children in the process of discovering what their gift may be. Having family meals together is alway a positive thing, but it is just a start. Spending quality time with your children riding bikes, doing community work or worshiping together is an extension of the family dinners. I am believer in letting children discover on their own but some things have to be shared with them such as values etc. A spiritual center no matter what your personal beliefs give a child a center and a place within themselves they can turn to for guidance.

        • Thanks for your comment on this important point, Deborah. A “spiritual center no matter what your religion” that speaks to you of a purpose in life that no one else can replicate is a ground of personal authenticity that might well make our image-hype-fear and division in this culture vanish.

    • I agree that we send conflicting messages to our children. I know too many mothers who drink their Slim Fast and sit on the couch while encouraging their kids to eat their vegetables and go play outside. While we can definitely learn from children, we must also be examples to them through our own actions, rather than continuing to send contradictory messages to them through our words and actions.

      • Very important point about modeling behavior we want in our children, Breannon. I see changing our own behavior in this way as part and parcel of learning from our children.

      • Breannon, I agree with you whole heartedly. We seem to have become lazy when it comes to our children. We are all so busy chasing the American Dream that we have lost site of what our real purpose in life is. Setting the right examples for our kids is a good first step to getting back to basics.

  36. The suggestion on PBS based on the Latino community’s tradition of sharing meals together reminds me of the anthropological observation where strong Latino communities actually show lower evidence of chronic disease. This is contrary to what many would assume, with the otherwise high rates of diabetes in the Hispanic population in the US (I can’t remember the term for this though).

    The human body has an amazing homeostatic mechanism for controlling weight, hunger and fullness. Children typically are the best at intuitively eating, however this has started to change in the past two decades. Adults often ignore their hunger/fullness cues through restrictive dieting and overeating. Sadly, this has begun to transfer to children as we teach them to “disassociate” from their body’s natural processes. It seems that if we were instead to teach our children about balance and moderation in all things, obesity levels would be much lower, as would our consumption of other material things.

    • Great points both about the relationship between culture and health, Breannon–and about paying attention to our body’s natural needs. It is sad indeed that children grow up to disassociate from their body’s own natural processes, as you aptly put it.
      Teaching about balance and moderation is important: if we are careful not to make this a lesson in mental control over the body which causes the same kind of disassociation that is so problematic.

    • Yes, I think that disassociating from our body’s natural process has become a huge issue in our society. Americans- I’m not sure about other cultures- have the tendency to not allow our bodies to do what they need to do rather we force them to do what we want them to do. We deprive our bodies of sleep by consuming things like energy drinks, we don’t allow age to take its course by resorting to botox or plastic surgery and we don’t listen to the signs our bodies give us when we are hungry or full rather we stuff our faces or starve to death because that is what we are taught. It is just getting worse because we are getting further and further away from knowing that our bodies have a natural process and are becoming more and more concerned with consumerism and living up to its standards.

      • Our bodies have much to teach us–but only if we listen to them– only if we are fully present in our own skin. This also means accepting our bodies for their vulnerability and uniqueness both– something hard to do in the face of media images of what our bodies should be and how our own bodies cannot help but fail to measure up to such unreal standards.

  37. American consumerism and mass consumption has now expanded it boundaries to include food. Gluteny comes to mind here. Funny that this idea of consuming everything we “discover” has been warned against since biblical times. Unfortunately, consumption, consumerism, have become signs of success in our society. It is the “Keeping up with the Jones” mentality, but we now see that society is also paying a very high price for these indulgences. When are we all going to figure out that killing ourselves and our children and our environment is not going to bring happiness or fulfillment into our hearts and lives. I mean really how bad will it ultimately have to get before we all wake up?

    • Important point about consuming “everything we discover”. Though contemporary ad makers may be playing up the idea of consumption, it has been a part of our worldview for some time, as this indicates. As you also indicate, the price we must pay for such folly is high indeed. Thanks for your comment, Deborah.

  38. The terrible sadness of obese children is that the very social mindset that criticizes and bullies them is based on the very same corporate driven media that supports size 0 models, fast food, processed sugar products and all the other easily accessible foods that are so very much a part of the cycle of obesity. Add to this the still unaccounted for food packaging , dairy and meat endocrine disrupters that have contributed to obesity in a silent but deadly fashion. These along with emotional issues are tearing our children apart. Hunger is not a sin as Madronna has stated in this essay, the sin is the act of shaming and blaming children who only seek nourishment and sustenance.
    I lived in Rome and Northern Italy for a time and was amazed at the general slenderness of the Italian people and learned that not all Western cultures have an obesity problem. Italians traditionally have large and long meals of pasta, sauces, olive oil, breads and butter, an even small pastries …at night! They are mostly shared meals as Italians rarely eat alone. They also eat lots of gelato but in small cups and cones. What I did see that really struck a note for me was the candy section in their supermarkets. It is generally about 6 feet long and 4 feet high. That’s it! And the candy pieces are small and exquisite. They only eat sugar in small and controlled quantities, as a delicacy. I believe that one fact has a tremendous impact, along with walking everyday, on their overall good health and weight.
    This was a huge lesson for me to see, as an American, the focus on the open air produce markets over sweets. As I viewed the little candy stands, I thought of the 50 ft aisles of candy alone in our U.S. supermarkets. Maybe we can take note and follow the example of other cultures.

    • Local food linked to community (no “fast food”), sugar as a delicacy, little meat and fewer pesticides (though I haven’t seen stats on this, I understand that Italians are VERY wary about using pesticides anywhere near food sources)– sounds like a recipe for healthy bodies to me, Maureen.
      Thanks for sharing this counter example to the “blaming the victim” attitude we have toward these unhappy children in our own culture.

  39. This is such an interesting article. I really like the part when your father gave away the stolen meat for the hungers. He is such a kind person. I wish everyone in this world also has this characteristic then maybe there will be no more hungers and stealing. Everyone deserves healthy food and especially children. They don’t have many opportunities to pick their own food, right? They eat what we –adults- buy and give them. Then, why don’t we buy better and healthier food when we know exactly white bread is not healthy at all? It is because we don’t have much money to buy the better one. I agree that it is because of limited knowledge from some people, just take the white bread for example, but it also the final issue. In addition to this, with the same amount of money, they can get many different things for their kids, a bunch of them, then just get the expensive, healthy ones but just a few. We need solution. Yes, we have solutions but they are not enough when the imbalance of this society is getting higher and higher. With the same type of food but three different stores have three different prices on it, then whose responsibility is this? The shoppers should rely on who to decide for their meals today? I think it is time the government should step in, to take an action and not let corporations blind the customers’ vision.

    • I agree with you one hundred per cent on corporate responsibility here, Vu. It is not only that we are overeating (which we are), but that toxins in the environment disrupt our normal bodily balances and trigger obesity– they are being called “obesegens”- what a tragedy when we feed these to children.
      And as for hunger– if we all shared our hunger, it would be one thing. But I think there is no justification for some to radically overeat while other starve.
      Thanks for your compassionate response–and I do indeed feel blessed to have such a generous dad–and the kind grandfather who gave away his meat to the hungry. I think we might well model such behavior for our children as well.

  40. I found this quote really interesting: “We can never get enough of what we don’t want in the first place.” This reminds me of a book I read once about colonization. An elder tribe member in Africa was describing what it was like to experience white man for the first time. He described how the people were manipulated into believing they needed something more than what they had. He said the first things the white men gave them were mirrors, machetes, and sugar. The white men gave them new ideas about God and also told them they needed to become a part of the world economy to earn money and buy things. The elder then sadly described how the happiness his people once knew was gone because they believed what they had been told. All these years they had survived and were content with their way of life, but the white man had taught them they needed things that they didn’t have and would have to give up their freedom to earn. It seems people keep wanting more (money, possessions, food) because they are trying to fill some hole, but because these things aren’t actually what they need they are never fulfilled.

    • A sad story that indicates why Vandana Shiva terms globalization that brings supposed progress as “maldevelopment”. Too often a continuation of exploitative colonial legacies. To unlearn those legacies, we need to learn all over again what really satisfies us– that means listening to both ourselves and our living world carefully.
      Thanks for sharing this story– and it is also true (as noted in the essay “indigenous peoples” here)– that many native people did not choose to give up their freedom to earn such trinkets.

