The Food Chain: The Path Out of Poverty or the Road to Permanent Inequity?

Reuters recently ran a story entitled, China reaffirms war on poverty after suspected rural suicides. In it Reuters quoted President Xi Jinping, speaking at a Communist Party conference on the 13th 5-Year Plan. He said, “The most arduous task for achieving a well-off society in an all-around way lies in the rural areas, especially the impoverished ones.

At the time I was vacationing with my daughters on Mackinac Island, a quaint and pristine throwback in time where cars are not allowed and the bed & breakfast is taken to a new level. Unless you must have access to nightclubs while on holiday I highly recommend it. It is beautiful, quiet, and literally sits with its feet in the water at the juncture of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan at the northern most point of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

While reading the Reuters article several observations formulated into thoughts simultaneously. One, in particular, related to a statistic I heard on the radio while driving here. It was that the average American male has gained 30 pounds (13.6 kg) in weight over the last X years and now is a touch under 200 pounds (90.7 kg) – the average! In my youth that was huge. (The average American female has gained a comparable amount of weight but I honestly don’t recall the number.)

And while I don’t have any statistics on the topic, and I am sure to be viewed by some as politically incorrect, I’ll say it anyway. I live in and admire China. I’m politically incorrect to many to begin with.

My observation is that in America the lower your income, the higher the chance of your suffering from obesity. There are many rich Americans who are grossly overweight, of course. I don’t mean to suggest a direct correlation. It is an observation nonetheless.

Which brings me to a second observation. The Chinese do not wear deodorant and it is not uncommon, but not universal, that the Chinese will skip the everyday shower or bath that Americans consider a must. These two realities are often the subject of debate among ex-pats in China over whether the Chinese are subject to the same realities of body odor as Westerners are. (The Chinese are happy to tell you they aren’t.)

My own observation is that they are subject to the same realities, but don’t suffer them. They are inclined to far less body odor than Westerners. But it has nothing to do with genetics or ethnicity. It has everything to do with what they eat.

It’s difficult to find ‘real’ food in an American grocery store today. Forget the labels. They are largely irrelevant. While nearly all of the packaging claims to be less this or less that, the reality is that very little of what Americans eat today is natural, or unmodified, or even real.

I can speak from first hand experience. When I am in China I do shower every day. (The Chinese tend to shower before they go to bed instead of when they awake, which is a habit I have adopted. It really does make more sense and makes the work morning far less frantic.) But I don’t use deodorant. And I never feel, nor has my wife or colleagues ever told me, that I stink. And I honestly don’t believe I do.

When I travel to America, however, I always pack deodorant. Not because of any difference in sensitivities in the people around me, but because after a few days of eating an American diet I do stink. I feel stinky. And I smell stinky. And when I return to China the feeling and the smell go away after a few days and I put the deodorant away until my next trip.

How food is prepared, I believe, and the types of foods marketers with huge advertising budgets make available to us, is behind the growing obesity problem in America. Yes, better health care and nutrition have played a role in the growth in our average height and weight. They, by themselves, however, do not explain the obvious.

It’s a ticking time bomb for the U.S. health care system, for sure. The weight gain comes at a price. Diabetes and heart disease have both been statistically correlated with excess pounds.

There is, however, a far more serious consequence that I have never seen discussed. America, as has been well documented, is becoming more and more polarized in terms of wealth and income. It is in the top 3 when it comes to the gap between rich and poor in the developed world.

And I’m now convinced that our food supply has something to do with it. Weight discrimination is real. The people at the top of the income pyramid are handsome and pretty and seldom overweight. I don’t believe there is any debate on that.

And that, I believe, is because they have access to the low supply of truly natural foods and farm to table restaurants that are all the rage in wealthy urban and suburban areas in America. The poor have less access to these things both because of where they live and because they don’t have the money. Education may also play a role but I don’t want to go there and don’t need to in order to make the argument.

The simple fact is that the lower the price of food the greater the chance that it is heavily processed and made with artificial ingredients and flavorings. That’s why the manufacturers and processors do it. It allows them to sell value and still make a profit. And it seems irrefutably logical that the lower their income the more sensitive consumers will be to price.

In effect, America is both creating an economic feudal system and literally killing its poor prematurely through it’s commercial food chain. And making the purveyors of scented soaps and deodorants wealthy in the process.

So, yes, there is still plenty of poverty in China, particularly in the rural areas. And I hope President Xi Jinping is good to his word about doing something about it. I believe he is sincere based on his past behavior.

I dearly hope, however, that in the process of alleviating poverty, China takes a different path to a more ‘developed’ food supply and does not fill the stomachs of its people with processed and artificially-whatevered, processed food.

The sales of deodorant in China will be the telling metric. My insincere apologies to the companies that purvey such products. But I dearly hope that China remains a poor investment opportunity for them. There is no reason why people can’t enjoy a comfortable and long life together. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

Please note: As I have noted before, I make no pretense of being an investigative journalist. I am a blogger. While I make every reasonable attempt to be accurate, my stock in trade is observation. And I am the first to recognize that no generalization is universal. There are many overweight people who are so simply as a result of biological and/or genetic factors. It matters little what they eat. But the exceptions, and there may be many, don’t invalidate the observation. A national weight gain of 30 pounds is inarguably moving the needle in a material way that can’t be explained by natural causes alone.

The weight of the average American male has increased by 30 pounds in the last X years and is now just shy of 200 pounds.
The weight of the average American male has increased by 30 pounds in the last X years and is now just shy of 200 pounds.

View the author’s literary work written under the pen name of Avam Hale. Both books are available at Amazon and most major online retailers in both electronic and print formats.

Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.