Studies tell us that Boomers might be the first generation in history to die younger and sicker than their parents. How did this happen? Good health was something we once considered part of our American heritage.
Part of our current situation has to do with changing the way we live. In Colonial America, agriculture was the primary livelihood for 90% of the population. In 1910, there were 6.4 million American farms for 92,228,496 people, but then their number began to decline until 2008 when there were just 2.2 million farms for 308,745,538 people. Most of those 2.2 million farms were the mega-operations we call “agribusiness.”
As we became separated from growing our own food and preparing it, and as we turned that essential enterprise over to corporate interests, our diet deteriorated, and we had less need or desire to move our bodies.
The results of this shift of responsibility are all around us. We navigate from our homes to our place of work in cars that keep us strapped to a seat while they cause environmental deterioration. When we get to our office, we’re trapped in a sunless environment far from real food and unable to prepare it even if we could miraculously harvest a few veggies. For many of us, work is sedentary.
Away from real food and the physical labor that produces it, we starve nutritionally…and paradoxically get fatter. The American Heart Association reports that about 34 percent of adult Americans have metabolic syndrome. Our risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases as we age, although it also affects people at younger and younger ages.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of issues including central obesity, high fasting blood triglycerides, low HDL and elevated blood pressure. This syndrome increases the likelihood of the diseases which are so prevalent in this country, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and some cancers. These chronic diseases afflict 130 million Americans and cost businesses more than $2.5 trillion annually. In addition to the direct costs, “indirect costs such as absenteeism…cost businesses – and our economy – $1 trillion a year. Every year, millions of work days are missed because employees are suffering themselves from a chronic disease, or they have to care for a loved one who is ill.”
These Health Problems Are Preventable – If We’re Creative
Yet metabolic syndrome and the chronic diseases that so often follow are preventable with lifestyle changes. With good nutrition, that is, a nutrient-dense diet, and appropriate exercise, we can prevent years of personal suffering, vastly enhance business productivity and reduce the burden on public health systems and finances.
There is just one big problem with restoring our health. Even if we try to make changes at home, our lives at work sabotage us. Our places of work are segregated from the rest of our lives, and that includes from good, affordable, real food. We spend many long hours working away from the gardens and kitchens that were once such an important part of American life.
The result of food desert living is predictable: we grab whatever we can quickly, most often processed foods high in sugar and fat. In “What the World Eats,” National Geographic reports that Americans consume a whopping 3741 calories/day on average, 37% of that sugar and fat. Produce is a mere 8% of our diet!
Are food deserts at work sabotaging our overall efforts at better health? You bet! While data is scarce for the negative health impact on office workers in the middle of a food desert, it is readily available for people who live in food deserts…and the news isn’t encouraging.
So what can we do?
2 Steps To Taking Your Health Back
Step 1: Move!
Extend your fitness program to your life while you’re at work. Is it possible to walk or ride a bike to work? If it is, that’s a great start. Get a pedometer — the numbers don’t lie. Aim for 10,000 steps a day. There are lots of ways to get those in. If you can’t walk or bike to work, take walks in the building, or better yet, outside the building. Run up and down the stairs. Play Pokemon Go.
And be sure to get up from that desk every 20 minutes. Many studies link prolonged periods of sitting with increased risk for heart disease, overweight, and overall mortality. Do some of your work standing. If your office doesn’t provide a stand-up desk, it’s easy enough to create a raised makeshift surface.
Step 2: Eat Veggies and Fruits!
Forget fancy diets. Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, “proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'”
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, doctor of functional medicine, provides the specifics of this simple idea: the Nutritarian Diet, a plan for eating based on nutrient density, the greatest number of nutrients for the least calories. The Nutritarian Pyramid makes veggies, in particular greens, the basis of a healthy diet and locates nutrient poor foods at the very top of the pyramid for minimal consumption.
Ways To Make Your Work Place Desert Bloom
In an ideal world, we’d have a central atrium in every work place reserved for growing beautiful green veggies to pick for lunch and cook up while at work. Short of an actual farm in the office, tho, here are a few ideas to make the food desert in your midst bloom:
- Request a work place policy that bans highly processed and junk food on the sharing table.
- Bring homemade dishes or veggies from home gardens or nuts and seeds and fruit for the sharing table.
- If your office doesn’t offer a simple kitchen facility in the lunchroom, ask for space to set one up. A refrigerator, a sink, a small counter, a cutting board, a few knives, a microwave, a hotplate and a pan or two will work nicely.
- Start a lunch club with like-minded fellow staffers.
- Take turns preparing simple lunches for each other with fresh produce.
- Plan lunch-time picnics.
- Plan a program of incentives for people who make or share good plant foods.
- Start an office lunch cookbook project.
- Consider an office garden if there’s space nearby. Urban gardens show up in the strangest places!
It’s time to make our places of work bloom with healthy plant foods. Keep it fun and social, and engage top executives in the project as you bring the benefits of the farm to your office. Just remember these simple rules: Keep moving, and “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”