  41. Wow! What a great article. The issues with obesity are so sad but true and unfortunately children are the ones that are being affected the most right now. I definitely think that the media and all that propaganda that children are exposed to plays a huge part in it but I think that parents should take some responsibility for what is happening to their children as well. As adults and caretakers, parents should be aware of what their kids are exposed to and put a limit on it. Parents should have the ability and the strength to oversee what their kids eat and should encourage them to be active and energetic as kids should be. I think that parents today put a lot of effort into blaming the media, fast food and the lack of time and money on making their kids lazy and fat but I don’t think that enough parents put as much effort into finding resources that will help them, into educating themselves and their children in ways to better their situations and so on. I understand that many times poverty plays a big role in the consumption of crap but I think that there are still ways to grasp a handle on it-I’m talking about in the US not in countries where people are really starving to death and don’t have the resources that we do here. Not allowing kids to sit in front of the tv all day or playing video games for hours on end could be a start. Grabbing an old rope and teaching a kid how to jump rope is cheaper, healthier and more engaging than watching tv.
    I think that what we need to do is stop putting such a big stigma on poverty in this country and start helping each other out. We could start by teaching people that interdependence and community living is a positive thing. If we all work together to ensure that everyone is being taken care of rather than being so individualistic then maybe big issues such as obesity wouldn’t be so prevalent. We need to stop equating consumption with success and start thinking that with health and happiness success will be inevitable.

    • Thanks, Ely. Research on eating habits that has come out very recently indicates the power of cultural values and media in hawking fast food– with so little nutrition.
      It does take a community of parents to get our children out of this mess and into a healthy future. It also takes– as you indicate– some time commitment on the part of parents– such as interacting with kids rather than parking them in front of tv to serve as a babysitter. Thoughtful suggestions from a parent–thanks.

  42. It’s truly sad to to recognize just how many children do suffer from both obesity and starvation. Children learn from their elders, and well i’d say we’re not doing the best that we could to teach our younger generations. Our society is so caught up in the idea of success and greed that distributors choose to ignore the deadly chemicals and ingredients that they are feeding to people. We need to work towards a healthy future – start eating healthier, participate in physical activities, teach our younger generations the importance of physical health, and truly acknowledge the damages that fast “fat” food restaurants are enacting on our society.

    • Seems like we might well redefine “success” when it means are children are suffering from malnutrition and obesity at the same time!
      Honoring our bodies and the natural world that sustains us go hand in hand.

    • I am seeing a huge trend in the values that this country seems to have. Money is all that seems to matter and I really wish that this could be different.

    • I strongly agree. There is nothing we can do about the harmful advertising that influences our children. But being parents and teachers, we can educate our children on healthy lifestyles.

      • I am not sure there is nothing we can do about advertising. In most developed countries they do not allow ads directed at children or pharmaceutical ads. Seems that just as we limit ads for cigarettes, we could do something about the former as well.

  43. I love the idea of sharing meals together! Perhaps if the children were more involved in the entire process of what it takes to get a meal on the table, their thoughts on food would change. I grew up visiting farms and seeing how food is grown, and it showed me all the hard work that goes into preparing a meal. It is a lot more than going to the drive-thru and ordering a nutrient deficient meal!

  44. This is a very sad trend. As a past overweight child, I understand how the cycle of eating and sadness is. Now that I am an adult, I understand more about it but still feel powerless to the draw of wanting to have food and yet needing to stay thin. It is a parallel opposite between the two. One should stay thin, yet according to advertising we need to eat to be happy. It is a hard choice, but all in all, we need to be our own people and care about the things we value.

    • This is a real double bind in which our true health and vitality (which should be the central concern) is lost as a priority. Thanks for sharing this, Samantha.

  45. “We can never get enough of what we don’t want in the first place.” This quote really stood out to me. I have a young family member who struggles with obesity. I have seen the struggles first hand in my family. Children are naive and impressionable, so when they see a commercial with a bunch of skinny kids fighting over candy, they’re going to want some too. It’s America so everyone has the right to advertise and we can’t control propaganda. But parents can control how they raise their kids and what they put in their mouths, in order to prevent child obesity.

    • I am sorry that your family member is suffering in this way– and glad that you are giving him or her some emotional support. There is actually a move to try to regulate fast food industries in their manipulative ads. I hope the child in questions how very precious he/she in other ways than in their weight.

  46. I personally struggled with childhood obesity and the main reason is because no one really paid any attention to what I was eating. It was not until I was about 12 that I took my own stand and got a hold of it. I had to start exercising a lot more and eating a lot less but once I was conditioned to do so it was easy and became my life style. I also have a sister that is still struggling with obesity and I do not believe that she is ever going to win the battle because it has been so long but I try and keep her up and motivate her as much as I can.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal story, Jake. I am sure that your support of your sister means a great deal to her– my guess is that you are lending her support for more than her body weight/image.

  47. Whenever I hear of or read something about childhood obesity, I always think of the belief that everything “starts at home.” If children are brought up to make healthy food choices and their parents set good examples of healthy eating, childhood obesity should be very limited. Even with fast food and in school, there are more healthy food choices for children to pick from. I believe proper nutrition should be focused heavily on in school. For the most part, we have no control over the pesticides and other chemicals in our food, but to profit from this is simply not right. I found it interesting about the people who live close to farming communities who don’t feel the need to thank their neighfor for bringing them something, but instead they thank the earth. It is wonderful to note the abundance of farmers markets and urban gardens sprouting up everywhere. This will surely lead to more healthy eating.

    • Thoughtful response, Shaylene– I also think we need to consider how large “home” is. There is more and more data coming out that indicates that the tendency to obesity may result from toxic exposures to particular pesticides and other chemicals like BPA in utero.
      Absolutely, we need to do ourselves and our bodies and our children’s bodies and the earth the respect of eating healthy food AND we also need to understand that bringing health to our children is a community affair, including, as an instance (and as you point out) school lunches. This is one of the reasons I very much like the idea of school gardens. .

    • I agree that the way we look at food and how we eat starts at home. Children not have much of a choice when it comes to actually purchasing food. If the parents aren’t buying the unhealthy food the kids can’t eat it. But again this comes back to one of the articles the other week. If families are struggling it’s often cheaper to buy the processed less nutritious food than it is the fresh foods that are more healthy. I also really like the idea of school gardens. I know Mrs. Obama has recently brought more light to this subject and child nutrition.

      • Processed food is not actually cheaper than cooking from scratch. In fact, the large food conglomerates work to make food a “growth” industry by selling us the “added value” of processed foods that it would be cheaper to buy the ingredients (sans various chemicals and corn syrup) and make for ourselves.
        I love Michelle Obama organic garden on the White House lawn.

    • Hi Shaylene. I completely agree with you that nutrition should be heavily focused on in school, but I also believe nutritionists’ ideas aren’t always consistent or up-to-date and sometimes can’t support the values of each family. For example, there are many different ways of eating and sometimes these views are negated because they don’t follow the government’s standards (which are heavily influenced by large corporations). There are some general guidelines, of course, like eating more fruits and vegetables. And Doritos don’t constitute a healthy food choice on a regular basis But why are saturated fats seen as the enemy and dairy promoted quite heavily? I can find a number of great saturated fats like grass-fed beef or coconut oil, though I’m sure there are opponents to this way of thinking. Many believe that organ meats, which used to be consumed much more regularly in the past, are actually very good for you while some disagree. I also believe dairy can cause many problems if one is unknowingly sensitive to casein or is using milk filled with hormones. I could go on and on, but my point is that to see each specific food as only friend or foe is unfair. And it’s ironic that, while my kids are learning about healthy choices in their classrooms, the school lunch program can hardly support the facts they’re learning about. It’s just not feasible to offer organic, local foods with an emphasis on freshness. I’m look forward to the day our school implements a farm to school program, but change is difficult, and when money talks, it’s hard to listen to those other great, healthy ideas out there.

      • Hi Staci, I think you have an excellent point about corporate standards. Perhaps you also know that corporations spend some time lobbying the FDA over these standards. Check out Nutrition Action (put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest) for a non-corporate approach.
        As for grass fed beef, I understand that beef fed a completely grass (no grain) diet is higher in the same omega fatty acids as salmon–and actually has a good deal less saturated fat than grain fed beef. Same is true for buffalo that is entirely grass fed–as much buffalo is.
        The nutrition in eggs also varies rather wildly– for instance, in cholesterol levels– depending on how the chickens producing them are housed and fed.
        Dairy IS very unhealthy if it has bovine growth hormone, antibiotics, and pesticides (from feed) in it. It is very problematic to eat foods with concentrated fats (where pesticides and other toxins tend to be stored) that are high on the food chain and not organic.
        You are certainly right that the idea of what is “healthy” has changed over time. Food is a complex and dynamic thing such that recent findings about a number of vitamins indicate they work best when ingested in conjunction with other nutrients– as in the food in which they are found. And by turn, some nutrients that are healthy in food often fail to provide the same benefit when isolated into a vitamin.
        Research of these complex issues is difficult, making for changing standards: margarine used to be pushed, but now it is known that the “trans fats” in margarines are far worse than the saturated fat in plain old butter– though no saturated fats are good in excess-and none, I would say, are good from commercial sources, given the concentration of toxins in animal fats.
        One thing has not changed: the knowledge that fruits and vegetables are healthy for us. However, these are NOT loaded with pesticides, especially when fed to children. Concerned parents who are not going organic might do well to check out the link to “what’s on my food” on our links page in order to protect their children. Children who eat more commercially grown fruits and vegetables in their diet actually have a higher pesticide load in their bodies than children who eat less fruits and vegetables altogether. As in the case with breast milk, we don’t want children to miss out on these essential foods just to avoid the toxins in them!

