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Addiction to Oil, Addiction to Sugar

Posted Aug 26 2008 12:17pm
It's impossible- for me anyway- to read the newspapers and follow the political talk shows without seeing some striking parallels between the gas crisis and the obesity crisis.

That we're "addicted to oil" doesn't seem to be much in question. What to do about it illustrates a divide that neatly parallels the divide over what to do about obesity.

Let's start here: We all feel the pain at the pump, and God knows, living in the car culture of Southern California, I'm no happier about it than you are. But clamoring for cheaper gas, offshore drilling (which no one seriously claims will do anything significant) is the equivalent of looking for a way to keep eating crap and not get fat. The fact is we don't need cheaper gas. We need more expensive gas. So expensive that we will finally be motivated to replace our addiction to oil with forms of energy that are better for the planet and for our pocketbooks.

But this is as painful as giving up sugar and junk food- (at least at the beginning of the tunnel- the rewards at the end are priceless)! Most of America- at least if you judge by the endless infomercials at 3 in the morning- is still looking for a way to lose weight "painlessly", without "deprivation" without effort. (Never underestimate the ability of a pill that promises easy, effortless weight loss to make millions for its creators.).

The real solution- like the real solution to the oil crisis- is painful.

But it's the truth. To get and stay healthy, we've got to give up some of (if not most of) the stuff we're addicted to. And that's not particularly welcome information.

The response to this information about food parallels the response to this information about oil. The oil companies deny that there's a problem, and if there is one, it's not their fault. They simply try to rebrand themselves as purveyors of clean energy, which is as silly as believing that Phillip Morris really wants you to give up cigarettes and is actively seeking ways to cut down smoking. Come on. The oil companies' loyalty is- as it should be- to their shareholders, not to the planet.

And the loyalties of the big food companies are to their shareholders as well, not to the health of America. So they'll take whatever marketing buzzword seems to have a patina of "wholesomeness" (from "organic" to "whole grains" to "omegas") slap it on the same old junk and pretend that they're doing something about the obesity crisis. Truth be told, if we did what we needed to do to really fight obesity, diabetes and ill health, we'd put them out of business.

And they know this.

This is where the parallels between the political and nutritional landscape intersect. It's hard for government agencies to give advice that will undermine the very pillars of the economy. That's why tax breaks for companies developing wind and solar energy have gone nowhere in Congress and why you'll never hear the USDA issue a recommendation for us to stop eating sugar and corn syrup. When industries are foundational to our GDP, "cutting back" has huge economic consequences.

What to do, what to do?

Solving difficult and arcane political problems is beyond my pay scale. What I do know is that the truth is sometimes tough to hear and even tougher to act on. But if you want to lose weight, if you want to get healthy and if you want to live long, there isn't a "simple" and "painless" and "effortless" way to do it. You have to give up your addictions.

It's not easy at first. But having given up more than my share of addictions myself, I know it can be done.

And most important of all: it works.

You just have to be willing to tell the truth about it.
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