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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The culture trap

    The root cause of obesity in the U.S. is not greediness, inactivity or advertising, as we’ve been told. It is all of these things and more. The thing that’s killing us is our culture.

    As a British expatriate, it’s obvious to me how much food is part of American culture. What would an American barbecue be without big, juicy cheeseburgers sizzling on the grill? The Fourth of July is inextricably linked with burgers and chips and macaroni salad and soda and ice cream. And Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be the same without the pumpkin and pecan pies.

    These traditional foods aren’t eaten just for their yummy taste. They carry the significance that our cultural experience has bestowed upon them. If we bake a pecan or pumpkin pie in the fall, we’re doing it to remember mom and how she used to do it, reveling in the knowledge that we’re doing something generations before us have done.

    This is why so many diets fail: We feel deprived of our comfort food, our memory food. We feel that a healthy diet is just a brief sojourn away from the “”normal”” way of eating.

    Without a doubt, advertisers are doing their best to make sure that we continue to associate certain foods with American-ness. How many foods are presented as an essential part of an American life? Both Pepsi and Coke cans have a red, white and blue color scheme. Our families, too, perpetuate the idea, so that it’s almost indelibly ingrained in us. But when we bite into that burger with nostalgia, we don’t remember the other facet of American life that is equally ingrained and equally American: obesity. Obesity brings the proliferation of the many chronic diseases we suffer from, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It causes 300,000 deaths in America per year, according to the U.S. surgeon general.

    Therefore, there’s no other answer: We must change our nation’s culture in order to save our nation’s health. We must cease to view healthy eating as a departure from the norm and make a new norm.

    Of course, this idea would meet with great resistance from the great body of Americans who cultivate that same unhealthy food culture. Who’d go to a Fourth of July barbecue and grill turkey burgers instead? Who’d give Thanksgiving guests fresh fruit for dessert? To do so would seem to be a betrayal of all things American. Though we agree that, in theory, it’s important to eat healthily, the concept of changing the tradition of big bags of chips in front of a football game on TV would be seen as awful, almost evil. Asked to change their culture, many would argue that food culture is just as valid a form of culture as cultural dance or music. Indeed, all culture is valuable; but dance and music aren’t killing 300,000 Americans per year, and food is only one side of the famously multifaceted American experience.

    In any case, to me, it seems insulting to America to say that eating habits are so crucial a part of what it means to be an American. As an immigrant, my idea of America is broader. My idea of America is about individualism and potential and enterprise. It is these things that are really important and can never be changed. Eating habits always do change. However much McDonald’s would like us to think so, we know that the Americans of 1800 were not eating burgers and fries and soda. What those Americans did have is what we still have and will always have: the American spirit and character. Whether we eat a veggie burger at our next Fourth of July, a cheeseburger or a taco, what we’re really celebrating about our country is not its food. We should remember that the next time we see a food advertised as “”America’s Favorite ____”” or emblazoned with red, white and blue.

    In the end, if we are really patriotic, we should want to do what’s best for our country. That means changing our habits so that our country can be strong and healthy and happy, so that our Medicare isn’t drained from caring for those who suffer from preventable chronic diseases due to obesity. That might sound silly until you realize that the largest and grandest changes, even laws, can result from the small actions of single individuals, actions that don’t seem important at the time, but really are.

    Lillie Kilburn is a sophomore majoring in psychology. She can be reached at

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