FAST FOOD IS TO THE BODILY HEALTH OF AMERICANS AS PROTESTANTISM IS TO THEIR SPIRITUAL HEALTH—
By David Bissonnette PhD
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Is it not revealing that American culture, its roots heavily fed by Protestantism, became so vulnerable to flavorful but nutritionally impoverished fast food. Can it not be said that Protestant theology, like fast food, requires little work, is easy to obtain, comes in many varieties, and attracts by its addictive flavor.
The danger however is that, just like a protracted reliance on fast food can lead to chronic illness and death, so, in turn, can a chronic dependency on Protestant theology lead to a sickening of the soul and ultimately of a nation’s culture and spirit.
David Kessler, in his book, Your Food is Fooling You, writes “Our food is processed, broken down, and pre-chewed. It’s so easy to chew, it’s almost like adult baby food. You don’t have to think about it—just put it in your mouth, and it’s gone before you know it.”
Our food supply did not, however, just become impoverished. Harvey Leveinstein in, Revolution at the Table, writes about the great malnutrition scare between 1907 and 1921.
In the early part of the twentieth century, several factors were conspiring to create a perfect storm: Price hikes during 1912-13 tried to keep pace with the soaring cost of living; then in 1916, crop shortages in concert with heightened demands from allied forces in Europe, caused a 19% jump in food prices, seriously restricting access to wholesome food.
During the 1930s and 40s malnutrition began peppering the American landscape because of a love affair with processed white bread. Bobrow-Strain, in his best seller, White Bread: A Social History of the Store-bought Loaf, writes:”…during the 1930s and 1940s Americans got more calories from industrial white bread than from any other food, and in case after case, they refused to accept major changes in that staple.”
The public was so attached to white bread during the economic crisis of 1929-34 that roughly 50% of calories came from the white loaf. This was an aberration to the diet that nutritionally compromised many.
Yet despite a government campaign to dissuade the populace from consuming the white load, sales of white bread soared. It made no rationale sense that the public would consume a product that would endanger its health. However, like alcohol and cigarettes, the addictive taste of white bread captured the average American palate.
It was not long after, that the American public would do the same with soft drinks, junk food, processed and fast foods. A diet revolution ignited by Coca-Cola swept an entire generation up into food habits laced with sugar.
The marketing of soft drinks was so sophisticated that by 2008, each American consumed on average 50 gallons of soft drinks/person/year. The sugar intake from pop in concert with all the snacks and desserts avidly purchased by Americans, averages out to a total yearly sugar intake of 250 lbs per person per year.
The consequences insidiously weaved their way into the culture to such an extent, that few now are troubled when seeing the number of children with cavities and malocclusion or crooked teeth. The National Health Examination Survey (NHANES) reported a worrisome prevalence among the youth ages 12 to 17. The report from the Institute of Medicine documented that 6 out of 10 youth in this age range have tooth displacement scores considered to be of critical severity.
Taking a broader look at the population, a National Research Council study concluded that 14% of all children in the US have either a serious handicapping orthodontic condition, or one for which treatment is deemed highly desirable.
Malocclusion results from abnormal facial proportions, notably jaw width in relations to the number of teeth. This is part of in utero fetal formation, and is directly linked to the diet and lifestyle of the mother during pregnancy. This is not surprising, given that 50% of pregnant women in the US are either overweight or obese from excessive processed food of relatively poor quality.
This represents an alarming medical problem since the children of obese mothers especially, are prone to a multitude of chronic diseases. This is indeed what epidemiologists are now witnessing with a rising prevalence of type-2 diabetes and heart disease risk factors among teenagers. When the children of a society, become sick, it is clear, that the empire is about to collapse.
Is this societal illness, I am referring to, limited to diet?
The evidence does indeed say otherwise. While we ardently follow the narcissistic drive towards self-actualization, and self-empowerment, there is a persistent refusal by youth and parents to cultivate, instead, humility and temperance.
A very good place to start is to acknowledge death and the four last things: death, judgement, heaven or hell.
While seemingly regarded as a dark topic, especially for the education of children, the absurdity of life eventually stares us all in the face and so, to remain sane, writes Ernest Becker in Denial of Death, we must refuse to acknowledge that we die; some soon others later, but the undeniable truth about our reality, is that we will die.
Although its certainty, we spend very little time thinking about death, and yet death is one thing we should make sure to get right, because there is no second chance. But why should we begin such a conversation? Isn’t it kind of dark and not uplifting?
There are two major arguments supporting death as an important conversation. First, the denial of death shapes the way we live and has lead us to a hatred of children and life. Indeed, neglecting to talk about death, trivializes life, making it glow with absurdity. The practice has invariably led our culture towards a more pragmatic understanding death by embracing contraception, abortion, infanticide, and finally euthanasia.
Second, a conversation about death becomes essential in a culture wrapped up in extreme self-absorbance, a rejection of sacrifice, an avoidance of altruism. The consequence has driven our culture and youth, insatiably looking for meaning, to embrace suicide as an escape from hopelessness.
When American culture manages to lift itself from its moribund state of spiritual and physical complaisance, it will be through nutritionally rich spiritual and dietary foods, that will concomitantly nourish both soul and body respectively. Until then, the spiritual fast food of the Protestant menu will not cease to infect Catholicism and will only serve to feed the culture at a very superficial level, neglecting, as it were, the deep-rooted hunger and thirst of the human soul.
[Dr. Bissonnette is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at Minnesota State University, Mankato where he does obesity research. He advances that obesity is a mere symptom of a much greater social malaise which medical science has failed to address.
He is author of two textbooks: IT’S ALL ABOUT NUTRITION: Saving the Health of Americans; and of Nutrition for Healthcare Professionals: Introduction to Disease Prevention. He produced the documentaries: OBESITY IN AMERICA: A National Crisis and A DIABETIC NATION: An American Tragedy, and manages the website: The Nutrition Report.]
National Center for Health Statistics. An Assessment of the Occlusion of the Teeth of Children 6-11 Years. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 11, No. 130, November 1973. [PubMed]
Institute of Medicine—Chapter-3: Epidemiology & Prevention of Dental Disease. Retrieved July 9, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222667/