Possibly legally insufficient photo credit
(But heck, at least we tried)
(But heck, at least we tried)
Damn it's great to be back to Cranky Fitness. I really missed everybody!
As regular readers may recall, I've been on the road for the past two or three weeks, traveling cross-country with my lawfully wedded spouse the Lobster and our aging but always amiable cat. This is the first year of our Great Bi-Coastal Living Experiment: we spend the temperate seasons in Provincetown, Massachusetts, but flee to sunny California in the winter to stay with the Lobster's mom instead of stoically freezing our butts off like true New Englanders. No point in pretending otherwise: we are weather wimps.
As to the experiment: so far, so good! Our posteriors remain warm; we had Excellent Adventures crossing the country, and arrived back in the S.F. Bay Area safe and sound.
A Shocking Reality Check
However, in some respects the trip was a wake-up call. You know those studies that say obesity rates and healthy behaviors tend to vary by state or by neighborhood?
Well, holy crap is that the truth. (Warning: potentially offensive material ahead.)
I've lived most of my life in various "elitist'" neighborhoods in coastal blue states. Even in the hippest urban neighborhood there is enough variation in how people approach health and fitness that you think you have some sense of perspective. Then you travel across the country and realize you had no freakin' clue.
Making the Worst of a Bad Situation
Not everyone is lucky enough to have the money to choose their "perfect" neighborhood. I think it's awful when so many towns are built with hardly any parks, trails or even sidewalks. Often in these same car-centric places the restaurants are mostly chains, featuring gargantuan meaty greasy cheesy saucy fried dinners paired with decadent desserts. The grocery stores are skimpy in the produce section, and offer mostly processed snack foods, desserts, frozen dinners, and meat laced with hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives.
I know I'd really, really struggle if I lived in some of these places. I'd probably eat lousier and exercise less and feel pretty helpless about it.
But damn, lots of these folks don't seem to be "struggling" with it at all. They're driving everywhere, ignoring their few exercise options, and gobbling up every bite of the junk food on offer.
Hello, personal responsibility?
It was shocking to look at the crap piled up in most people's shopping carts or watch what they ordered at restaurants or even to see how many were smoking. I also had to wonder: was the reason many of the convenience stores had no non-fat milk part of a sinister "make 'em drink whole milk and die young" campaign? Was the grocery store produce section so skimpy because tyrannical suppliers refused to send a variety of wholesome healthy fruits and vegetables?
Or were the selections so lame because the local vendors have discovered most folks won't buy the healthy stuff when they try to stock it?
We are freaks here in health blogland. In much of America, folks are not debating: Should I get my Omega 3 from fish or flax? They are wondering: what do I want for dessert after my triple cheeseburger and fries and coke, the cherry pie with ice cream or the caramel chocolate pecan cake with whipped cream?
And, um, I couldn't help noticing... a huge percentage of people in a lot of these places were fat.
This is a sensitive issue, and I don't want to be an asshole and start shrieking "Oh My God, Our country is fat! And that's so terrrribbble!"
Because I'm not anti-fat!
At least I think I'm not. I'm all for Fat Acceptance. I hate that the media tells us we're all supposed to be scrawny stick figures and that so many women buy into that. And I firmly believe you can be quite a bit heavier that what those annoying BMI charts say and still be totally healthy and beautiful. Hell, I love adipositivity!
Plus, I think many people have crappy genes and metabolisms and are fat in spite of all their healthy efforts. (And I was thoroughly ridiculed recently over at a site called... wait for it... Testosterone Nation for suggesting that not everyone gets the same deal, genetically, when it comes to losing weight.)
But I have to confess: wandering into communities where most people are not just chunky but are obese, and where exercise is considered eccentric and people make stupid food choices, I find myself troubled.
There is "fit and healthy and making smart choices" kind of fat... many of our readers have that kind. But then there is the other kind. The kind that involves Oreo Dessert pizzas and buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I think I have perhaps underestimated the extent to which "the other kind" of fat is still a huge problem in our country. You folks who live in these places must be going: "Duh, Crabby!"
A Shining Exception
In our travels through the South, one city stood out as being 180% the opposite: Austin Texas. Wow, what an awesome town!
The Whole Foods Flagship store goes on for acres and acres. (And to cheer a lazy slacker's heart, much of what is on offer is already prepared. There may be better healthy grocery stores for those who love to cook, my favorite being Berkeley Bowl in the SF Bay Area, but if you want to grab a quick healthy meal to go? This place is freakin' amazing. (However, I do feel it is my duty, whenever I go to a Whole Foods, to stand in their bakery section, peruse the bread and roll options, and complain loudly to no one in particular that the items that say "whole grain" still list wheat flour as their first ingredient. The Lobster, who has seen this performance repeated many times to absolutely no effect, just rolls her eyes.))
And it's not only the Whole Foods in Austin but the awesome running trails along the river packed with folks huffing and puffing happily at all hours of the day; the many gyms and outdoor gear companies; the walkability of the city, and just the general good cheer which must come from all the music those young folks are listening to or all the coffee they are drinking. Or something. I was impressed--but perhaps you folks who actually live there have a different perspective.
Suggestion to folks in the South: more Austins, please!
Travel is Broadening
At least that's what my mother used to say. (And please excuse the pun). Our trip, while it did set off a blog rant I may end up regretting, gave me new admiration for all of you out there who live in communities where the healthy choices are so limited. How the heck do you cope?