The broader point is that human diets are eminently changeable; they change all the time, and there is nothing inexorable about the national drift toward bloat. There is also nothing immutable about the swill that people buy in supermarkets and restaurants. A generation ago it was almost impossible to get a good cup of coffee in America. Yuppies fixed that. Beer too.
What will it take to transform our diet on a national scale? The problem is huge and depressingly simple: The U.S. food industry provides about 3,900 calories per person per day (the figure is for 2000, the latest available). Allowing for waste and losses in cooking, the USDA estimates that the average American consumes roughly 2,750 calories per day — a full Big Mac beyond its recommendation of 2,200 calories for most children, teenage girls, active women, and sedentary men. Of course, diet and exercise are matters of individual choice, but cultural circumstances — car travel, post-industrial jobs, passive entertainment–push us collectively toward eating more calories than we burn. So do the roughly $4.5 billion a year the food industry spends on advertising and the $50 million a year it spends lobbying in Washington, D.C.
I have been convinced for a while that the key to weight loss is portion control: I hear too many people say the reason they like some diet or other is because it allows them to eat large portions without guilt. So where someone might eat a large plate of pasta, they now eat a small mountain of protein, instead of a more sensible amount, or even two eaten at intervals.
I was drawn to this story by the idea of the quality of the food and how the kids palates changed to. I’m skeptical of the idea that kids only like junk foods. The fact is kids like anything that tastes good, and it’s hard to beat junk foods on that score.
[ . . . . ] the market’s logic suggests that if food companies are to grow, so must we. In a way it’s a mirror image of the problem of overfishing: Each restaurant and food company has an incentive to get more stuff onto our plates; an individual company, like an individual fisherman, has no interest in cutting back for the benefit of a species. Only in this case the species that suffers isn’t swordfish. It’s us.
Puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?