Let me end this essay with a provocation. There is a dirty little secret of life in the United States. We hear from politicians and pundits in the media that there is a “real America” out there, of small towns in the “heartland” of the country full of hardworking and God-fearing men and women with the same heroic qualities as the founding fathers. But when you go to these places, you find something different: dead and ugly downtowns, empty streets, shabby houses, limited job opportunities, poor services and social amenities, pathetic newspapers, and second-rate schools. Such towns stifle creativity and broadmindedness. For many people, life in the heartland is harsh and boring. They compensate with alcohol, drugs, and food. The food available to them, in both grocery stores and restaurants, is of generally poor quality. Alice Waters, the famous Berkeley chef and fresh-food guru, claims that anyone can eat good food, anywhere in the country. I’d like to see her do this while living in Ely, Nevada, with a crappy job and not enough money. There is one grocery store, and what is available in it won’t tickle Alice’s palate. We did see organic red peppers in the produce section; they were $6.99 apiece. What would you do if you were a mother with three kids and a husband—feed the family red peppers or the forty-four servings of Kraft macaroni and cheese she could buy for the price of a single pepper? There is a good chance that, given the poor education she likely endured, she might not know how to shop efficiently by comparing unit prices. She might not know which ingredients in what she buys are good for her and which are not. She and her family have been subjected to such massive amounts of advertising for fast food (and this is what is probably served in the school cafeterias) that it is not surprising that they eat many meals at McDonalds and Taco Bell. When she is at home or at her low-wage, stressful job while the children area in school, would it be surprising if she eats too much? That she and her husband drink too much? Or take prescription painkillers or antidepressants, both of which will slow their metabolisms and make them more likely to gain weight? Will stress, strain, and boredom make them rush to the gym to exercise, or take a long hike?
U.S. capitalism is vicious and inhumane. It is the model of a dog-eat-dog world, nasty and brutish. It produces physically and mentally unhealthy human beings. No wonder we are fat. As the country enters a prolonged period of economic and political stagnation, look for matters to get worse.