January 23, 2018

Don’t go breaking your heart

By Anu Dev

“Fast food is popular because it’s convenient, it’s cheap, and it tastes good. But the real cost of eating fast food never appears on the menu.” -Eric Schlosser

When I first arrived in Trinidad, I was amazed at all the different types of fast food places they had: McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Pappa John’s, Wendy’s and a whole host of others. At the time, Guyana only had a couple.
And then I came across a 2013 report that Trinidad was the number 1 obese nation in the Caribbean and the 6th most obese nation in the world. Guyana was way, way below them.
Was there a connection between the two facts? There sure was! And the connection wasn’t just a matter of correlation – it was causation. What had happened was that the First World countries – especially the leader, USA — had wised up to the connection between fast food and obesity, and had started to regulate them. That, of course, meant paying more attention to any number of factors – which in turn meant less profits.
Just as the cigarette manufacturers had done a few decades before, their fast food chains didn’t waste any time moving down to the Third World. In only the last two years, surely, you’ve noticed so many of these joints coming here to Guyana?
In the First World countries, the fast food industry’s being pressured to offer “healthy” options on their menus, and it’s mandatory to display the number of calories in each item of food. Like McDonalds in the States now also offers salads and wraps — never mind that the dressings for the salads probably have more calories than the burgers.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I get the allure of fast food. Who doesn’t? It’s tasty; a high fat- and-sodium content pretty much guarantees that. And of course it’s fast. Lying in my dorm room too tired (and lazy…mostly lazy), to cook, sometimes I give in to the urge to pick up my phone and order pizza.
And fast food’s so much cheaper than healthy food. When I’m ordering pizza, the person at the end of the line usually talks me into upgrading from a medium to a large pizza “for just $5 more” through some ongoing deal. I usually end up with a rather unhealthy amount of pizza, most of which I end up having to freeze for later.
I once had to turn down a free large pizza when I ordered a medium one. The Papa John’s worker seemed to think I was quite daft to turn down a free pizza, but as I tried to explain to her, I really had no need for both a medium and large pizza.
There’re always deals and promotions going on in these fast food places. I’ve never been offered a free larger head of broccoli when I buy broccoli. And I guess that’s why a lot of people prefer to go the fast food route, even knowing how unhealthy it is. And it’s incredibly unhealthy. One piece of chicken thigh from KFC has 290 calories, with 190 of those calories coming from fat; and it has 850mg of sodium — that’s 35% of your daily value. And many people don’t just get one piece of chicken; they get fries, soda, biscuits and more chicken.
In school, we’ve covered the systems of the human body and the type of strain your body goes through when you charge up on these fast foods. Your arteries get clogged, your heart has to strain to pump blood through those clogged arteries, and you’re more susceptible to developing diabetes, hypertension, or suffering a heart attack.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the prevalence of obesity among adults in Guyana is 16.9%; and that’s pretty low, especially compared with Trinidad’s whopping 30%.
But if we keep on welcoming fast food chains into our country, and boast about it as “development”, we may well end up going the route of Trinidad; or even passing them.
Do your heart a favour and choose wisely when planning your meals. As with anything, moderation is key. A bit of pizza once in a while won’t hurt, but if it becomes habit, that when it’s a problem.