We've all seen pictures like this: empty shelves, long lines, hoarding. Most of those pictures come with incredulous comments of how the world has gone crazy or how hard it is to find specific items.
This picture, however, highlights a different public health issue. Perhaps this is not the time to talk about "nutrition". But the picture above (which I took at Aldi on Monday) shows empty meat shelves. That isn't all that surprising. What was surprising was what I saw when I turned around: a fully stocked vegetable and fruit area. Apart from bananas, which were decimated, the entire vegetable section looked untouched. I thought, "Seems to be a good time to be a vegetarian".
What's the point? As we were filling our cart with vegetables, we started looking around. What we saw in the carts around us was astounding: full carts of potato chips, snack food, frozen pizza and sweetened cereal. It is understandable that people would buy meat; it stores and freezes well. But what is just as likely is that most people have no idea how to feed themselves. Knowing that they were likely without restaurants for the next few of weeks, the response was to buy all the meat and processed foods they could possibly get their hands on.
Everyone wants to compare COVID-19 to the flu. It is completely the wrong comparison. 647,000 people die from heart disease every year; 34 million people have diabetes. This is the health challenge of our generation and will be with us long after our COVID-19 crisis is over. We are literally eating ourselves to death.
America is talking about being on a "war footing". It hearkens back to World War 2 when the country was aligned around defeating a common enemy. During that time, meat products (and cigarettes) were precious, rationed for the average person because all meat production was directed towards supporting troops. During that time, Victory Gardens were in vogue and approximately half of the produce in the country was grown in parks and backyards. An unintended consequence? Heart disease dropped dramatically. Eliminating animal fat and protein, working in gardens, living in scarcity all had enormous impacts on public health.
These days, cheap food is bad food. But vegetables and whole grains may be the cheapest way to eat. If we mobilize resources to educate the public on how to prevent the spread of COVID, we will have begun to fight the right battle. But, if we are going to mobilize for war, let's fight the bigger war for our health
Jim is the CEO of i2g Consulting