My blog post today ties in well, I believe, to the one from yesterday. Please excuse the upcoming rant, but this post is as close as I will ever come to spicing up the subject of nutrition with a sprinkling of politics, simply because I can see no way around doing so in this instance.
Hunger and food insecurity in the United States is a multi-generational phenomenon that is quite common in a socioeconomically oppressed strata of our society, a culture in which the middle class has continued to shrink in size, while the number of affluent people on one end of the spectrum and impoverished families on the other end also continue to increase exponentially. I myself grew up in a scenario of extreme poverty and hunger for the first 7 years of my life, in Communist Hungary, which was so egregious that it actually stunted my physical growth. To my mother and grandmother, this was a normal situation that they had both lived with their entire lives. In the worst case scenario, during and after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, my mother had to walk past rotting corpses every morning just so she could wait for hours in a bread line, in order that she could feed herself and my 3-year-old brother. Please do not mistake this anecdote for hyperbole. It is the stone-cold truth!
Americans in general tend to regard socialism with disdain, and I agree with them in principle, but somebody needs to explain to me how exactly a capitalist system of government is so much better if people under both systems go hungry, especially children, who did not choose to be born into poverty. I like to call myself a “bleeding heart conservative” when it comes to the topic of food insecurity. I acknowledge and appreciate that my life is infinitely better now, here in the US (48 years later), than it ever would have been had my mother not escaped with me across the Hungarian border in 1969, but that is all the more reason why the tragedy of global food insecurity and hunger infuriate me so. When my mother and I arrived in New York City at the Hungarian Refugee Center, we were congratulated and assured by everyone we met that we had arrived in the “land of plenty”. It took us only a few years to figure out that America was only a “land of plenty” for a privileged few. It is far too rarely discussed in our culture that, in the same way that wealth is passed on from one generation to the next, such as in the case of our new President, poverty is also passed on through the generations. As a result, many children come into the world with lowered expectations programmed into them. In a society in which the wealthy and powerful are allowed to continue to prey on the vulnerabilities of the poor, such as during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2009, the ongoing problems of hunger and food insecurity will never go away completely.
A further irony is that any person, including a child, can be both malnourished and obese at the same time, exhibiting symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome and Type II Diabetes Mellitus. At least, back in Hungary in the 1960s, starving people were easy to spot. They looked emaciated! But today, in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods here in America, we now have the ancestrally unprecedented anomaly of malnourished overweight folks, who not only under-consume nutritionally dense foods but also overconsume sugar and “empty calories”. At face value, the aforementioned may seem antithetical to the laws of thermodynamics, but in fact the human body is not a steam engine. It is far more complex than that. As Gary Taubes so eloquently illuminated in his seminal books, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It“, it is indeed possible to gain or lose body fat in both a hypocaloric and hypercaloric state, due to the ubiquitous biochemical mechanisms of our hormonal signaling, e.g. insulin and leptin. All calories are not created equal! Cheap “convenience foods”, such as those that are frequently consumed by the impoverished (that which they can afford to buy with ‘food stamps’), generally consist of highly insulinogenic carbohydrates and pro-inflammatory saturated fats that promote obesity while being deficient in micronutrients and often protein. This can contribute to comorbidities such as vitamin and mineral depletions, as well as wasting diseases such as kwashiorkor, a condition that causes the body to cannibalize its own muscle mass in the absence of adequate protein containing all 9 essential amino acids. Nutrition in the modern world, especially amongst the poor and uneducated, is a tragic state of affairs that breaks my heart to see going on in a prosperous nation like ours. You don’t have to go to Africa or the slums of Calcutta to find starving human beings. There are plenty of them right here in the United States. Maybe if we looked up every now and then from our smartphones, we would notice the hungry unhealthy people all around us and show some compassion, instead of constantly texting and taking selfies!