Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Fat Generation

I was thinking yesterday. Yes....I do that occasionally. It was actually a long drawn out thought...but one that I think holds quite a bit of merit. Yes....I actually do have those kinds of thoughts on occasion. My thought process took me from my mothers humble beginnings in the 1930' today. It kind of answered some questions for me and woke me up to some facts about the why's of obesity in America. I now welcome you to the inner workings of my mind!........Things change. Lifestyles change and with does the way we eat. My mom was born in 1936 and she left home in 1954. During that time you had cities and you had small towns and rural farms. The majority of the country lived in those small towns and rural farms and their lives and lifestyles clear down to their diets were vastly different from today.

Growing up during the 30's, 40's and 50's....modern convenience was considered water actually running into the house. Air conditioning was a fan and open windows and you heated your house with a little coal oil stove. Mom would often talk about not having an indoor bathroom until she was in high school which meant no matter how went outside to do your business. Days started around 4:00 a.m. as the animals were always fed and taken care of before the family ate. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, bread and some form of meat (sausage, bacon, etc.). In the winter sometimes there would also be oatmeal. After breakfast the men would head back to the animals, the barn or the field and the women would clean up breakfast and start whatever work that day held. Lunch was always at noon and unless it was during harvest (lunch was then taken to the field) everyone met back at the house for a summertime lunch of garden fresh vegetables and bread or a winter time lunch of canned meat and vegetables....oh and bread. After lunch everyone went back to work until supper which was served promptly at 5. Supper was usually a main meat course, at least two vegetables, bread and sometimes a pie or fruit for dessert. All meals were served with fresh butter for the bread and whole raw milk. Most meat was fried and gravies and sauces were made with cream. No one had ever heard of "diet", "fat free" or "sugar free" foods and over weight people were few and far between. My mother was the youngest of 11 and there wasn't a plump one in the bunch. So how did people eat like that and stay thin? Because from the moment their feet hit the floor of a morning until they went to bed at night....they never stopped moving. Their days were often 16-18 hours long and almost every minute was filled with activity.

There were no modern conveniences. When the wash was done it was done on washboards and ringer washers. Both took much work and a certain amount of strength. Bread was baked at least every other day and if you have ever properly kneaded one loaf of bread....then you can imagine the calorie burn of kneading a dozen or more. Batters were beaten by hand as were egg whites and cream. There were no mixers so imagine again the strength it took to properly make a meringue. Cleaning was done without the benefit of a vacuum and floors were scrubbed by getting on your hands and knees and actually scrubbing. When housework was done, there was always the canning and the gardening to do and lets not forget chasing after kids. Men spent their days either in the fields preparing the ground, planting the ground or harvesting the ground, repairing that which needed fixed and taking care of animals. Work for most families started at 4 a.m. and ended well after 6 p.m. and the kids were not exempt either. In the winter they were up with their parents helping either with the animals or in the house. After breakfast they would go to school, then come home to help some more. After supper they would do their homework, go to bed and start again the next day. In the summer they often worked side by side with their parents. Entertainment was self made and never would you find a child just sitting doing nothing. Kids and adults alike must have had the ultimate in metabolisms as their bodies appeared to burn as much if not more than the calories they took in. I am sure that a nutritionist would have a stroke just thinking about the calories, carbs and fat that these people ingested on a daily basis, but the upside was.....even the canned food was preservative free. Dairy had no hormones or additives nor did the meat. Almost everything they ate came from their own farm. The fruits and vegetables they grew, the bread was made from scratch and the only store bought elements that made it into their kitchens were flour (which was usually fresh ground at a local mill) and sugar. So while there was butter, sugar, fried food and cream in their diet....there were no chemicals, preservatives and additives....and they weren't fat....but they were fit!

When I was growing up...women who had grown up without modern conveniences now had them. Washing machines, dryers, vacuums and dishwashers had taken the place of hard labor. Laundry that once would have taken hours was now done in minutes, floors were neatly kept with just the push of a motorized broom and dishes were sparkling in a fraction of the time with a fraction of the work. It was a new world as those from the farms had moved to suburbia. Men's lives too had changed as most had traded in 14 hour days on the farm to 8 hour days at the office or plant with only the weekly yard work on Saturday. We had cut work hours off our days and cut work effort by at least half. Kids now instead of working with our parents spent our winter months going to school and then coming home to watch tv. Summertime though we usually spent every waking hour outdoors playing in the neighborhood. Since tv only had three channels and our houses only had one tv and our moms watched their soaps....outside was much more fun.

Even with the change in our lifestyles and activity....women still cooked very much the same way and the same foods that they grew up with. The only difference was....the food was purchased. No longer was the milk raw, the vegetables home grown or the meat freshly butchered by their own hands. Now everything came from the grocery store and because of this....we really didn't know for sure what was being added to our food. Still eating like we just came off the farm....our highly efficient metabolisms started to slow. The amount of food going in was often more than the amount of activity we were expending to burn it off. Thus began societies slide into obesity.

Next came women going to work. When women either chose or had to go to work....they quickly found that they were not in fact Super Woman and slowly certain things started falling through the cracks. What began to suffer most? Meals! Women quickly realized that getting up in the morning and trying to get themselves and everyone else up, dressed and ready to walk out the door in time for everyone to be at school and work on time was a daunting task. Breakfast soon went from bacon and eggs, to cold cereal, to some prepackaged pop tart to often....nothing. It was the first meal in the American home to suffer. The one thing that even today most nutritionist will tell you is that breakfast is ALWAYS important. Your body has already gone 8-12 hours without food. If you skip breakfast you are adding another 4-6 hours. By the time you have lunch, your body is already in starvation mode thinking that there will be no food so it must conserve energy and protect itself. This is when our metabolism begins to slow thus we stop burning calories efficiently and what we take in starts turning to fat.

