One of the things I’ve always loved about American homes is the prominence of the kitchen. Far more than other cultures, where kitchens are small and tucked away out of sight, American architects embraced the idea that the heart of the home is in the kitchen. I love homes that bring the living space into the cooking space. The action is there, it’s where people tend to congregate, and it allows us to be together at a time of the day when, with a different layout, families might disperse.
In early May a study came out saying that, by 2030, 42 percent of Americans will be obese. This is a shocking number, and a terrible future to saddle our children with. In other words, this means that almost half of our children, who will be adults then, will not just be fat. They will be obese, a label that has meaning beyond the simple circumference of our waistlines.
The health care costs of having so much of our population be obese will be astronomical. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, in 2011 the value of lost productivity and medical care costs due to overweight Americans and Canadians was $300 billion. Imagine that number 18 years from now when so many more of us will be so unhealthy.
But what about the other costs of obesity? In mid-June a father of two young boys in Canada was denied custody of his children in part because he was too fat. Even admitting that there were other reasons to deny him custody, the fact that the judge included this detail in his decision is alarming. A doctor at the family court clinic in Ottawa concluded that the man “lacks both the mobility and stamina required to keep up with young and active children.” The ruling also declared that since the father was unable to make the correct decisions regarding health and well-being for himself, he would be unable to do so for his sons.
This is a chilling ruling, and one that may have profound ripple effects. Who can decide whether a parent is “healthy enough” to take care of their children? And while this particular case may be extreme, the warning signs are there. I think the question we have to ask is what sort of example are we setting for our children? If we can’t take care of ourselves, can we be expected to take care of our children? Is obesity a sign of self-destructive behavior?
With the warmer days of summer, food choices tend to be different than in winter months. Fresh fruit and vegetables grace our farmer’s markets and tables. At restaurants there is a greater desire to order a salad than a nourishing plate of pasta. But tantalizing summer treats are at our fingertips. According to WebMD, in 2008 the average American ate 14 pounds of ice cream! Shockingly, this number is down from a peak in 1946, when Americans celebrated the end of sugar rationing by ingesting 23 pounds of ice cream per person.
As a parent, I find that I am constantly in the process of teaching my daughter something. But when it comes to food, I find that she often has more to teach me. If I put fruit and mac n’ cheese on her plate, she’ll invariably reach for the fruit first. She stops eating when she is full, not when the food is gone. She also teaches me to savor my food. It takes her three bites to eat one M&M.
I still believe that the heart of the home is in the kitchen and the smell of nourishing food simmering on the stove immediately puts me at ease. But maybe, as a culture, the fact that our homes orbit around our kitchens doesn’t necessarily mean that our lives have to orbit around our food. Maybe, the heart of the home is simply the loving people in it, regardless of where we tend to gather.