  48. This article is just another example of how colonial hierarchy in our world spread poor nations from wealthy nations further and further apart. While children are starving in some countries we have a problem with child obesity. I liked the saying that “true poverty is expressed by those who have too much when others are starving”. While in the United States we may have too much food I think that we are starved for things such as community, creativity and physical exercise. One of the first things to get cut in schools is PE and the arts. Our increasingly technical jobs keep us sitting at desks instead of out doing some kind of labor. Our technology is making us sedentary. We no longer even have to walk up the stairs to sit at our desks all day. But other developing nations that are lacking in food many times have a close knit sense of community. We just seem to be trading one for the other. I think that things like community gardens and farmers markets are a great way for us to regain that sense of community while nourishing our bodies with the kind of food that we need.

    • Very nice perspective. It is ironic the ways that our life choices comes back to us (as in our sedentary over-consumption). We might also not the issue of obesegens (chemicals that disrupt hunger mechanisms in the body)– largely pesticides and some evidence BPA does this as well.

    • M. Erkel,

      It is so sad that schools are cutting PE and the Arts and that as Americans we have a hard time finding a balance between what we want, what we need, and what we think we want and need. You point out the fact that countries have a lot to learn from one another and I agree that community provides a strong foundation on which to have a healthy and happy life.

  49. “We can never get enough of what we don’t want in the first place.” How true! Whether that is consumerism doctrine or empty calories, our society has an addiction problem and our drug dealers are politicians and corporations who financially gain from our addiction. We haven’t even begun to address this addiction problem in society- and the sad thing is, it is starting to seriously affect our children.

  50. It is times like these that I feel so blessed to have grown up and lived in the Pacific Northwest. As a child, my family had a vegetable garden and the moms in the neighborhood would talk with one another about what to plant and share. I remember many summers as a child wandering from yard to yard in search for the ripest tomato or the greenest leaf. My freshman year at The Evergreen State College, had a large organic garden that kept us fed and was one of my favorite places to go and sit on (rare) sunny afternoons. It was these green spaces that kept me healthy and happy and this is still true today. It saddens me when I hear about child obesity, calorie counting or fast food taking over our healthy bodies and green spaces. However, I feel hopeful when I see role models, like First Lady Michelle Obama, promoting good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. I hear that the Obama’s keep bowls of apples around the White House for employees and visitors to snack on. More and more, schools are building community gardens and we have programs in place like, “Girls on the Run,” to encourage young people to get moving. Hopefully, in time, we can become a little bit healthier, inside and out and keep it going for generations to come.

    • Hopefully we will indeed become healthier in this way, Rudy. I fully agree with you on the health of gardens. How fortunate you were to be able to wander from yard to yard in your neighborhood in search of the ripest tomato. An upbringing such as this would do much to turn around the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country!
      I love the burgeoning idea of school gardens as well!

  51. My chords were struck with this essay– mostly for the reason that I know several elementary-aged children who suffer from obesity. I spent two years as a program assistant at the Boys and Girls Club in NE Salem and in Corvallis. There, the signs of a national epidemic are obvious, and terrifying. Kids were brought in every morning saying they were hungry, when I asked what they got to eat for breakfast (we provided free lunch and snacks, but not breakfast or dinner), their answers much of the time were junk food. What’s arguably more sad is that when we offered nutritious option for lunch and snack (we had wheat bread sandwiches and fruits and veggies), somekids refused to eat that and would run off and spend their dollars on the snack vending machines instead. They had been trained, some by the ages of 7 or 8, that food was food, and eating was eating. To them, it didn’t matter that their lunch consisted of cheetos and skittles because they don’t have instruction at home telling them that their meals have to be based on nutrition.
    Thank you, Madronna for addressing this. Part of me is sad to see so much of the childhood obesity all over the media and talk shows and whatnot, but the other part is very eager to see this problem addressed. I hope, for the sake of the children I got to work with the last couple years, that our culture and society can find ways to encourage kids to make life-saving eating habits.

    • Joce- I agree with your concern about childhood obesity. It does seem to be a frightening trend today. The long term health consequences are awful to consider too. There was an article in our paper yesterday about a study that found that Type 2 diabetes, which is more affected and controlled by lifestyle and diet, is harder to treat in youth than adults. In the first place, it is tragic that children are suffering from this disease- which is fairly preventable. Once they get it, it takes regular attention and treatment to manage- which is challenging enough for adults, much less youth. Youth I know who have Type 1 diabetes struggle with this a lot as adolescents. It can feel unfair to not get to eat like your friends and always have to check your blood sugar. Being a teen is rough enough for many teens in our culture without a life threatening illness to manage! But, I have seen those students too. When I taught middle school, some students would walk in the door in the morning with an energy drink and a donut for breakfast. These were not even students dealing with financial issues- just lack of awareness or care about it. We sure did our part to let them know- but if this message is not supported at home, it can feel like we don’t have much impact. I hope that as they mature, they will remember our concern, and our facts!

      Peace, Jen

      • Hi Jen, thanks for your concern here. I think one thing is absolutely essential in communicating knowledge to these students– which is not to shame them (not easy to do in a culture that has so much focus on image). That means not singling them out in terms of their lack of “awareness or care”. The best thing we can do is support their health and vitality and personal voices–and support their self-esteem for being exactly who they are.
        That is, we should approach this issue not from the aspect of blame or deprivation (such as “you can’t have this”– when ads tell us everywhere this is our personal reward)– but from the aspect of the benefits of healthy food and community support. It would not hurt to have some discussion around media either!

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience and your care with respect to this issue, Joce. The combination of hunger and overeating might seem like a strained one but is not: the most recent issue of the Nutrition Action Newsletter addresses the issue of food addiction: though the effects are not as strong, the brain responds to particular calorie dense food the same way that it responds to cocaine. It not only gives the same kind of “high”, but burns out the brain circuits that allow for pleasure coming from less stimulation. In the case of meth, it takes a year to get those circuits re-established (at first researchers though they might never come back). Given the malleable brains of children, I don’t know how long it would take for a child’s brain to begin to really taste other food once again.
      There is evidence that the fast food industry takes advantage of this in its overuse of salt, fat, and sugar in its products.
      In addition, there is substantial and mounting evidence that particular types of pesticides are directly linked to exposes to chemicals like BPA and particular pesticides. In some cases, a link has been established between exposure to these chemicals by pregnant women and the subsequent obesity of the child she is carrying. These chemicals literally destroy the satiation and balance mechanisms of our metabolism in these cases.
      Given this, the quote of the week in terms of toxic chemical exposure among non-mainstream children is especially tragic.
      I am heartened by the community response to this issue expressed both by urban gardens and by parent committees fighting for healthy school food– removing the vending machines you speak of from school property, for instance– in spite of the financial assistance their sponsors provide to schools.

  52. I couldn’t agree with you more in regards to the importance of eating together as a family and as a community. When I was a child, my family always ate dinner together each night. We would sit at the table and discuss our days, sometimes we would argue over poor choices we made, but usually these times were spent laughing and just enjoying each others company. Nobody in my family was overweight or went hungry, in fact, to us food was just a part of nourishing our bodies and enjoying our time together. Times have changed considerably though, as many families today never sit down to a meal together and just eat mindlessly while carrying out other tasks. We do not even notice what or how we are eating, but instead focus on other activities that we deem more important. The worst part about these shifts in lifestyles, is that our children are suffering the most from the poor decisions adults are making. We are dooming our children to lives of health problems and unhappiness and we as a society need to remedy this situation immediately. It does not take anymore time out of our day to sit down as a family and eat a healthy dinner, rather than just mindlessly consuming empty calories in front of the television, or on our way to some other activity. We owe it to our children and to future generations to fix this situation before it gets any worse.

