Modern food habits have negative effects

Marco Verch / Flickr

Chef Lou Caruso, Guest Columnist

Food is an essential part of American popular culture and has a definite impact on our lives.  In today’s society, the current trend is to find the best, but easiest way to consume food.  The media plays an important part in setting forth eating trends as well as advertising and marketing.  Just what are some of these trends and how do they affect our health and nutritional needs?  In addition, what effect do they have on “traditional” family unity?   

Food is very much a part of American popular culture, and the beliefs, practices and trends in a culture affect eating practices. “What’s for dinner?” has been a long asked question and foremost in the minds of most humans throughout history.  How many times have we heard such phrases as “you are what you eat,” or “tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.” Over the years, food has played a significant role in the development of many different cultures.  Past and present, food influences dictate social trends, set standards for social status, act as timelines, and is very much a part of everyday planning. It also represents tradition and respect.   

The family breakfast/dinner table has become less visible over the years. Breakfast and dinner, once regarded as the two most important times of the day as a strong symbol of family unity, has changed drastically in modern day society.  The foods once found on family dinner tables are now being found away from the home.  Whether people dine at formal-sit-down restaurants, at fast-food eateries, small cafes, or even purchase food from street vendors, dining out has become the most popular trend in today’s society.  Some of the reasons that contribute to dining out include: non traditional working hours, traditional working hours of  9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., single parent families, school activities such as sports, dance classes, etc. and a faster pace of life.  Such circumstances such as these make it much more difficult for a family to actually sit down together and have a “traditional” family meal.  

One of the most popular places to dine out is at fast-food restaurants.  They have become very common and are visited by all classes of people.  The growth and popularity of fast food has come to be known as the “ McDonaldization” of America.  Americans prefer quick, portable meals that have been popularized by the fast food burger. The hamburger is an American tradition that has been made famous by McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Way Back Burger, and other chain stores that have this “most excellent” sandwich as their featured item. 

As wonderful as it to enjoy the conveniences of dining out, sometimes there are consequences.  Making fast foods as a regular part of the diet can lead to many different health problems.  One of the greatest health issues today is the malnutrition of young people.  Fast foods can accelerate bad trends. Studies have shown that 15% to 30% of children do not eat breakfast or a midday snack.  Those who eat repetitive fare at lunch or even in the evening increase their risk of not getting enough essential nutrients.  Reflux (heartburn) and constipation can be a direct consequence of unbalanced, fat-rich food low in nutritive fibers. 

Another growing problem due to the “dining out” syndrome is obesity and overweight.  Obesity can be explained as simply having too much body fat.  The body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates and various vitamins and minerals.  If there is too much fat, especially around the waist, a person is at a higher risk for health problems.  This can lead to high-blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.  Frequently eating fat-rich fast foods over a long-term period have been proven to promote obesity.  It has been researched that in recent years, children of both sexes have “experienced an increase in weight-related problems.” The percentage of overweight children is 22%.  Current studies have revealed also that 32% of adult males and 19% of adult females are overweight as well.  

Over the past 50+ years a noticeable change has occurred in the way American’s eat.  The traditional family meal is no longer “traditional.”  Two major food trends, “eating out” and the use of “convenience foods,” have emerged due to the changing and fast pace life-styles we now follow.  Clearly Americans have allowed food to dictate their lives to a large extent, both inside and outside the home.  In doing so we have not only subjected ourselves to potential health issues but have somewhat sacrificed the symbol of “family unity.”