In What's New, Writing

The commercial begins with a man asking another man, “Who do you think is healthier, you or your car?”  The askee,  tall, strapping, seemingly in great health says, “Probably my car.”  The answer is repeated by various people until a voiceover makes a tenuous connection to a car maintenance program that Ford is selling.  End commercial.

What I hate about this commercial is not that Ford wants to sell its maintenance program – god bless them and capitalism.  What bothers me is that they can make the assumption that most people will agree with the statement that their cars are in better shape than they are (one person even says, “As you get older, your body starts to break down”).  So it’s not the car commercial, but the unaddressed national health crisis, presented as a backdrop so accepted we don’t even need to question its assumptions.

I would consider myself pretty savvy about nutrition.  I’ve been to a couple of nutritionists and have read lots of books (and countless websites) on the issue.  When my babies were little, my knowledge and my actions were in perfect line.  I made all their baby food from scratch, bought organic and took supplements.  But then they grew a bit and discovered junk food.  And I got divorced and got a job outside the home.  Suddenly I was serving up reheatable food with much more regularity than I cared to admit.

I got exhausted.  I felt like a terrible mother.  I began to drink energy drinks with the hope of getting going.  Sometimes it worked.  Other times it left me cranky, jittery and unable to keep my eyes open.  So I drank them some more.  I gained weight and was in a fog most afternoons.  I knew they were bad for me, but I’d come to crave them.  Just the sight of the can made me happy.  I also liked that they suppressed my appetite.  I ignored the fact that the effect wore off mid-afternoon, leaving me ravenous.  I often fed the cravings with chocolate and other junk, my willpower and my self-esteem in tatters.

Exactly three weeks ago yesterday, I stopped drinking them.  Tired of being tired, I read up on all the things I already knew:  sugary drinks are one of the leading causes of obesity in the United States.  I redoubled my efforts to eat right, including lots of fresh foods and smaller portions.  Of course the happy ending I want to report is that weight started coming off immediately, but, far more importantly than that, it was like coming back to life.  I woke up.  I felt happy and optimistic.  The slump I dreaded in the afternoons – the one that had started me on “energy” drinks to begin with – was gone.  I even started training for a 5K.

So, for me, it’s kind of personal that we live in a society that’s saturated with messages about skinny and fat, about weight loss and diet trends but which just accepts as normal that most people would say their car is in better shape than they are.  The fact that the nutrition argument has been mostly connected to weight loss – essentially, to whether a person is hot or not – ignores the fact that good nutrition is the foundation of all health.  It ignores the fact that many diseases that plague us, like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, as well as scores of autoimmune and gastrointestinal ailments, can be directly linked to ignoring the basics when it comes to food.  So, although I understand that Ford is just tapping the national zeitgeist by having people compare their health unfavorably to that of their cars, it makes me sad.

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