    • Sharing these meals in your childhood is a gift that seems to have taught you the true sense of nourishing yourselves and one another.
      Mindless eating, by contrast, is linked to food addiction (manipulated in us by the fast food industry)– see the latest Nutrition Action Newsletter and we need to understand the social and environmental context in which obesity arises rather than blaming the victims of this epidemic.
      And there is also the fact that some individuals have different inherited body types and are healthier at higher weights than others are at thinner weights. Certainly, the size “zero” craze for women is healthy for no one.
      We owe it to future generations and all natural life to attend to the issue of our consumption of all types.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Family dinners were a big deal for me growing up as well, so I can vouch for their positive influence not only on children’s health, but on emotional maturity as well. I like the point you made about no one in your family being unhealthily overweight because food was seen as a source of nourishment and a reason to get together- as opposed to filling time or satisfying a sweet tooth. I think you’re absolutely right about the tremendous effect family dinners could have on this huge issue.

      • Family dinners– if shared by those who truly love and respect one another– can serve both the physical and psychological needs for nourishment.

      • This is very good information. I too enjoyed family dinners as a child that I found very beneficial. Sadly, my younger brother and sister are not having the same benefit as both my parents now work. Family dinners are less often and I can see some of the negative effects it has. I have spoken with my mom after reading some of these responses and she is going to make an effort to set aside more time to have consistent family dinners again!

        • Thanks for sharing this.
          It would be great if the children at home found a way to pitch in so that this would not be an extra burden on a working mom– but something to which the whole family could contribute and share.

  53. Something that I have thought much about is the idea of being “disassociated from our own authentic hunger.” I agree that most of us (myself included!) often aren’t aware of our hunger/satiety and eat for a lot of reasons. One thing I have become more aware of lately, especially on the OSU campus, is how there are so many places to buy food or drinks. It seems that a surprising number of buildings have coffee/snack shops in them- even the more academic buildings like the engineering building. When you drive around, there are coffee shops of some kind with amazing regularity. It seems that we have become a culture that doesn’t want to wait more than a few minutes to grant our every desire. I certainly don’t notice my stomach grumbling with any regularity! It is always snack time or coffee break time and we bring food and drink with us, even for a trek across campus. It seems like a chicken and egg dilemma, are the coffee shops on every corner because we wanted them? Or do we want coffee (or smoothies or tea or…) because we see the shops? I don’t really feel any judgement about this, just cultural curiosity. I certainly almost always have a snack in my bag- dried fruit or nuts and a water bottle. I don’t want to be hungry or thirsty either. Yet, it seems like we are at the extreme of a pendulum swing with this constant access and I wonder what it all means. Is it related to our hunger for “community, belonging, purpose…” or are we so conditioned by our technology with our climate controlled buildings insulating us from the weather and our instantaneous google search results that we don’t think we should have to wait for anything or be discomforted in any way?

    I do find it curious.
    Peace, Jen

    • You have an excellent point on our “instant gratification” culture, Jen.
      I began to carry snacks everywhere myself– especially on car trips, once I became a mother.
      I think we can be hungry for all types of nourishment–and as women many of us are on a journey to discern what we are hungry for (including healthy food) and learn ways to fully nourish ourselves.

    • Jen,

      Your cultural curiosity piqued my interest. I like your “chicken and the egg” analogy. I think our technology does foster a laziness in us. We want to be able to have the answers, the food, the climate, the items, the travel immediately when we want it. It makes me think about how before phones or telegraph people had to wait months or weeks to receive letters from loved ones and sometimes even receiving the message in the first place wasn’t a certainty! In the modern era how do we balance time and need with our technological advances? There are honestly times I wish that I didn’t have a cell phone just so I could have a few minutes of peace. Over consumption I think applies to more than just food. This can also apply to knowledge and interactions. I think sometimes we are faced with media over consumption as well. There is merit in not receiving all that you want in the moment that you want it.

      • Good point about the merit in “not receiving all you want in the moment that you want it”.
        Substantial irony in our attempt to have the right climate– since overuse of energy from the wrong sources is implicated in climate change. Sometimes getting what we want in the short term stymies our ability to have it in the long term.
        And I think you have an essential point about our hunger(s) being for more than food.

  54. I love this article for several reasons. The first being that I grew up a hungry child and remember not knowing where my meals would be coming from. The second point that I like is the thought that
    “poverty is expressed by those who have too much when others are starving”. This is such a true commentary on the state of our social situation. I have often heard conversations that damn social programs and while abuses do occur I feel that judgement can not be passed on those who are in poverty if you have not walked a mile in their shoes. To truly know hunger and poverty are experiences that never leave a person and haunt them daily. Opportunities like community gardens and programs help to build hope for people in need. Finally, the empty hole that requires constant consumption says something about a deeper need that needs filling. It’s almost a fatal flaw. Gluttony is not a deadly sin without reason.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experience as a child, Lindsay. If we cannot blame the poor for their poverty, we certainly cannot blame poor CHILDREN for their hunger. I am sorry you experienced what no child should ever experience in this land of plenty.
      That hunger that cannot be fulfilled but demands over-consumption is certainly an “empty hole” that needs something beyond continual consumption to fill it.
      Whereas natural hunger might be blessed as an impulse that keeps us alive, gluttony is a very different thing. Sad that our power natural impulse might be manipulated by modern media into a kind of addiction.

  55. One of the most impactful issues for me in this article was the discussion of obesity as an issue related to both classism and racism. For many, access to affordable healthy food is just not feasible. This may be because a salad costs four times that which a hamburger does. Many children are becoming addicted to sugar and sodium at a young age; they are unable to cope with the chemical stimulus we serve them in their overly processed food.

    The lack of money to buy healthy food is certainly an issue to be concerned with when looking at issues of health and eating. Another important focus is racism and the rampant environmental racism that plagues people worldwide. From people of color in the US, to the Mohawk community whose traditional fishing practices are poisoning them (because of toxins created and disseminated by Western cultures). As you pointed out, both of these issues are starting to get addressed – in some cases through community/urban gardens. Corvallis has a few of these gardens, including the SAGE garden which provides fresh fruit and veggies for the Linn Benton food pantry.

    On a personal note, as it did with Jen, the quote “disassociation from our authentic hunger” really resonated with me. I read this article at the perfect time, because I made me question my behavior: ignoring my physical needs, I had prioritized other interests (like being a good student) ahead of fulfilling a need ultimately required for survival. This goes against the practice of intuitive eating (eat mindfully when you are hungry, stop when you are not). On that note, I’m off to grab dinner!

    • In Eugene there are three gardens associated with Food for Lane County– including the Youth Farm which mentors homeless young people in gardening and selling their produce, and the Grass Roots Garden which offers monthly “weed walks”– educating the public about the edibility of many common “weeds” (some of these are more nutritious than the ones we classically grow), motivating the public participants by giving them volunteer credit (for veggies and lunch) for going on these walks. When I was last there an entire boy scout troop was enthusiastically working in the garden as a service project and sharing a healthy lunch afterwards. Indeed, volunteers are always welcome there.
      Then there are the 59 school gardens in Lane County!
      I find these very hopeful signs indeed.
      Perhaps your listening to your own hunger might even coincide with rather than replace your “hunger” for other goals such as being a good student?
      I have never seen students who go without good food and sleep doing very well in the thinking realm.

  56. In a society that is always craving more, it can be so difficult to curb the temptation. Anywhere you go, the media is providing us with pictures, songs and technology supporting overindulgence. As a mother of two, I often battle the messages they are hearing from outside sources. They are easily tempted by the latest, greatest, popular toys, foods, gadgets, etc. and don’t have the critical thinking skills to understand it may not be in their best interest. I feel there is so much pressure to fit in, children experience much more stress, anxiety and the need to gain control over something. Often times for an obese child, they just don’t know how to read the body’s signals telling them they are full. There is a feeling other than hunger that they are trying to fulfill, and food can be a temporary fix. I feel very sad that we are still selling products that are so detrimental to a childs health and have no intentions of taking them off the market. Education is going to be a huge part of breaking the cycle of childhood obesity.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience and your struggle as a conscious and conscientious mother of two, Janae. As you point out, we really need community education– not to mention, some good regulations about ads appealing to children, as in the cigarette ads that targeted children a few years back, cited by the University of Chicago med school as violating the company’s agreement to do better in this regard:
      I very much appreciate it when the communications department of a large teaching hospital takes a public stand on such issues.

    • Janae, a prime example of your post would be how McDonald’s targets children. Every child wants a happy meal, but before when the happy meals did not come with a side of apples or milk, the calorie intake was high. But, I do like that McDonald’s has moved into a more nutritional menu, if you will.

