When I find myself waxing philosophical with a member of a prior generation, that of my parents or beyond, the conversation turns towards generational differences and most notably the focus begins to take shape around the poor and useless condition of the generation that includes millennials like myself.
As a generation we are often described as entitled, lazy, mooching tech addicts with unrealistic career expectations and an abysmal work ethic. It only seems right to be described this way by the prior generation because going back hundreds of years this seems to be the signature rhetoric when the baton of leadership is passed from the older to the younger.
However, there is a need to take stock and evaluate these remarks and the true impact that these two vastly different groups have had or will have on the future of health and our society. And a perfect way to begin this assessment is to invoke the true words of Billy Joel in his song “We didn’t Start the Fire”. This is a perfect anthem of a new generation, especially pertaining to the health and fitness of our nation.
In the early 1970’s the USDA began a campaign that was unofficially known as the “Cheap Food” campaign. This movement encouraged farmers to overproduce commodity crops like corn, soy, rice and cotton in order to drive the price down and take the lion’s share of the global market. Well this policy worked well with that regards and in many periphery countries it is cheaper to purchase US based commodity products than those that are grown locally. The domestic side effect is that these high calorie foods became so cheap that we began making everything with them. We use these crops to feed our food animals, which has been shown to cause a higher instance of salmonella in meat products. They are used to create additives like hydrogenated soy bean and corn oils, aspartame, high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin. All of which are used as either flavor or texture additives that we have come to learn our bodies are extremely mal adjusted to consuming resulting in chronic disease and obesity.
Beyond this, the choices of our parents’ generation to alter the traditional nuclear family brought about a revolution in meals cooked outside the home. A famous Kentucky Fried Chicken ad from the seventies attempted to tie their food to the women’s movement by declaring “Women’s Liberation…Don’t Worry About It, We’ve got you covered…We’ll Do the Cooking!” Ever since these fateful words were placed on large billboards the traditional family meal has become one that is mobile, to-go, wrapped in greasy paper and on average 200-300 calories higher per meal than traditional home cooked meals.
This is not meant to infer that the world’s health crisis is solely a result of the choices made by our immediate predecessors, but to illustrate that usually the problems of one generation are resulted from steps taken by those who came before.
There is a real reason we seem to have a sense of entitlement, come across as lazy or aloof and have a shortened life expectancy when compared to our parents and grandparents. This is how we were raised. And now is our opportunity to correct the course and move toward a culture of health and wellness. Crop subsidies meant to keep the “Cheap Food” policy alive are no longer needed and a movement to subsidize crops that include healthy, whole fruits and vegetables is long overdue. We have the power to make choices with our dollars that force real change within corporate giants like McDonald’s, who are scrambling with ever increasing urgency to change their face to mirror chains like Chipotle to attract millennials who have shunned the fast food giants of old.
Take the opportunity you have to educate yourself about healthy lifestyles and the obstacles to reaching your potential. Education is a tool through which you can change who you are inside and out and these changes will be mimicked by the next generation. All we have to do is teach them what we know and we can put out the fire that’s been burning “since the worlds been turnin!!”
Rob and Jess