With Mom working....lunch for kids became the hot lunches at school. They were often comprised of high fat, high sugar and high carb meals. Meanwhile Mom and Dad were catching the quick burger and fries for lunch as it was the only thing they could grab quickly and get back to work. Suppertime also began to morph into something different. Since Mom didn't have all day to prepare a four course dinner for her hungry family, prepackaged and quick fix meals started becoming the norm. Meals that once would have taken hours had now been condensed into under an hour. What became convenient for Mom also became less healthy for her family. Sugar, fat and additives became the main sources of the evening meal.

Along with the hit that meals and nutrition were taking, our activity levels were beginning to dwindle too. Cable tv offered us 100 channels instead of just 3. With those channels came music channels which offered 24/7 music videos. Teenagers were hooked and would race home from school to sit in front of MTV and watch their favorite artists for hours. Then came video games. With each passing year the games became more skilled, more challenging and more prevalent. Neighborhoods that used to be full of kids playing outside became empty as those same kids were spending literally hours either watching one of the hundreds of channels on tv or trying to beat the next level on some video game. Parents too had fallen prey to the mystical, magical cable box. After a long day of sitting behind a desk at work....they could now unwind to hours of mindless reality tv or watching "others" play sports. And with this slow down in that would have seemed like a breeze to our 1930's counterparts (especially with every modern convenience we currently have) gradually became even more overwhelming to modern day us. Eight hours behind a desk leaves us physically and mentally drained. So drained in fact that we don't have the time or energy to hit the gym for an hour or even take a walk. We are too tired to cook dinner so we hit the drive-thru or go out. We are too tired for family activity so we sit in our living room or bedroom and watch tv while our kids sit in their bedroom or den and watch their shows or play video games. None of us moves unless it is to get a snack between commercials or to go the bathroom (indoor plumbing by the way). Our diets are comprised of fat, carbs and high calories, often no more than two meals a day and unhealthy snacks and soda's in between. Most of us have the activity level to burn off the calories of tic tac and we wonder why we are a nation of obesity. When did we become the fat generation?

Yeah....that train of thought was a wake up call. In fact....I think I would be embarrassed if my grandparents who could work efficiently and laborsomely for 16 hours a day, 365 days a year were to take a glimpse at my current life. With all the modern conveniences I have.....I am exhausted after a day of house cleaning. When I worked....behind a desk mind the time I got home, I had no energy left. What is wrong with me? What is wrong with society and worse....what examples are we setting for our children? If we have fallen so far, gotten so lazy and our nutrition and metabolisms have taken such a major hit in the last couple of generations....where do they have left to fall in the next couple of generations? In a country with all the medical advancements we have.....we should be living well beyond our 70's and well into our 90' we aren't. We are willfully killing ourselves with fast food, prepackaged food, additives, chemicals, preservatives and most of all...inactivity. We are setting our bodies up for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and strokes and we are literally cutting precious years off our lives. Again I ask.....What is wrong with us? 

While I don't have all the answers....I do have some common sense thoughts. My first thought is to cut the cable. TV is not only a mindless, souless machine, but cable is expensive and precious family hours have been lost to it's mesmerizing affects. And lets face it....with tv and 30 channels of news and talk shows....we no longer have to think for ourselves. We can let CNN, MSNBC or even FOX think for us. How about taking some of the money saved from paying for cable and taking the kids to the zoo or maybe a museum or even save it for a family vacation?! Another thought is....if you are too busy or crunched for time in the morning to actually make a breakfast from scratch....take a Saturday and make and freeze pancakes, waffles, pigs-in-a-blanket or muffins. Pull them out of a morning and microwave them. Add a piece of fruit and you have a good breakfast in seconds. Make your kids lunch the night before instead of having them buy the school lunch (much of which makes it to the trash instead of their stomachs). That way you have control over what goes into them. Crock pots are wonderful creations and everything from soups and stews, to roasts, chickens and pork chops can be hot, ready and waiting at the end of a busy day with very little work. Some other ideas..limit video games and your own facebook (fb) and social networking time. Give your kids and yourself 1 hour of video/computer time for every 1 hour of activity time. Finally....avoid the temptation of fast food which is both unhealthy and expensive and avoid as much pre-packaged food as possible. Plan ahead meals which will help not only your food budget (you will buy only what you need for your menu), but will also help you to organize so that your can both work and still make sure your family eats healthy. Finally.....stop buying the chips, soda's and junk food. Replace those things with fresh fruit and vegetables, 100% fruit juices and good ol' water. It's not rocket science.

We have shown that with each new generation and the new conveniences that arrive, we as a society are subject to and very susceptible to the down side they bring. Conveniences were intended to make our lives easier....not to kill us off faster. It is up to us to moderate ourselves and even cut things out that effect ourselves and our families negatively. More is imperative that we set examples for our children and grandchildren of both healthy choices, healthy habits and an all around healthy lifestyle. If we don't....I shudder the thought of where we will be in the coming generations.


  1. Now this was both an informative and amazing read. I loved this and you are absolutely correct. How we act today and the examples we set will set the stage for the next generations. I loved, loved, loved this.

  2. When you see it all in black and white like this it is startling to think how much we have changed. My family came from a very similar back ground as yours and we too have morphed into exactly what you have described. I agree that maybe it is time to get rid of the cable and even the video games and remember that there was life before 24/7 tv and computer entertainment. Great blog.

  3. Reading this made me ashamed of what we have turned into. I think I would be embarrassed to if my grandparents were to see my lifestyle. It is definitely time for change and you have probably made kids and husbands across the nation mad as their wives and mothers read this and turn off the cable and hide the video games. Great read.

  4. I must say that I really found this both informative and thought provoking. One of your better works. Good job and great read!