Thursday, July 17, 2014

"First World Problems."

There's a trend I see, among some who write/talk about food, economics, and health. One example is Mark Bittman's piece here.

I call it "First World Problems" because I hear people bemoaning how "awful" it is that food is cheap, and I do the confused-dog head tilt: "You'd rather there be a famine going on, then?"

And yes, I understand that the argument they are making is that when food is cheap, people eat more, and they eat more sugary and fatty food. But it's more complex than that. In the US, obesity is often a problem of people who are less-well-off because the cheapest calories for the money tend to BE things like dollar-menu hamburgers. And chips. And soda. Vegetables are expensive. (I think I paid close to $4 for a head of cauliflower recently). And then you have to prepare the vegetables - and if you're living where there's a less-than-ideal kitchen, or you're working long hours, or having to care for children on your own, or or or, it becomes harder.

I'm not saying it's impossible to eat healthfully when you're stressed. But it's harder. Even for me - and I make a good salary, I don't have any dependents I have to care for, and still, there are some days I look at that cauliflower in the vegetable bin and go "Meh. It's 6:30 pm. I'm hungry. I don't want to take fifteen minutes to cut this up and fifteen more to steam it, or forty-five minutes to roast it in the oven" and I go for something faster, like cereal.

But this is one of the things about some segments of our culture I find distressing. We've solved a lot of the big problems, and we're forgetting to be grateful for that.

People mostly aren't starving in the streets any more. Instead of rejoicing about that, we wring our hands about "cheap food" and the consequences thereof.

People aren't mostly freezing to death in the winter any more. But we worry about "cheap energy" and its effect on the environment. And try to do things like ban wood stoves because of the (OMG!) smoke. (I know a few people whose homes are electrically heated. And electricity is EXPENSIVE here, y'all. But they have a wood stove, and they have a woodlot. That seems like "problem solved" but there are some who don't want to let them use the wood stove - or require environmental retrofits that would price them out of being able to use it)

People aren't dying from bacteria in the water. Yet there are some who talk about the hazards of chlorination. I dunno; I'd rather risk the small hazard of chlorine by-products than the big hazard of possible cholera or dysentery.

Lots of diseases have been largely eradicated thanks to vaccines. But OMG, my children are too special for that tiny risk that a vaccine might pose, instead, I'd rather have them face the big risk of getting (whatever disease) and maybe passing it to a kid who couldn't be vaccinated for medical reasons. (I would have no problem with anti-vaxers - well, other than that their children don't really get a say - if there was no such thing as herd immunity.)

(Also, an aside: another way certain forms of extremism are awful - there's concern that polio may show a resurgence in Afghanistan and other mullah-dominated areas. Because apparently vaccines are a tool of the evil West. Sigh.)

And on, and on. I've talked about the whole milk-pasteurization thing before. Okay, I admit it: I wouldn't have a problem with people being allowed to choose and buy CLEARLY LABELED raw milk. But I'm gonna keep drinking the pasteurized stuff. I had ancestors who had milch cows and I heard stories of stuff that can be transmitted in milk. (Again, the kids, who might be affected more strongly, don't really get a say in this, it's their parents' decision. But I maintain that if people know the risks they should be permitted to buy the stuff. But they have to know the risks! And they can't sue the farmer if they get sick from raw milk.)

I don't know. Like I said, some of the people agitating about "oh, we have it too EASY now" almost sound to me like they WANT to see people dying in the streets. I'm sure that's not the case but it does seem to me to represent a lack of gratitude. Me? I'm grateful for Pasteur and Jenner and Salk and all those guys (and they were mostly guys) in the past who figured out ways for people to not die of stuff.

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