by Les Saidel - April, 2014
Nutrition is a tremendously important subject. Your knowledge and application of nutrition (or lack thereof) could very well determine your physical health and well-being your entire life. You would think that such a critical subject would feature prominently in the education system. In fact, nutrition features so briefly in our education that it is almost unnoticeable. The only time nutrition is taught is during grade school and very fleetingly and succinctly.
3rd or 4th graders learn about the basic food groups, carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables. They learn about the food pyramid, which foods should be eaten more than others etc. The syllabus encompassing our nutrition education lasts about 1-2 months in most schools. Contrast this with mathematics which is taught continuously, from 1st grade all through 12th grade, increasing in complexity and depth.
Undoubtedly mathematics is an essential life skill, and a prerequisite for many professions, but the asymmetry is glaring. Being able to study and pursue a career is of primary importance, but not more so than our health.
On the one hand you have this cursory "introduction" to nutrition, which due to its brevity, is attributed with a marginal status. On the other hand you have a barrage of propaganda in the media from the food companies marketing their products. These companies have enormous advertising budgets at their disposal. They employ professional psychologists, producers, animators, graphics designers etc. all with the purpose of most effectively delivering their marketing message to the target group, which in most cases is children.
One simply needs to peruse the aisle of breakfast cereals in a supermarket to begin to understand the power of the propaganda. Hundreds of enticing, vividly colorful, cartoon character adorned boxes reach out and grab the eye. Packaging displaying games for the kids to play, puzzles to solve, competitions to join, pictures of celebrities to hang up on walls, etc. etc. And it works! The kids see the captivating adverts on TV, they see the packaging and demand the product. Their parents may exhibit some resistance at first, but this is whittled away by incessant demanding. To "reassure" the parent, the companies cleverly include hype phrases on the box to the effect that the product is "enriched", "high in this-or-that mineral" etc. Most parents eventually relent.
Before I got married I was very health conscious (I still am). I promised myself that when I had kids, I would never let them eat what I consider junk food, like Bamba for example (a peanut butter flavored, puffed-corn snack). "No way that was going to happen", I said to myself. How naive I was! When the kids came along, I was ill equiped for the media pressure and eventually came to regard Bamba as the lesser of two evils, compared to other (even worse) garbage out there.
Not only do parents relent, they get caught up in the lie and begin to believe the propaganda. A certain corn breakfast cereal, which is no more nutritious than a bowl of sugar, has and will always remain a glorified bowl of sugar, no matter how many decades it has been in existence and how many tricks the company uses to convince consumers that it is the epitomy of healthy breakfasts. They are experts at perpetuating the myth. This myth has continued now for generations and has attained the status of a kind of "holy cow" - our grandparents ate it, our parents ate it etc. Who are we to question it? In many cases the subterfuge has become so great that even professional clinical dieticians include it in their regimen of daily diet. This is the power of propaganda and this is only one product. Multiply this by thousands, even tens of thousands and you will begin to understand the forces one is up against.
Another facet of the conundrum is pressure and leisure. Modern society is highly pressured. Unlike 500 years ago, when it took months or years for a letter or message to arrive at its destination, today communications take place in nanoseconds. The pace of modern life is breathtaking. Accompanying this are increased pressure, tighter schedules and greater demands. In such a lifestyle, leisure is a highly prized commodity. It is vital to take a "time-out" to balance the hurricane pace of our lives. Leisure has become idolized beyond its natural proportions in modern society. The ultimate aim of modern society has become how to increase leisure time! It has become the new-age Eden, a Xanadu.
Capitalizing on this mind shift, the food companies offer processed foods that are "easy to prepare", "out-of-the-box", "instant", "no-fuss", "microwaveable" and a myriad other hype phrases that will increase your leisure time. What sane individual will then "waste their time" actually preparing a meal from scratch for their family rather than simply pulling out a microwave dinner? The food companies are cashing in on our laziness big time! In fact, real cooking has become something of an rarity in the modern home. Unless the ingredients are out-of-the-box, ready-to-use and require nothing resembling hard work, most of us are not even willing to contemplate the activity of cooking. Even when we allocate "quality" time spent with family members cooking or baking, it is usually centered around making things straight out of the box, or ready made mixtures that require no "extraneous" work
In most cases it is a losing battle and the food companies are winning. We have reared generations of people whose knowledge of nutrition is based on the slogans of processed food packaging. They have been brainwashed into eating and coming to demand, food which is profitable for the food companies to make and not necessarily nutritious or healthy for those eating it.