      • I also understand that Temple Grandin got McDonald’s to support more humane practices on the part of its meat suppliers. On the other hand, McDonald’s was sued by vegetarians for using lard in cooking their french fries without making it public that they were therefore also a meat product.
        All in all, we still have a long ways to go in making both fast food and industrial agricultural and factory farming into part of a healthy and sustainable food system.

  57. It’s very difficult in a consumer society to listen to yourself to decide what your needs are, because we are constantly being told that we need and want more…of everything! I think that the same kind of discipline and control needed to feed an individual properly (recognizing real hunger from boredom, that-looks-good-I’d-better-eat-it, societal expectations, etc.) is needed to nourish communities and our global society properly (recognizing real needs from boredom, that-looks-good/new/fun-I-want-it, and the societal expectations that tell us ‘you want/need that’).
    I think this discipline starts with individuals. People who are in touch with themselves and their true needs and desires—who realize and respect that others have needs and desires that are just as real, and who understand that true happiness does not come from getting and consuming but from working and living and doing good—are people who are able to gradually help larger groups like families and communities do the same thing.
    I’m sure that as we individually curb our appetites for food or clothes or money or whatever, we will be happier as a result, we will be able to take better care of the earth and have a greater appreciation for all the good things that come from it, and we will connect more deeply with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.

    • Indeed, it is hard to know our real “hungers” in a consumerist society in which, in the area of fast food for instance, these industries have researched the proper amounts of fat, salt and sugar to addict us to their products. This is why some physicians are indicting the fast food industry for things like childhood obesity.
      Urban community gardens are one of the best alternatives I know to this.
      And there is the point you bring up about boredom and looking for some new diversion– one powerful thing about storytelling in traditional communities is that it sparks the imagination of listeners, giving them experience in entertaining themselves. When I went into the classroom as a storyteller, I could tell which children watched the most TV and had a hard time therefore bringing their own attention to a story– and I watched this change over time as they learned how to bring themselves and their own sense of wonder and delight to something rather than waiting to be spoonfed entertainment adrenaline.
      Also, I would rather say we need to fill our real appetites rather than “curb” them– my sense it that it is not about imposing scarcity on ourselves (one of the reasons why diets don’t work) but about nurturing our real needs. That is, the appetite for a new car every year is something manipulated by others, not something that fills us. The trick is to understand what our real desires are–and what it takes to satisfy ourselves in the deepest sense.

      • Professor, I could also link storytelling to higher education scores because of how they allow children to think and imagine. Rather than T.V because we really don’t have to use our mind too much.

  58. Thank you for writing this essay, it is very interesting because how the different ways unhealthy food does nothing for us as far as nutrition goes. The Mohawk study was very interesting because I did not think of connecting polluted waters to obesity and diabetes. For example, this essay described how the polluted waters equal toxic fish (mostly) and how they affected their diet even though they were eating very healthy. This is a large issue because of how many of us love to eat fish because it is healthy, yet we are subject to harmful toxins and chemicals just for trying to eat healthy. In addition, I also learned the endocrine disruptors alter a body’s ability to metabolize food and regulate weight. This is a large issue because as addressed above, indvidiuals who live off of the land more so and or consume cheaper foods can have higher rates of diabetes as well as other associated diseases.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Kayla. As more and more data comes out regarding “obesegens” (chemicals that cause obesity– there are indications that some of these effects are caused in the womb)– we have more imperative need to press for the Toxic Chemicals Reform Act.

    • Like you, Kayla, I didn’t connect polluted water to obesity and diabetes. It’s quite an eye-opener to discover how connected everything is in one form or another. I looked up the Toxic Chemicals Reform Act, which is now called the Safe Chemicals Act, that Prof. Holden mentions and EcoWatch states what she says about chemicals being found in umbilical cord blood:

      “In 2004 and again in 2008, EWG [Environmental Working Group] had outside laboratories test umbilical cord blood samples for hundreds of industrial chemicals and found many of them in the babies’ blood, demonstrating that numerous exposures take place even before birth.” (EcoWatch,

      • Time for safe chemicals, indeed, Cheryl. Thanks for the follow up here– this act had t he other name last year. We can only hope that it passes Congress under whatever name!

  59. I agree that sharing meals together is one solution in changing children’s eating habits. When I was little, eating breakfast and dinner together was required in my family. As a society, we have gotten away from this tradition and I think this where we should start; with families not only eating meals at the same table (at the same time) but eating without “entertainment,” e.g., watching television. In addition, I think growing a vegetable gardent together as a family will also instill better eating habits. My mother always had a garden and my fondest memories are of me sitting in the middle of it eating tomatoes off the vine. I relate this to the directive when flying, if the oxygen mask comes down, put yours on first then the child. If parents would honor this role of taking charge of their families meals in a responsibile manner, I believe we would see obesity in children decline.

    • It is great that your family shared both the garden and the meals together, Cheryl. As you note, doing both of these would go a long way toward changing bad eating habits children are picking up.

      • I agree Cheryl, I think family bonding can create a healthier lifestyle too. When I was a child, my mother would never allow us to watch television during dinner. This was her pet peeve, but I am glad she did not let us watch television at the dinner table because that was a time for family conversations. I also like your idea of a family garden. I now have a house and I will be able to grow my own vegetables and fruits. This will allow me to eat better on a budget. I think a family garden is also a good idea because if no one wants to go to the store, you have veggies in your backyard to eat!

        • Good for your mother. Watching TV while eating makes for mindless eating– and thus is linked to obesity. Congratulations on be able to grow your own vegetables and fruits!
          There is also education involved in making the choice to eat from your garden. I understand some buy fruit rather than picking and eating the fruit from the trees in their own backyards.

        • Great point, Kayla, about not wanting to go to the market and eating what’s in the garden instead! 🙂 I envision a family picnic in the garden on those days, blanket and all…who needs dishes when you can sit in the garden and eat all you want with your hands!

        • A family picnic in the garden– how lovely!

    • Hi Cheryl! I agree eating without TV entertainment is very important. Meal times were some of the only opportunities I ever got the catch up with my family, and I have always considered them important. I really like your idea of having a family garden, thanks for sharing your memories with us! One of my best friends in elementary school had a vegetable garden and one day when I was over at her house for dinner her mom had us go out and dig for potatoes! I remember that meal so vividly because I was so proud that I had “harvested” the side dish!

  60. Very thought provoking article. The idea that “we can never get enough of what we didn’t want in the first place” is really interesting. Whenever I think about media influences I always think of body image, or possessions, like clothing, I never think about food. But now that I am thinking about it, the media really does influence our eating habits. The commercial that came to mind right away was the late night Taco Bell add. These adds are telling us to go out and eat, that we are hungry. On the flip side, I have seen commercials advertising the benefits of eating at home with your family.

    We always had sit down family meals Monday through Friday when I was growing up. The rules were no TV, and as my sister and I got older, no phones. Some of my best memories are sitting around the dinner table. It is funny now because when I go home to visit my Dad is always eating in front of the TV. My sister and I tease him and say that even though we are gone he still needs to follow the rules!

    • Perhaps I have missed the good ad example, since I don’t watch TV at home. But when I view it at someone else’s house, I have seen a good many ads for food (all convenience, snack or fast food) and not a one for the family dinner. I am glad the latter is out there somewhere.
      It is great that you shared family dinners growing up. I know that many who are elderly (especially those who live alone) eat in front of the TV for “company”– but in some cases, old habits have changed, and I think not for the better, as TV has become more of an ingrained part of our lives.

  61. This essay brought up an interesting aspect that I never really thought about before, emotional hunger. I have always heard of physical hunger and starvation. But, the concept of one being emotionally hungry and lacking that support was new to me. We can eradicate emotionally hunger by teaching people from a young age how to live in a world of acceptance and equality. Although, physical hunger is extremely important issue, sometimes the emotional hunger is more important. Societies and tribes that suffer from physical hunger most likely also suffer emotional hunger. If these societies had the support system and emotional support they most likely might not be physically hungry, as well.

    • Thanks for reminding us of the continuing importance of physical hunger everywhere in our world today (including in low incomes areas of the US). One intersection that is important to note is that when there are only empty calories available to fill up on, we can seemingly meet the requirements of fueling our bodies, but fall far short of actually doing this.
      It is also important to remember the large number of studies that indicate that there are hungry in the world today not because there is not enough food to go around, but because of improper food distribution systems. This brings up the interesting idea that perhaps manipulated emotional hunger is part of a broken distribution system as well.

