Years ago, a wonderful new commodity was born. White bread. And the housewives thought it was so light and such a wonderful appealing colour that they flocked to the stores to buy it. And then Kraft developed a pasta dinner that only took minutes to prepare. And so on and so forth. It wasn't until years later that people began to wonder if maybe the white bread and the packaged meals weren't as good as the original ones. But by then it was too late: the idea of fast foods, packaged foods, and giving the public whatever it will buy was already entrenched in the North American market.

I grew up eating white bread. My mother had no idea that it wasn't as good for me as whole wheat bread would have been. I also grew up on iceberg lettuce, because, again, she had no idea it wasn't as good as Romaine or other darker varieties. We had Kraft dinner as a main meal, a special meal, a treat. Now and again, we had canned Chinese with the small friend noodles, also in a can, also as a treat. She didn't need it as a timesaver because she was a homemaker who only worked a few hours a week, usually on Saturdays, in the store my dad owned. Her focus in life at that time was making a home for my dad and me. She would have been horrified if she'd known the food she gave me wasn't good for me. (She also let me eat handfuls of raisins, which resulted in my having to have numerous fillings in my teeth before I was six years old. Of course, no one realized that it was the raisins causing the decay.)

What am I trying to say here? Just that I am certain there are many people in our current society just like my mother, trusting the people who manufacture the products, and whoever regulates what is sold, to guard their health and care for them. Naive? Maybe. Foolish? Definitely. But, I believe, real.

How many of us realize that when we walk into a department store, drug store, convenience store, restaurant, grocery store – in short, virtually any place where food of some sort is sold – we are going into a zone where our health is at the very bottom of the priority list?

What's at the top of the list? "What will they buy?" Next is, "What can we do to make them buy more of it?"

The phrase "Consumer Beware" very definitely applies. Somebody out there will sell you anything – and I mean ANYTHING – they think they can get away with. They're not thinking about your health or what's good for you. They're not thinking about the problems obesity is creating for the next generation. They're thinking, "How can we make more money next quarter?"

Sure, I know not everyone in the food industry is a bad person. Some of them actually care and are trying to come up with healthier foods and ways to create a market for them. But as long as are stores are flooded with "garbage" – and I use this word intentionally – made of sugar and fat and various artificial products and chemicals – and we allow them to push it down our throats by leaving it at the cash registers in easy reach of our children, and offer it on the menus in seductive forms, then we as a society are the ones to blame.

We aren't uninformed any more. We have information now that tells us what is and isn't good for our health. We don't have to accept what we know is wrong. We need to act while there is still a chance to turn things around for the coming generation, like the four-year-old girl I saw yesterday who became nearly hysterical when her dad told her she couldn't have the package of candy that she was grabbing for with all her might. But don't worry. The problem wasn't that he wouldn't get her the candy; it was merely that she didn't realize her package was already paid for and in the bag, while the one she was reaching for as if her life depended on it belonged to the next little girl in the lineup, who had also picked hers up on the shelf beside the checkout counter, and managed to cajole her grandmother into buying it for her.

April 13, 2008

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

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