In a word, modern society has created what I call "difficult customers", customers who understand almost nothing about nutrition, who have been swallowed up by the hype. I am pretty sure you personally know a few of these "customers". They may be your own kids, even your spouse! They have been reared on white, fluffy, pumped-with-air bread, processed foods oozing excess sugar, salt and MSG (to mask the inherent lack of taste due to denaturing of the food caused by processing).
These customers are the victims of the propaganda war. They live a large portion of their lives consuming a lie and only when their bodies give in, in the form of heart attacks, diabetes, strokes etc. do they get a wake up call and start to discover the immensity of the lie. This usually occurs during middle age, when the body is not as resilient as it was when it was 25-years-old. At this point, those lucky enough to survive the wakeup call begin to explore the subject of nutrition more deeply and apply it to their lives. But consider this - they have lived at least half of their lives missing out on true health. Imagine how healthy they would be at age 50, if they had been applying sound nutrition from age zero! They are now starting the remainder of their lives with a deficit, sometimes unfortunately in the form of permanent disability.
No amount of lies or propaganda can alter the truth. Highly processed food, regardless of hype and advertising budget, can never be as healthy as basic, unprocessed food (meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, grains etc.) that is prepared freshly and correctly in the home. That is the basic tenet of good nutrition. It sounds simple and it is. Most truths are simple.
What is not simple is applying good nutrition in the home. Firstly we are at war with the propaganda. Secondly it requires knowledge, time and effort - not as much as you would first think, but definitely more time than popping a microwaveable dinner into the microwave for 5 minutes. In a word, it requires an investment. Unlike other investments however, it may be the soundest you make in the course of your life and one that is likely to reward you with good personal health and vibrant, dynamic children endowed with real values.
If a fairy godmother were to grant me a wish, it would be to catch young couples at the outset of their married lives and train them in sound nutrition. This is the most effective point to begin the education process. Let's be honest, the school system is not going to change. In fact it benefits the powers that be - the lobbies of the huge food companies that exercise influence over the politicians who formulate the legislation, to minimize nutrition in our formal education. It is the lack of knowledge of nutrition which increases their profits. The only place left to effectively educate the coming generations in nutrition is in the home.
Young married couples, at the outset of their lives as a family are most susceptible and open to the subject. Before deciding to raise a family and have children, would-be parents are willing to invest time and energy to learning how to parent. One of the vital ingredients in this quest for knowledge should be nutrition and how to feed your family correctly. This often falls on the wife, but not always and is best undertaken as a team effort.
There is much to learn and a lot of tricks up the sleeve for those trying to fight the propaganda war. It starts with learning how to cook delicious food and making eating a pleasurable experience. It continues with understanding the principles of preserving the vital nutrients in food while cooking, combining the right proportions of food groups in a meal and attaching the right emotional messages to food and eating.
That is the main purpose of our institute, to educate and to improve health. In our wide range of courses and workshops we disseminate this message in a fun and entertaining way, in a way that anyone can understand. You do not need a degree in chemistry or physiology to understand these principles. We teach tricks such as how to use common food items like bread to "rehabilitate" families with difficult customers and to set them on the right path to health, without them even realizing it.
I believe that if understood and applied, sound nutrition would cause a greater revolution in the world than any seen to date. We have the knowledge, the research. The fact that in most cases it is not applied is simply criminal.
The forces are not insurmountable. We, the consumers, have enormous power. If we learn about and understand nutrition and demand it in our products, the industry will have no option but to provide it or go bust! It is time to take back the power and dictate our own lives and health and not let it be dictated to us.
It starts with knowledge. We owe it to future generations to acquire that knowledge and apply it.
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