It’s funny how related things often end up in my lap at the same time, and the message I get from them is somehow greater than the sum of the parts.  This weekend, we finally watched the preview episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and then I picked up the latest issue of The Week and read their lead story on the passage of the health care bill in the House (we also watched Dancing With the Stars, and I probably could relate it to Jamie and the house bill, but that might be a bit of a stretch).  As I was reading the Week article, I sort of mumbled to myself, “Shit, if we had a Jamie Oliver in every state, that’d do more for health care costs than this bill.”  And then I held my chin in my hands, looked into the distance, said “Saaaaaay” and grabbed my laptop:

So the health care bill passed in the House.  And during this whole process, as in so many instances where national attention is focused on a particular aspect of American society, there is a 500 pound gorilla in the room that no one is looking at, speaking to, or acknowledging.  In the case of health care, I think there is an entire gorilla family (ask me about the immigration gorilla sometime).

So health care costs are astronomical and millions are uninsured.  OK, well let’s consider a few things.  We are the most obese nation on earth, and despite leading the free world, are #41 on the list of healthiest nations.  Our eating habits are heavily influenced by our American desire for quick convenience, which plays right into the hand of pervasive corporate fast-food outlets that are in our faces multiple times a day, both through omnipresent advertising and as a mind-numbingly repetitive fixture in the American landscape.  We are also the nation of the quick fix: so any health problem we have, we expect the answer to “So what can you give me, Doc?” to solve the problem.  So the drug business is, well, something we now call Big Pharma.  Our nutritional blueprint is created by the USDA, an organization whose word is gospel, and whose word is, like that of many government agencies, subject to the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which successfully lobby for promotion of their own product’s heavy, mandatory inclusion in our dietary guidelines: dairy, for instance.  Our underfunded, poorly performing schools eliminate recess from their school day in order to devote more time to bringing those test scores up.  Kids are plugged in from the earliest ages into a succession of “inactivities”: TV, Nintendo, cell phones, computers.  People have to write entire books to remind us to open the door for our kids and let them outside.  Economic disparities have grown in such a way that where once a family supported by one single-income blue-collar trade could buy a brand new house in a post-war suburb, that same family is now lucky to even be able to pay Section 8 rent.  So of course health care costs are ridiculous.  Of course millions are uninsured.

Now, each of the conditions above adds its own incremental weight to the aforementioned crisis-point flaws in our health care system.  But does the bill just passed, or any of the months-long swirl of debate and discussion around it, even begin to address any of these things?  With the single exception of the uninsured/affordability factor: No.  This entire gorilla family, obviously way too unruly and intimidating for us to think we can tame, silently sits in the corner, knowing that no matter how much money is thrown at this problem, and no matter how many regulations and rebates and taxes and tax-breaks and mandates and subsidies and expansions and exchanges are created and enforced, they will be able to continue to very safely sit there, unmolested, unscathed and intact.

Which is why I had the thought that Jamie Oliver might have a better chance at reducing health care costs than Nancy Pelosi, because he’s barking up the right tree.  But what has to happen, country-wide, for efforts like Jamie’s to make a dent?  A few things are needed: a Red Pill-style embrace of the truth (no matter how painful) of our own personal role in this crisis, an understanding of how powerful lobbies have influenced our own purchasing decisions and governmental practices in order to more deeply line their own pockets (and how we allow this), and a willingness to separate ourselves from our culture’s obsession with and entitlement to, speed and convenience.  Dawg, the fearful, resistant, belligerent radio DJ that interviewed Jamie Oliver on his arrival in Huntington, W.Va.  said that people don’t want to be told what to do.  Well Dawg, you let the FDA, USDA, fast food companies, powerful agri-business entities, advertisers and your grocery store tell you what to eat, and they’re all out to make a buck from you.  Jamie Oliver will certainly benefit personally from his Food Revolution, successful or otherwise, but in the meantime, he’s also making the world a bloody better place.  You’re going to listen to somebody: who would you rather it be?

The bottom line?  To use an appropriate medical metaphor, it usually makes more sense to deal with the cause of disease rather than focusing on treating its symptoms.  Rather than focusing on ameliorating the costs of health care, why not focus on lessening the need for it?