  62. A great article!
    I have been in the place where I know I hunger for something more than what’s on my plate. Overeating is an eating disorder and heritable influences, social pressures, psychological tendencies, and mood all affect the development of it which makes overeating a multifaceted and complex syndrome. However, emotion, and it’s cultural background, is one of the strongest contributors towards increasing development of eating disorders in Western culture. The fact that eating disorders are a multifaceted problem is what makes overeating so complex; it’s not just about physical hunger, something else is lacking from life. So is that hunger really more chocolate or is it a hunger for more love, more fun, more self-esteem, more relationships, or more of something else? Studies have found that anorexics and bulimics often have co-occurring psychological disorders such as OCD, perfectionism, and other anxiety and personality disorders and these individuals are obsessive about hunger. I think we all overeat or undereat because we’re searching for a happiness that’s not at the bottom of a soup bowl. And until we find that spiritual/natural happiness we will always hunger for the things we don’t have, if it be food, the perfect body, or attention.

    • I think that the overeating does stem from lack of feeling valued. To think about it, more kids play video games so they lose a connection to how much value they feel and it carries over into adulthood.

  63. This was an informative article. The quote that resonated with me was ,”A nation that sanctions such pollution by rewarding it with profit is also a nation divided.” This relates directly to the section speaking about breast milk and the dangerous chemicals they found. Sweden is looking out for its children and their future by eliminating these chemicals. The United States on the other hand has not followed Sweden’s example, our problem is that corporations are able to lobby for laws and policies that directly benefit them not the majority of the population. This is a critical fault of our countries political system, and it needs to be reformed to better reflect what is best for society, not corporations.

  64. One thing that irks me: I talked to FNP at Coastal Family Health in Astoria shortly after I found out that I had high cholesterol and I told her that it doesn’t make sense that the packaged foods that are so full of sodium, sugar, and fat are the cheapest to get when a family is living on food stamps compared to the jacked up prices on the stuff that would prove to nourish our body more. She said they do it because they can and I am thinking that our own culture is giving us double standards. Also, we have kids that go to bed hungry and come from single parent families: what is our country doing aiding other countires and not helping out the single families of this nation first?

  65. I agree that urban community gardens are becoming more popular. I have been able to see first-hand the positive effect they have on a community. I volunteer with a local state-run housing property that offers community garden plots to the elderly (who live in high-rise buildings). All of the residents seem to take pride in tending to their gardens and many are able to provide most of their vegetables and herbs from the gardens as well. However, one of the greatest impacts I see is how it brings the community together. The residents love to discuss the various types of plants, flowers, and vegetables that they are growing and their different gardening practices with one another. Therefore, the garden plots have become abundant with both nature and social activity. The gardens have also given the residents a sense of responsibility (knowing that they are caring for living parts of nature). With so many benefits to both nature and the community, I hope to continue to see urban gardens grow in our society.

    • Thanks for sharing the benefits in this example of an urban garden, Leah. It must be inspiring to see all this come to fruition, not to mention, I bet you are learning some plant lore from these elders.
      What city is this located in?

  66. I’m really glad you wrote about this topic, I find it very relevant and I can relate to it personally. For as long as I can remember, I have had big struggles with my weight. Granted I don’t always eat in the most healthy way or always get the amount of exercise that is recommended. The problem is deeper than that though. For reasons unknown to me, I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Even when I am eating pretty healthily, getting good exercise and staying active, it is really hard to shed those pounds. It shouldn’t be this hard and I don’t feel like it’s fair. I have been prescribed to take synthroid, which is exactly what it sounds like, synthetic thyroid. We have known that this is problem since I was 10 years of age, 11 years later and my thyroid levels still haven’t been regulated. I still have thyroid problems. Not only is it difficult for me to lose weight like I should, but it makes me more tired than I ought to be and even causes me to shed more hair than I should. Perhaps I developed this disorder due to chemicals my own mother unknowingly ingested. My grandmother shares this same problem with me, but my mom and sister do not. As far as obesity in children go, some of them may suffer problems similar to my own. However, it doesn’t help that there is so much unhealthy food available everywhere. It seems like most foods are genetically engineered nowadays. It can also be expensive to truly eat healthy. I just had a similar conversation last night-foods containing pesticides and various other chemicals, these foods are what is cheap and what’s affordable. For those who don’t have their own gardens and try to shop organically, it gets extremely pricey. And even these “organic” foods can be misleading….

    • Thanks for sharing your personal challenges in this respect. It is a sad thing that we don’t subsidize healthy food instead of (as you note) pesticide-laden food that is low in nutrition and high in additives.
      I am sorry that you struggle with this issue in your life- if we can imagine that it would be different in a different environment, we can also hope that we can help create this different environment for our children.

  67. Americans spend so much time working, in order to earn money, in order to consume more. This leaves us with little time to spend fixing healthy well rounded meals. Instead we resort to fast foods, whether those be from a restaurant chain, or boxed or frozen meals. If we could rearrange our priorities, and focus on eating more wholesome foods, there would be less of an obesity problem. The important thing to teach these children is not that they can’t eat, but that they need to eat the right sort of food. If we get our kids in the kitchen with us, and make fixing meals a family activity it becomes less of a chore. This has an added bonus of keeping kids away from the TV and video games as well.

    • Michael Pollen has a new book on cooking in which he argues some of the same things. Interesting, he had a microwave night in which he timed the amount of time it took (40 minutes) to get a dinner on the table– partly because only one meal could be microwaved at a time.
      Sometimes the convenience we buy doesn’t help us out in ways we think it does.
      In any event, you have a great point about working more to buy more in order to consume more. I wonder if we might change our buying habits if we counted purchase prices in hours of our lives instead of dollars.

    • I absolutely agree with you. My husband was recently diagnosed with type II diabetes and this has been the fundamental shift in our household. We have stopped eating out at all and we have stopped eating processed foods…even when I get home from class at 7 at night. We also always eat together…this is important for me because I am a full time student and have a full time career. Eating together creates a sense of community in our household. We value the time and the food we share. While we used to live to eat, now we eat to live.

    • I really like your stance on this, Aryn. I think that will all of the fad diets out there, we focus too much on portion rather than just eating what’s good for you. I babysit two little boys–5 and 3–who are constantly eating (as most growing boys do). But because their parents stock the kitchen with snacks like seaweed, whole grain bars and yogurt instead of potato chips, cookies and sugar-filled sodas, they are very healthy young kids. Their parents also strictly limit the amount of television they watch–and they don’t even own a gaming console–so they spend their free time running around outside or playing games indoors. If more parents would just take a little extra time to make these changes, we would have a much healthier youth.

      • Some good advice for raising healthy children here, Kristina. Not only in making healthy snacks available to children, but in giving them access to the outdoors– and motivation to go there rather than being stuck in front of a computer or tv.

    • I really like your first sentence. I work from home, and have been taking the last two days off to get things done, including groceries and cooking. I was feeling really stressed and guilty about not getting work done. Basically, the more I work, the more commission I make. But then I thought, “what am I doing now that requires me to make more money, and therefore spend more time making more money?” The answer-nothing!
      I ended up getting some other things accomplished that were important for mental, physical, and spiritual health. Thanks for commenting.

  68. The fact that so many children are obese really speaks to the their internal unhappiness. It makes me question how much nurturing they are getting when they must reach out to food to be sated. Society’s emphasis on money and accumulation has left a whole generation missing something. As adults we are so preoccupied with this concept that we ignore our children. The system perpetuates this as it encourages the view that poverty is a crime or a sickness. This is especially true in election years. The impoverished are portrayed as public enemy number one in their effort to “try and take the working man’s money through government handouts.” This is the biggest lie. To this I say, there’s nothing criminal about being poor, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with helping your fellow man. Parents really need to dig deep to find their happy and infuse it into their children and place value on experiences, not stuff. Then maybe we can fill the void driving the desire of these children to eat to make themselves satisfied.

    • Powerful statement about the internal (heart and soul) hunger that is unfulfilled while we overconsume which you aptly state as so many obese children indicating their “internal unhappiness.”
      I also concur with you in your statement that poverty has been scapegoated as a “crime or disease”, especially in election years. As more people become poor int he context of our current economic policies (e.g., failure to tax the rich, tax loopholes and subsidies, and lobby monies), we need to change this idea– and places the causes of poverty where they belong.

    • Beautiful point about parents finding their happy and infusing it into their children. I think this is at the core of our consumer lifestyle. People think that they can buy happiness through consumer goods, and food. This is what is being taught to children. When a child is unhappy, parent goes out and buys them something. Sure this give the kid a moment of joy, but it doesn’t address the underlaying issue that caused the child to be unhappy in the first place.

  69. When it is more cost effective to buy a hamburger for a $1.00 than a Organic Eggplant for $2.00 we have a problem. Proper nourishment has become too expensive. I remember the last time I ate at a Mcdonalds I was walking in when I saw a woman feeding her son a Big Mac with fries and a drink. In my mind I thought how could she do this, her son has no choice in what he eats. He relies on her for the proper nutrients, when I really got to thinking how, I realized that she probably did not have the extra funds to go buy fresh vegetables and fruits for her child. Affording health food is no longer an option for some.
    Advertising has become a hazard to our society. With ads specifically aimed at children, no wonder obesity has become an epidemic. Fast(fat) food advertising should not be allowed and be in the same boat as advertising cigarettes. It should be considered a crime to manipulate the minds of children to think that these fast foods are a good alternative.
    Childhood obesity will continue to rise if we do not remove the power these Fast Food companies have over us. We need to destroy the notion that these foods are AMERICAN FOODS.

    • You are absolutely right that we need to stop subsidizing factory farms and support organic and small farmers who care about caring for the land instead. It is tragic when it appears “cheaper” to feed someone a McDonalds (in point of fact, given our larger costs, including health costs, it is not). But as you point out, the poor are too often not able to afford alternatives.
      I take heart from the growing number of urban gardens, gleaner groups, and farms with CSAs (community supported agriculture) that share food with the poor– as well as giving them the means to grow their own food (even a small amount makes a difference) and incorporating them into community in the process.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • I know that the only reason that I am able to afford my vegan lifestyle, is because I still get help financially from my family. I consider myself a very lucky student, because if it was not for my parents I would be living off hot pockets and roman noodles. There is no way I can afford eating the way I do at this moment without financial help.

        • Thanks for sharing this and reminding us that we need to shift government subsides away from fast food.
          There are also options for low income folks in the Willamette Valley- such as community gardens.

    • I work at a grocery store during the summer, and even at the peak of the fresh produce season people still buy more frozen vegetables than they buy fresh. This drove me crazy until an older customer in my checkout line asked younger customer why she was buying frozen food. Her answer was ‘that’s what I have always eaten’. Long story short, her mother had served mostly frozen food so she was used to it but mostly she didn’t know how to serve or cook most fresh veggies and have them still taste good. our generation is going to have to make a serious shift in our way of thinking if we are going to keep our kids out of this trap. I have to disagree with you that fast foods are not American foods. Unfortunately stores like KFC and McDonalds were American creations that we unleashed on the rest of the world. I do see hope though, Subway is an American food too. Maybe a more realistic goal for right now is to shift our thinking to fast foods as being an occasional snack or a treat rather than an everyday meal.

      • I have to argue and say that even fast food is considered american food. If you ask anyone from another country what they think American food is they are not going to tell you fruits, veggies, rice, grains. They are going to say Mcdonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Burgerville, In and out. Traditionally we used to grow our own crops and eat our own healthy food, but not we have transitioned to this.

        • If we are identified with such fast (corporate and processed foods) in the global arena, I wonder how this also helps sell the product of those wishing to emulate “Americans”.
          Time to change our image, yes? This is not the food I would like to be identified with!

      • Though I do agree that our our generation has no clue in how to cook vegetables! I know that in my house I am the only one that eats a large quantity of vegetables. When I asked my roommates why they said they did not like the taste or that they had no clue how to cook them. I myself learned on my own, and failed plenty of times but was able to learn to make delicious vegetable based meals. I agree that a shift has to be made and we need to teach our children how to eat the right foods and in the process teach them how to cook them.

        • Good for you in learning to cook veggies, Laura– but too bad more of those like your roommates don’t have this knowledge or inclination.

      • You have a great point that many of our food choices are based on knowledge and experience. For instance, I had neighbors who moved to Oregon from New York City and didn’t know to eat the plums or raspberries in their yard (though that changed once they tasted them!)
        But sometimes it is just odd– and one has to think, lazy– habits, as in survey whose results I saw some time ago that indicated consumers who buying apples and plums rather than eating the ones growing in their yards.
        I like the education as well as fighting hunger benefits of the City of Seattle’s planting of “food forests” in some of their parks for users to harvest.

  70. I think that child obesity is a very troubling concern. I appreciate the organizations, like PBS, that try to raise awareness of the issue, but I don’t think it is really in the forefront of society’s mind–and it should be. I was an overweight child, and still struggle with the effects of that. Remembering my childhood, I know that my parents didn’t feed me as healthily as they should have. I cringe every time I see a parent taking their child(ren) to fast food for dinner, or let them suck down a Pepsi in the middle of the day. I know, personally, how damaging it can be for a child to be overweight–physically and emotionally. I’ve been the “child [that] cries over a hamburger he feels he should keep himself from eating,” and it’s a struggle. I wish that parents–and I know some do–would really think about what they’re feeding their children and how it might effect them later on. I’m not saying that a Happy Meal every now and then will kill them, but when we constantly allow our children to indulge with “fat” and overly processed food, we have to understand that it will come back to haunt them.
    The piece in this essay on pollution instantly reminded me of the essay about NIMBY. Take the Mohawks, for example, who had to deal with the negativity of pollution in the water even though it wasn’t a direct result of their actions. That’s exactly the issue with NIMBY that most people tend to overlook. I think that we should be working–as a whole–to fight the causes of pollution. I find it horrid that we reward companies with profit when they’re destroying our ecosystem; something so irreplaceable. But, when money, greed and power rule our world, that’s the price we pay.

    • Thank you for sharing your own moving personal story, Kristina. No child should have to suffer in this way: I hope you are finding a way to enjoy your (healthy and delicious) food and honor your hunger.
      Great connection between this and the NIMBY issue–and environmental toxins. “Obesegens”– for toxins that instigate obesity– is a word that will unfortunately become more common until we decide to change our discharge of such toxins into the environment which is as bad for everyone else as it is good in creating profit for a select few.

  71. This is my favorite essay so far. Thank you for writing it. Eating, I believe, needs to be as natural as breathing. But it has been complicated, measured, criticized, advertised, incorporated…anything but an organic process that sustains life and gives us pleasure on physical, mental, and spiritual levels. The modern destruction of eating has caused two extremes from obesity to anorexia, but both are symptoms of a fast-paced world of over-consumption lacking a sense of personal identity.

    Have you ever tried to savor a McDonald’s cheeseburger? I have. You can’t. Every bite is the same, simple, salty flavor. Food like that is meant to be scarfed down without a thought. Now savor a home cooked filet of grass fed beef. That is a complexity of exciting flavors that truly nourish the body (or an eggplant if you’re vegetarian).

    The point is, I believe slowly enjoying well-prepared, natural foods in a communal setting would cure a lot of the health problems mentioned above. People could be satisfied, socialized, and healthier overall.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Aften. I appreciate your take on eating as one of those “organic processes that sustains life and gives us pleasure on physical, mental, and spiritual levels.”
      I think your phrasing of the “modern destruction of eating” is all too apt.
      As you indicate, we might cure a host of modern ills if we only ate what we can savor– or, as Wendell Berry put it, “food we would want to pray over”.

  72. While this epidemic is definitely linked to many things, I feel a prominent one is the consumerism-based society that we live in. While corporations such as McDonalds have taken much of the heat for this problem, it goes much deeper than that. There are educational problems (less physical ed, health, arts, etc.) that result in inactivity, propaganda problems described above, and much others. I’m going to let you in on one that I deem highly relevant. Our cells metabolize through 2 different methods: glycolosis (anaerobic) and the citric acid cycle (aerobic). Aerobic respiration relies primarily on products of anaerobic, which relies on sugars or other sources. While I won’t delve into details, high-fructose corn syrup bypasses an intermediate stage in glycolosis– leading to a direct overproduction of a chemical in our body that our normal functioning cells can’t handle through normal levels of respiration. They handle it by fatty acid synthesis (production of fat).

    HFCS is so cheaply produced industrially, that it is in foods everywhere you look, especially the cheap ones: soda, bread, yogurt, buns, cereal, ice cream, puddings, salad dressings….. the list goes on and on. Will we stop producing it? No. But it takes discussions like this for people to become aware of these issues and to speak their voices, and hopefully create some change.

    • You are right in line with the advice NOT to use HFCS in our Do Not Buy List here. Besides the metabolism issues, it is also contaminated with mercury because of its production process.
      Good points!

  73. Growing a garden is a great way, I think, to help stop the obesity epidemic, especially with kids. In the summer when they aren’t in school working in a garden keeps them from being bored as well as teaching them that food really comes from the earth, not from a store. It also tastes better than fast food, which will make kids less likely to want junk food which sets them up with a good foundation for the rest of their lives. Disconnect with food means that it no longer matters how processed the food is, it comes in all sorts of plastic packaging anyway. PBS has a point with sharing a meal. I have heard of (but cannot directly site) studies, through various classes, that say sharing a meal and chewing food 10 times on each side of your mouth will make you eat less. With the extra chewing and talking your stomach has time to realize that it is full and will decrease the likelihood of reaching for another helping.

