The Culture of Food

Americans love food. No, let’s rephrase that. Americans are obsessed with food. We love it. And a few years ago, Forbes decided to rank cities based on how much they actually loved it. If you Google it, you’ll find that Memphis, Tenn. ranked in the number one spot because they have the highest obesity rate. Well, now, it’s not just food they love, but also love the lack of exercise and food choice.

San Antonio was ranked number three on the chart for obesity and in 1999 a study was conducted to find that seven percent of 8-year-old kids had elevated glucose levels. Uh-oh. So not only does that mean they eat a lot, but they eat the wrong foods. Put it this way, kids shouldn’t have to worry about glucose levels and all that jazz. I mean, if they were eating carrots and fresh fruits they wouldn’t have high glucose levels, be obese or have to worry about being diagnosed with any kind of diabetes. They should be outside, in the yard playing tag and having fun.

So according to a friend of mine, Type 2 diabetes is managed 20 percent of the time by medication. That’s it. For the other 80 percent of the time, it’s up to the person diagnosed to eat healthily and exercise regularly. But it’s a lifestyle change that not many people want to deal with. They don’t want to have to run around the block and would much rather have their kids stay inside the house where they’re safe.

I say that you have a million and one reasons as to why things like this are happening. But first and foremost, it’s the lack of nutritional education. When I was a kid, they used to give me whatever I wanted to eat. That included Capri Sun juice packets and sugary things like that. Mind you, I have Type 1 diabetes, not Type 2. Nonetheless, feeding and having some meat on your bones in the Latino families is a sign of love and health. If you were thin you’d be called out as skinny. If you were fat, they let you know it. Eating is a sign of family and of love. For birthdays, they make you your favorite dish. And because of the fact that they could make this back in the day and even in their native countries without too many repercussions like fatness, they make it here, not taking into consideration what kind of chemicals are but into food or the fact that food is being altered every day into something more similar to poison.

Not only are they telling us that we have to watch fat intake, which is slightly obvious, but we also have to stay away from anything white, like processed sugar and white bread. For a lot of people food is food and if they sell it and can afford it, then you should eat it. But sadly it’s not that simple.

In San Antonio, they loved fried food and according to the rankings that Forbes created in 2007, it was noted that more obese people/cities were in the south. Why? Just because of the cultural reasons I mentioned. Food equals love and family. And the fact that a lot of things are fried… well, that explains a lot, doesn’t it?

My little cousins eat pizza and McDonald’s all the time because my aunt doesn’t cook. That’s the exact reason. They eat out all the time, but lucky for the girls, they got their father’s genes and hence are not obese. They’ve also inherited their father’s athletic side and play sports. Since we’ve started eating healthier, the girls love to come to my house for dinner. Why? We eat together, we eat home cooked food and we make it a point to have conversations, which is not something that they do. Mind you, they come from Latino parents but they haven’t be raised in the culture. The one thing that my family has done differently? We’ve paid attention to our food and our food intake. I would love to say it was just for me (which at the beginning it was) but I just learned to stay away from things that had remotely more sugar than I could eat. Now that my sister and mother are losing weight and eating healthier, their choices have been more conscious. My dad, who plays soccer at least 3 times a week, loses weight regardless of what he eats. At 60 he can run circles around us.

Back to my cousins though: Every time I see them, I try to make it a point as to why they should eat one thing over another and why the choices that they make could help them in the long run. The high-school-aged one pays more attention to me than the grade-school-aged one for obvious reasons. But they don’t have the proper education on food, which they should. They’re not living in poverty nor do they have a limited mode of transportation, they just choose to go back to the same places and make the same bad decisions. When my grandmother had gotten out of the hospital from being cleared of an artery blockage, as well as having a pacemaker put in, my aunt thought that ordering her fried zucchini from the corner pizzeria would be good for her because it was a vegetable. This is what I mean. And she is the mother of the two girls. But even though I tell them what they don’t want to hear, it makes no difference and I come off as being the know-it-all. Oh, how the world works.

Of the total U.S. population, 18 percent of non-Latinos are obese compared to the 37 percent of Latinos. Surprise, surprise. There are reasons, but since no one is taking that step to education Latinos about what they can do differently and all the options they do have, this is still going to be a problem. We have not yet found a way to educate in a properly, cultural way to the Latino demographic even though many companies and organizations that are Latino based have put the money into a campaign to try to make it happen. And honestly, putting it in Spanish isn’t the answer.

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