Thankfully, once we take personal responsibility, and especially once we take personal responsibility as parents, we are our own Jamies – maybe not leading revolutions exactly, but very quietly and persistently combating the fast-food/soda/processed food army within our own homes, with an arsenal of education, media literacy, fresh ingredients and great recipes.  This can at least address one underlying pathology within our critically ill national health-care system.  If we — and our kids — continue in this way to turn our backs on all the outside influences that degrade our lives, we can then work toward improving the health and well-being of our nation.

(Are you tired of us prattling on about food yet?  Take the poll!)

– Red Pill Mama

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzanne/Clothworks April 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Love, love, love this article. So many issues.

There is also an aspect on turning away from family. I don’t mean in the literal sense but you learned your ways from someone and they are usually comfortable habits that you formed. Comfortable for you and your relationships with others. They expect you to act a certain way, eat certain food-a certain way etc.

We have switch to an almost entirely fresh food house. We still have hotdogs as a treat and I don’t make all the bread and condiments but we don’t order take-out and we don’t purchase convenience dinners at the supermarket.

Ditched our microwave about a year and a half ago. Most of my family did as well, but the in-law families are baffled and really don’t get it. But I don’t expect them to. I don’t preach to them, but if they ask I tell them.

But we are changing our house, our habits and our health one thing at a time.


Midwest Mama April 6, 2010 at 7:47 am

I can only pray that Jamie Oliver is making as much real impact as he is making press. Health policy is incredibly complex and we wouldn’t need much of it if people would wake up to the importance of what they put in their bodies. I think most people want a health care bill that allows them to continue their indulgent, self-destructive habits-not one that raises the bar. I’m also reminding myself that his show is just that, well crafted television. Has anyone heard what the result is? Is the school still using his meal plan and to what [early] success? As with anything, change takes time; I hope they stick to it.

A Grandma April 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm

One branch of the “right tree” is to recognize that MOST of what we
do (and perhaps even ‘think’ ) is following the lessons that we learned watching our parents, caretakers and relatives in the households or situations in which we were raised. Isn’t this where we learned how to interpret the world, how it functions and how we are supposed to act? Just think about how you get sucked back into the old patterns when you go home for a family gathering and how disturbing that can be. Advertising is just one way of continuing the Parent role in keeping up the instructions, even throwing in the same techniques of fear and guilt as prods.

It takes a great deal of “true grit “for any individual to step back and ask “What am I doing” and” Why am I doing this?” Once that question is asked there is a serious problem. Now that you know, you can’t un-know. and therein lies the dilemma. What am I going to do now? The hard answer is to deal with what one has to give up in order to follow the new truth and act anyway. The easy answer is use denial and retreat to the proverbial state of “ignorance is bliss”, even though you cannot really do that once the question has been asked. In our society the path of denial offers a kind of freedom and a large community out there willing to support that denial.

Children today, just as you did when you were a child, absorb every little detail of what they see their own parents doing. They are watching you (not necessarily hearing you) to find out what is important and right and what actions to follow. Pay attention to what you do!

Red Pill Mama April 16, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Well Hello “A Grandma”! So happy to have you join the discussion! Thank you for your fantastic comment, which leaves me thinking of a phrase I heard from one of our readers: “the burden of awareness.” It can indeed be a burden, and ignorance can indeed be bliss. Our hope is that RPP will help parents see that there are others out there who are also not making the easy choices, but instead fighting to make the right ones. My own mom taught me that. ;-)

Red Pill Mama April 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Hey MM — yes, I agree that what most people want is a bill, or the continuation of the system, that allows them to continue to make poor decisions with no personal repercussions — or guilt! And I’m praying along with you that Jamie’s impact does indeed go beyond well-crafted television. I’m a couple episodes behind, but I can’t wait to see. Did you hear that he won a TED award? $100,000 to put some really great awareness programs in place. Rock on, Jamie.

Red Pill Mama April 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Three “love”s? Aw, shucks. ;-) Funny you should mention family because I just had a jaw-dropping conversation with a friend whose in-laws aggressively undermine the fantastic habits she’s already set for her 4-year-old son. They take it as an offense that she doesn’t want them feeding him Oreos, even when he gets tummy aches from them! There is so much wrapped up in food, family, love, parents/grandparents, tradition, etc., isn’t there? I’m blessed with an “enlightened” Grandma for my kids — I can’t imagine going through what my friend is going through — and I wish you continued luck with making the great changes that you have already put in place!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: