Home, hearth and healthy


By: Suzanne Elston


You may have seen the ad on TV. In the first scene, a young girl painfully whacks her head on a piece of furniture. Her horrified mother rushes to the kitchen, but she doesnÕt grab a bag of ice for the injured child. No, she quickly whips out the blender and pours milk over a package of frozen fruit concentrate. In an instant she has created a fruit smoothie for her sobbing child. Tears gone, belly full, the girl is better.


In the next scene, a young boy is carefully building a model plane on the living floor. His father walks across the floor, and accidentally crushes the boyÕs plane. Not to worry. Within just a few seconds, dad has whipped up a fruit smoothie for the sorrowful child. The boyÕs tears quickly turn to smiles as he sucks it up.


While this commercial is probably the most extreme example IÕve seen to date, it illustrates a systemic and frightening cultural phenomenon. We medicate with food. If something hurts, we have smoothie, if weÕre sad, we eat chocolate, and if weÕre lonely, the only answer is a quick visit to our favorite fast food restaurant where smiles are free. This is perhaps why obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is at epidemic proportion in this country.


Medicating with food is about as ludicrous as shopping for entertainment. But if weÕre bored and want something to do, we head over to the mall to shop. (If you doubt this, observe the hoards of teenage girls who hang out in the mall in packs.) Even if we have the best intentions not to buy anything, the lure to consume is seductive. And after a few hours of cruising the stores, why not drop by the food court for a treat? If we feel a little guilty, how about a quick trip to the gym on the way home to burn off those calories on the treadmill.


HereÕs the thing. Hunger a normal biological response. It triggers the need to go and hunt for food before you really need it. ItÕs also probably why everyone in my house gets slightly aggravated before a meal. Our instincts tell us that we should be elbowing ourselves into position around the fire.


Ditto with shopping. Boredom is a precursor to activity. It is a trigger to do something, not buy something. But like virtually everything else in modern society, we have externalized responsibility. Basic survival instincts like the need for food, shelter, heat and caring have all been replaced by consumer actions.


And then there's the growing fitness industry. Our grandparents didn't need gyms or personal trainers. They walked where they needed to go, and whether it was tilling the crops or doing the laundry, they worked physically to provide for themselves and their families.


They also wanted their children, and their children's children to have a better life. So here we are: the most affluent and physically comfortable society in history. We're also the fattest, laziest and saddest creatures that ever walked God's green Earth. According to a recent study by the National Institute on Aging, over the next few decades life expectancy could drop, for the first time in modern history, by as much as five years. The reason: inactivity and obesity.

While IÕm not suggesting that the answer to our social ills is to go and live in a cave somewhere, perhaps what we need to do is become a little more self-sufficient. In ancient times, February was the time that we gathered around the fire to keep warm. Bored with winter and inactivity, our forbearers couldn't just hop in the car and spend the afternoon at the mall. Instead, they would gather together to shield against winter's last blast and listen to the elders tell stories. Each subsequent generation would memorize those stories to pass along to their children. In more recent times, verbal story telling was replaced with family readings, usually from the Bible or classic literature.


So, turn off the television, the video games and the iPods. Plug your ears to guard against the wails of your children, and gather together as a family and tell stories. Light candles, fireplaces and snuggle. If you're lucky enough to have grandparents who are alive, invite them over to talk about their childhoods. Dig out old family photos. If you really can't resist the computer, research your family's genealogy. And if someone is hurt or sad, try giving them a hug – not a hamburger!





US National Institute on Aging

Statistics Canada