    • I agree my father does this with us as a family we prepare the ground for our future garden. Then as a family we go to a nursery and he lets us pick out all the vegetables we would like to eat! I know it may sound funny but I still get super excited, every year when it comes time to plant the garden. It really does help change one’s eating habits. I feel that because my father does this with us every year my brother and I eat quite a large amount of vegetables. (Thanks dad!)

    • Thanks for sharing these perspectives, Rachel. At the very least chewing helps digest your food– especially starches. It might also contribute to savoring the flavor of our food.
      I couldn’t agree with you more on the benefits of gardening.

  74. The obesity epidemic is one that scares me very much because it is not only hurting peoples health but also their self-esteem and in turn makes them feel worthless. But then there is also the problem of people eating too little. I know several people from my high school that had to go to hospitals in order to be fed through tubes because they were not getting enough nutrients. It is hard for me to believe that they would risk death just to look skinnier. How could looking “good” be more important then taking care of yourself. What is even worse is that usually these people pass on these traits to heir children. Those who I know who struggle with obesity as well as anorexia have children who also share this same encounter. I think in school children should really be taught about the huge problems that these disorders can cause. I believe there is not enough stress put on this issue and too many people are being hurt because they do not know how to treat their own bodies.

    • We can see the devastating results of the epidemics flowing from our worldview when a young woman like yourself knows “several” other women who have been hospitalized with anorexia (and an older women like myself, know many that have died from cancer).
      Risking death just to be skinnier indicates just how much these women value themselves–and their communities value them. We need to change that with education based in care of the kind you suggest.

  75. These are the students I am around everyday that I teach–living on Free and Reduced Lunch fare–where our very dedicated food specialists have their hands tied trying to provide truly nutritious meals. I wish that the school system was a bit less liability scared, and would allow students growing vegetables into the vocational department. (I already thing that “Victory” gardens should be part of the National curriculum for elementary schools)

    I always try to tell my students that they are building a house they will inhabit for a 100 years. They always are often confused until I ( or someone else in the room) says it is them–their bodies. I then ask them with what materials would they want this house to built with.

    Now if the darn USDA can get their communication clear, I think it will be easier to help students on limited budgets make better decisions.

    Bruce Ames ( of the famous and so simple my students can do it in the classroom “AMES test”–where they can see if a chemical is mutagenic–how cool is that!) is now working on Nutrition Bars for children that early trials suggest the micro-nutrients in the bar are those that obese children are missing in their diet ( and leading to habits of overeating to fill). His goal is to transition obese children off of their bad habits using these bars, and reteach them good eating habits.

    Here is a link for anyone who is interested:


    • In this context, I find it heartening that there are a growing number of schools that have school gardens and/or a farm to school food program. The school gardens program in Lane County, Oregon ( cannot be too highly praised.
      The problem with USDA commodity food is that it is tied to the Farm Bill– which is too connected to agribusiness–many groups tried to get that link broken this time around. Did not happen (food stamps were cut instead!), but there are many local farms and gardens everywhere that are taking up the challenge to do things differently: see just a few of these on our “links” page under “farms and gardens”.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Kate,
      I love what you are trying to do with your students especially in regards to telling them about their 100 year house: their body. That is such a great mental image for them to carry with them. I have a 9 year old daughter. She has been to many different schools in many different states because we move so often. The best school lunch menu I saw was actually in Bend, Oregon. They offered vegetarian and vegan options and even a few that were gluten free on a DAILY basis. Granted, it was a brand new LEED building and the school prided itself on how GREEN it was. The school was one of the wealthier schools in the district and I do not think the other schools had the same menu options. I may be wrong on that though. In Las Vegas, my daughter attends an elementary school in Summerlin (an upper middle class community). Her options here are VERY limited though so I send her to school with her lunch. Their options go from pizza to hamburgers to chicken nuggets,, french fries, etc. All fast and processed junk foods. She’s a vegetarian so, she has nothing to eat on the menu anyways. I remember a few years ago Jamie Kennedy tried to revolutionize the ways that children eat at school in the States. Here is his TED Talk about teaching every child about food: Our lives are made up choices. Wrong and right choices. We have to do whatever we can to promote healthy choices (and healthy thinking) to our children about the food they consume and the way that they think about their bodies. (You can be fat and healthy)

      • Lara and Kate, keep up the good work as mothers and educators in nourishing children with care and knowledge!
        And as to the school in Las Vegas with fast food lunches, food laden with salt, sugar and oils in the right combination (as in a commercial cupcake) is as addictive as heroin in one mouse study (although I don’t think we had any right to inflict this on mice). Such addictive combinations have been carefully researched by the fast food industry to get folks to eat more fast food: as some modern writers such as Michael Pollen observe, in a capitalist society in which food is supposed to be, like everything else, a growth industry and most folks are already consuming as much as their bodies actually need, the only profit-making course is to try to manipulate physical characteristics of food to get folks to consume more than they need (and more and so on). Some working with childhood nutrition and health have suggested that we sue the fast food industry for their culpability in the growing childhood health crises.

  76. I’m in a different course this term called Fat Studies (WGSS 466). Through that course I have had to quite literally reteach myself about FAT and how it has become the system of oppression it is today. A century ago fat was looked at as a sign of health, a sign of beauty, and something that showed a woman’s ability to birth children. Today it is looked at and treated as a disease or something that should be feared. It’s interesting though that Fat use to intersect with prosperity and today it intersects with poverty, consumerism, lowered SES, and even morality. Over the last century the medical community has jumped on the anti-fat wagon providing misguided and often outright lies to society under the assumption that their “research results” (paid for by those who have stock/ self interest in the companies that promote or sell weight loss products) were valid. This helped establish social values and the construction that FAT IS BAD.

    Poverty and neighborhood of residence are two indicators of fatness for many families. Food prices are higher for “healthy” foods whereas processed, frozen, and fast foods severe as the cheap and affordable option for those who have little money or rely on governmental subsidies to feed their families. As you stated, these communities often only provide foods that lack the nourishment that people need to combat hunger. Wealthier communities tend to have better options where foods are denser in nutrition and lower in caloric values. The privileged have better opportunities to participate in physical activities compared to those with lowered SES. Poverty and fat cause one another. Poverty is fattening and being fat can cause poverty. They intersect in a cycle where social stigmas and discrimination serve as the forward trajectory.

    Have you read the Health At Every Size approach to understanding weight? If we keep the focus on losing weight, we actually may be doing more harm (mentally and physically) compared to focusing on health. With that said, I cannot agree more with the intersections of pollution and foods that you explain in the essay and their links to fat. There are so many forces at play working against our health. What worries me the most is how lower income neighborhoods are the ones that typically feel the brunt of all of these issues from pollution and toxins in food and water supplies, to limited access to nourishing foods, and proper health care. As you stated, hunger is not a sin, nor is nourishing ourselves. I’d extend this to even allow for the fact that obesity and fat are not sins either. Most of our social understandings of fat only stem from myths that have been promoted as a means to promote hegemonic power relations and patriarchy. Neither of these things should be supported so it is important for us to understand fat and the social, medical and even political stigmas that are associated with it as a subject.

    • Thanks for re-emphasizing many of the points in this essay. Though it is made in the 1980s, the data in the documentary, The Famine Within are still pertinent today, including the oppressive social labeling of fat–and its social perceptions (as with anorexics who see themselves “fat” at starvation weights), connections between poverty and unavailable healthy food–as well as the syndrome whereby dieting causes cyclic weight gain (triggering the body to become more and more efficient in storing fact as it assumes we are starving).
      Now there is growing data about obesegens– BPA and certain pesticides (organochlorines related to DDT) whose presence, especially in the womb, causes abnormal fat metabolism or lack thereof– once again, linked with poverty and racism, since the poor and people of color are more exposed to such toxins.
      Having said that, it is also true that some of us in the middle class eat compulsively and even if we are physically full in our over-consumptive society. And spend too much time sitting– it is especially troubling when sedentary children have heart attacks (an unfortunate trend). That does NOT mean that we should project the blame for over-consumption on those who are less than the “ideal” body weight, which Stuart Ewen, in his All Consuming Images, notes for contemporary women, has been shrinking so radically over the past few decades that if it continues at the same rate women will literally physically disappear! This is another way our society is teaching young women not to be substantial or take up any space.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.