The Health Revolution

January 7, 2011

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“A little rebellion now and then... is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”- Thomas Jefferson

I recently stumbled upon an article claiming that being healthy is a revolutionary act, a difficult process that necessitates you make choices that put you in opposition to the mainstream and the social norm. To be healthy requires you be willing to ostracise yourself in the name of your own well-being because the sad truth is that our society has made poor health the trend and the norm.

This is not the first time I've seen this notion expressed. One of my favorite blogs on the topic of healthy eating is called Food Renegade, which talks about how so much healthy food has basically been outlawed by the government food industries. Raw milk (which is certainly the only form of truly health-promoting milk) is right in the middle of the government's sights. Small food producers are the most targeted by the new Food Safety Bill, despite the fact that they are the ones least associated with food health problems. In the name of safety and sanitation, the government hunts down small farmers and artisan food producers, turning a blind eye to the truly unsanitary, inhumane conditions on factory farms and large dairy production centers.

Of course, this is not really a surprise, considering how close the government is with big food companies. Add to this the fact that the major American dietary and nutritional councils are sponsored by the likes of Kraft, Kellogs, Monsanto and it makes perfect sense that the nutritional guidelines serve the interests of the food companies more than us individuals.

A Little Rebellion is Healthy

So I choose to drink raw milk. I choose not to partake in the low-fat fad, making dietary choices based on my own needs. I choose to prepare my own food, rather than relying on the 'generosity' of the food companies that graciously pre-package it for me (never mind all the chemicals and refining they add to pad their profit margin). I choose to follow my body's natural movement patterns and squat below parallel (I know, all the doctors out there are cringing). Lifting heavy weights; I'm on that. If my work schedule gets in the way of my sleep schedule, guess which is being altered, damn the Puritan work ethic.

And yes, I have had a hard time getting along with people in a lot of areas of life. I couldn't work as a bartender because it meant my sleep schedule was a mess. I chose health over money. I don't do well clubbing or barhopping for similar reasons, and the fact that almost all alcohol is a chemical mess. Parties are always awkward because I won't touch the sweet treats left out for my enjoyment. Even birthday parties are hard.

But, ultimately, everyone I meet is pretty envious of my life. I have tons of energy. I get a lot done. I eat amazing food. I am strong and capable. I can do things that most guys my age don't even want to contemplate.

So why is this such an anti-social condition?

Keep in mind that the government has interests of its own. Like most large organizations, its interests lie in its own preservation, which means taxes and political clout. The government is only interested in preserving our health to the extent that it can benefit from our taxes. And the government is interested in promoting our illness to the extent that it benefits from healthcare costs. Interesting how the medical establishment, which makes its living on our chronic (but not acute) diseases informs our nutritional choices. It's no secret how much political influence the healthcare companies have. It scares me to hear how many politicians making healthcare reform law have stock in healthcare or drug companies.

I'm not saying doctors are evil. I am saying that the medical institution as it is set up now is a broken system that benefits when people are sick. Between the drug companies, the health insurance industry, and the healthcare industry, there is a lot of money to be made on obesity and diabetes, as long as nobody actually dies.

It's not malicious. It's just the way the system works. There is little incentive to be honest in making health recommendations when it doesn't lead to profit, because the dollar is the end all be all of our society. And the morality of a society that worships the dollar will naturally paint profitability as just.

But surely unhealthy people cost the state.

Well, not really. Unhealthy people cost our society and our communities, which is a very different thing. The state has its own budget, as do all the food and medical companies. As long as the costs of our illnesses stay off their books, they don't care. Mass produced corn/dairy/soy/factory-farmed meat/eggs are cheap because they are subsidized. Some big-ag execs got together and convinced the government that they shouldn't have to pay for the cost of cleaning up, or certain other aspects of their business. Small farmers still have to make those payments on their own, which is why locally grown, organic apples cost more than apples grown last winter in Washington.

The Insidious Non-Conspiracy

The combined influence of profitable food-production practices and the healthcare industry has led to a society that teaches its kids Fruit Loops are a healthy breakfast option, simply because nobody advertises for home-cooked eggs. Keep in mind that almost every health or nutrition message you see is there because it will make somebody money. Only very rarely does a company's profits coincide with your health.

And it didn't take very long for various companies to come to the conclusion that making their products a necessary feature of any good social function was a good way to make some money. Hence the prevalence of alcohol at every 'good' party. TV shows now are written not with the intent of telling stories, but to improve ratings, to literally addict viewers to them, in order to draw greater advertising profits. Which is why there is much more advertising for TV shows than exercise programs or local sports leagues. The same goes for most video games. Playing video games is getting cooler than playing sports these days, and the idea of playing outside is anathema to both parents and children alike.

Vive La Revolution!

The fact is, healthy behavior is not encouraged. In fact, it is mostly discouraged. Being healthy is inconvenient, not because it has to be, but because our lifestyles and society makes it so. If we lived in a world where all our food had to be grown locally, we had to walk everywhere, and the definition of a good party always included some sort of sport, we'd probably all be in much better health. As it is, too often we see healthy behavior as a chore, something we know we ought to do, but only if we have the time and inclination.

I say, take care of your health first, and then make time for other things. Set up your life the way you want it, so that you can take care of yourself. Pick a job that lets you live healthfully. Live in a place that enables the same. Hang out with friends who encourage healthy behaviors.

The truth is that we shouldn't have to go out of our way to be healthy. I want a world, a life, in which health is the default state,. I should have to put a label on the state of unhealth, but since that is the norm, we speak of things as promoting health, rather than causing disease. There is no such thing as an "unhealthy food industry", but the "health food industry" is booming.

Lifestyle design is as much about crafting a life that enables you to thrive, which really means enabling you to be healthy. But it takes initiative, and self-assertion. You'll have to learn how to cook, for one thing, and how to move. You'll have to learn what it means to determine your own standard for 'feeling great', rather than accepting the usual definition. Really it means you have to decide you are more important than some corporate revenue stream, or the government's tax base.

So yes, it is a revolution, and if you want to live your life in good health and happiness, enjoying your body, you're going to be a bit of a rebel.

Another article in a similar vein by a good friend.

- (**

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