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It’s Not the Food’s Fault We’re Fat

July 5, 2010

Independence Day is traditionally about all the big Fs: freedom, family, friends, fireworks and fatty foods.

New York’s Coney Island hosts a paean to the latter in the form of the Nathan’s Famous National Hot Dog Eating Contest, where this year Joey “Jaws” Chestnut won his fourth consecutive title by swallowing 54 dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Chestnut took in about 15,000 calories during the contest. No wonder he held a bottle of Pepto aloft moments after the contest ended. I expect today he’s either in a food coma or nursing the gurgitating equivilent of a hangover.

What I find perplexing — and amazing — is how thin most of the folks on the competitive eating circuit are. Joey Chestnut is not fat. He’s 6-foot-one and weighs 220 pounds. None of the other major competitors I saw yesterday looked like they wore XXL-sized clothing dang them!

I love a Nathan’s Famous dog, maybe two. A Nathan’s Famous is a real meat delight that doesn’t contain any of the lips, toes and other assorted body parts that make up other hot dogs. And when you bite in to a Nathan’s Famous, there’s a snap to the thing telling you it’s the real deal. But again, one or two is enough. Heck, Chestnut didn’t even come near his world record of 68 dogs, which he set last year.

Truth be told, our Independence Day roll in the fat involved splitting both a Butterfinger candy bar and a large bag of unbuttered popcorn at the movies. No burgers or hot dogs at our house. Compared to the hot dog eating competitors, we lived like monks on Independence Day!

It’s OK to enjoy food. Most food is delicious. I know, I’ve eaten a lot of it! Our cultural mindset tends toward believing that to eat healthful foods, we have to sacrifice taste. However, it is possible to create tasty dishes that are healthy. One of our recent favorites is a summer vegetable crepes recipe found over at EatingWell.com. This is a simple recipe that packs a lot of flavor.

Another part of our cultural mindset looks for someone or something to blame in all things wrong with society. Obesity is an epidemic that is shortening our life spans, putting us at higher risk for cancer, heart disease and diabetes to name a few. It would appear that one easy solution is to blame the food. How are we doing this? By attempting to levy sin taxes on it.

Just last week, an effort to attach a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary drinks in New York failed, in large measure because the anti-tax ad campaign’s message trumped the message brought forth by advocates in favor of the tax. In my humble opinion, the anti-tax folks were successful at calling this what it was: a shallow attempt to create a new revenue stream for a bloated state government.

Pro-tax advocates are surely hoping for results akin to increasing taxes on tobacco products. Research shows that for every increase in the price of cigarettes, there is a corresponding drop in the number of kids who smoke. The difference between a sin tax on sugary drinks/fatty foods and a sin tax on cigarettes boils down to this: cigarettes are the only known consumable product that, when used correctly, are designed to kill you.

A couple of other thoughts: years and years of research on tobacco products exists. There is no research proving the effectiveness of a tax on sugary drinks or fatty foods. Also, cigarettes are already pretty expensive. Food is food, and it’s relatively cheap to get.

That being said, I don’t excuse the food industry for marketing tactics that create a trance-like desire for sugary cereals and the like. However, I think to tax a can of soda out of reach of children, it would take more than a penny an ounce. And a four dollar can of Coke wouldn’t fly in the marketplace.

We have to make choices about what foods we put into our bodies. We alone are responsible for those choices. No one puts a gun to my head when I eat a hot dog or a donut. Or six. A night on the town isn’t going to kill me once a month, or even once  a week. The food and exercise choices I make the rest of the time can keep those moments of enjoyment and food freedom in check.

Just guessing, but Joey Chestnut is probably eating a lot of roughage today to put everything in balance.

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