As the Holidays approach, I seem to be more like the Grinch every day. I guess I am looking for trouble when I read the newspaper, surf the internet, or listen to the boob tube. What astounds me is how easy it is to find it. Trouble to me is evidence of the utter blindness and deafness of the effects of our culture on everything from the climate to the size of our waistlines. And not just our waistlines, but those of other cultures, probably still pretty skinny because they have yet to adopt our eating habits.
Here’s what I am talking about. Vision for yourself, Burger King traveling to the mountainous regions of Thailand or to frozen Iniut country in Greenland to organize a burger-off, that is, a contest between a Whopper and a Big Mac for people who have never seen a hamburger in any shape or style. But if you can’t quite get the picture, you can view this on an 8-minute video on the Burger King website.
Although professing to be sensitive to the local culture, what could be more intrusive than introducing a completely foreign object to the alimentary canals of the people and to their cuisine.
Remarking on the villagers’ awkwardness in handling the burger, the narrator added: “It took them awhile to understand the dynamics of it and so that was fascinating to see because we take it for granted ’cause we live in America where hamburgers are consumed like a staple.”
Hardly a statement of openness and understanding. I picked up this story via an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe. But worse than simply an attack on the digestive system, the fast food diet we hold sacred in the United States has serious health consequences particularly in cultures unaccustomed to it, says the article.
All this, to spread disease to developing peoples. And Burger King knows it. The Westernization of the global diet, led by America’s fast-food giants, is helping spread obesity and diabetes as it has never been seen before. It’s not enough that those diseases are off the charts with Native Americans here at home. Now we want to seduce Inuits abroad. Even if levels of obesity stay what they are now, the number of people around the world with diabetes will explode from the 171 million people of 2000 to 366 million by 2030.
The numbers will more than triple in places ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Bangladesh to Guatemala. They will more than double or nearly triple in China, India, Brazil, and Mexico. According to WHO researchers, diabetes was already responsible in 2000 for nearly 3 million deaths around the world. “Given the increasing prevalence of obesity, it is likely that these figures provide an underestimate of future diabetes prevalence,” those researchers said. Translated, even more people will die.
The only part I found amusing was the last line, spoken by one of the Iniuts. “I prefer seal meat.” I hope he gets to stick to his diet without having to pass by a McDonalds or Burger King on the nearest ice floe.