A modest proposal for solving our global nutrition crisis

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading this wonderful book by Gary Taubes, titled “Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It.” If Taubes’ name sounds familiar, it might be because of a provocative book he published a few years ago, called “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” a science-heavy volume that set out to explain why most of our modern health problems are caused by our consumption of carbohydrates.

Well, evidently the science in that volume was too heavy, and it indeed was a bit of a dry read. “Why We Get Fat” is his version of the “carbs are bad” story, aimed at a more popular audience and written in layman’s language. But having read both, I can tell you that the message is the same: carbohydrates are bad for us, and the science is there to back that up.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes perfect sense. When you look at the grand timeline that is human history, and then you look at the period of time that encompasses modern agriculture, well … the latter is a tiny subset of the former. Most of our biological history has nothing to do with grains or corn or any view of starch and sugar as something that we ought to be eating. We ate the things that we caught/killed, and we ate the green leafy things and the berries and nuts that we could find.

But now, we are eating things that come from a box in the middle of a grocery store aisle, things that our grandparents would not recognize as food. (Thought experiment: Try to introduce your beloved great-grandmother to a Hot Pocket without withering scorn.) We are eating things that have brought incredible levels of obesity, disease and unhappiness. As Taubes points out, this modern “American diet” has led to something that has never happened before in human history: a situation in which a person can be simultaneously obese and malnourished.

We are eating the wrong things. That much is clear. Most of America is eating vast quantities of things that it should not be eating. It is mainlining fast food, cheap carbs, easy grease and starch and sugar in quantities beyond compare. We are not healthy. We are not eating healthily. We should be eating other things.

But what should we be eating? For the answer, I take us back to Taubes, who spells out the benefits and history of a meat-centric diet. He points us to the work of a German chemist Justus Liebig, who noted that the production of fat in the human body came not from the consumption of fat, but from the consumption of starches and sugars. He also refers us to the French physician Jean-Francois Dancel who, in a book published in 1844, claimed that he could cure obesity “without a single exception” if he could convince those within his care to exist “chiefly upon meat,” and only eat “a small quantity of other food.”

This may call to mind the name of Banting, one William Banting, a London undertaker who lost fifty pounds “when living on meat, fish, game, and no more than a few ounces of fruit or stale toast a day,” the same Banting whose “Letter on Corpulence” would, two centuries later, become the template for the modern low-carb movement. His last name would become a synonym for losing weight by focusing one’s diet on meat.

Slice it and dice it any way you like, but the truth remains the same and it is inescapable: Our modern diet is killing us. We, as human beings, need to step away from the grain-based diet and move back to our more natural, meat-centric diet.

And here’s where the problem comes in. We have millions upon millions of people on our planet, and feeding each of them a meat-based diet is simply not sustainable. Even our factory farms, those grotesque machines that bring life in on one end and bring blood and sustenance out on the other, they are not enough, they cannot feed us indefinitely without ruining the soil that we live on (and our conscious, with each bite). It simply doesn’t scale.

In the short term, agriculture has been a blessing. We have been able to deliver cheap calories to millions of people, and sustain life in ways that would not have been imaginable to our ancestors. (Just picture your great-great-great … great-grandfather, bedding down at night in his cave, trying to comprehend an Extra Value Meal.) We have fed many more people than we would have a millenia ago.

But we have not fed them well. We have fed them foods that have been cheap and calorie-rich but nutrient-deficient, and the result has been a populace whose waist sizes swell by the day. We face a generation that will have a shorter lifespan than that of its parents.

And this is only to speak of the first world. In the world as a whole, overpopulation is becoming a tsunami on the horizon that none of us can afford to ignore. Consider this, from Worldometers:

A tremendous change occurred with the industrial revolution: whereas it had taken all of human history until around 1800 for world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987). During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion.

All of this points to a problem, one in search of a solution. So far, agriculture has been the solution that we have chosen to use, but as the “American diet” and its very American ailments have shown, this is not the answer. There must be some other way to feed all of these inhabitants of this world that we do so love.

Fortunately, an answer has been given to us, and it came to us this week from a most unlikely source: not a science laboratory or a think-tank or a newsletter from a nutritionist, but a political campaign. Specifically, one of the two candidates for the President of the United States of America hinted at the answer that could save us all.

In a hidden-camera video, recorded by a journalist from Mother Jones magazine, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made it clear that there are certain portions of the population that have more value than others:

Well, there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement and government should give it to them … so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Mr. Romney has done us all a favor here by stating explicitly, that which we all believed but were too scared to say out loud: Some people are more important than others. Perhaps we all were created as equals in the eyes of Our Creator, but some are clearly more equal than others, and many of them just stopped trying a long time ago. And it’s not our job to worry about “those people.”

He probably didn’t realize it when he said it, but in this speech, Mr. Romney gave us the key to solving our global nutrition pandemic, as well as the overpopulation menace that looms in the coming years.

Here are two things that we can take away from all that we have discussed so far:

1. People are not getting the proper diet; they are eating too many starchy grains, and not enough meat-based protein.

2. There is an alarming number of people – 47 percent! – who are acting as scavengers on society, not doing their part, waiting around for food and health care to be handed to them.

It’s inevitable, isn’t it? No. 1 comes down to hard science; there is no arguing with it. And given the fact that the current presidential race is neck-and-neck, it is clear that almost half of the United States agrees with No. 2.

Which leads us to this clear outcome: In order to ameliorate both of these problems, we need to turn to the least productive members of society, those 47 percent who take more than they give, and call upon (require?) them to become protein sources for the rest of society.

I know, it sounds barbaric. But listen, here is the good news: We don’t need 47 percent! If we only took 10 percent of the “bottom-dwellers,” those who took far more than they gave back, we’d be able to shut down all of the factory farms in operation today! It makes economic sense, too, because we don’t have to build new farms and new pens; these people are already living in their cramped apartments and eating their corn-enriched convenience foods. We don’t need to bind them with metal walls on four sides; they’re already sedentary, of their own free will. The carbon footprint will be negligible, compared to a cow or a pig. The run-off from the asphalt factories that we raise them in will be nothing more than a new generation of servants, ready to help the other 90/53 percent continue to innovate, and make jobs, and make the world a better place in which to live. It’s a small price to pay, isn’t it?

Plus, as an industry, the abattoir has continued to innovate just as all other forward-thinking industries have. As the hospice people like to tell you in their commercials in the middle of “Jeopardy,” “the end of life is a part of life.” That’s right! For those 10 percent, it’s a normal life, business as usual. Just show up on the appointed birthday, and sign the papers to do your part for the betterment of all of your peers. It probably won’t hurt at all.

And here’s some more good news: If we do this on a global scale, few – if any – of the ten percent will be Americans!

One thought on “A modest proposal for solving our global nutrition crisis”

  1. Great post! Amy Miller recommended I contact you. I am moderating a panel on blogging at the Lou Literary Society Writer’s Block Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13 from about 2:30 to about 4:00. Would love to have you participate, if you are interested. You can email me or call my cell 689.4383. Thanks!

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