And the cost is not just the added calories. Already, the American Medical Association says that one in three Americans is obese. Within the next twenty years, per ABC News, that number is expected to climb to more than four in ten.
But the costs go further than poor body image and $550 billion a year in direct or indirect costs. Our solo eating is abetted by an addiction to solo auto transport, and to gyms in which we exercise on machines solo, rather than on teams where the next fellow – the one who scores the decisive goal for our team - may sport a funny tattoo or odd haircut. The resulting lack of mingling leads away from adjusting to our differences. Instead, it leads to shouting at those who differ. And nowhere is this isolation and division evidenced more than in our politics.
Thus California Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly been surprised how much more difficult the political landscape now is than when he governed two terms starting in 1975. Previously, he has told the Los Angeles Times, he could reach across the aisle and negotiate necessary compromises with opponents. Some thirty years later, dialogue has become much more difficult, if not impossible.
“Food and meals are intimately bound to culture, friends and family,” said Badler, whose specialties include eating disorders. “In other cultures, eating almost always means sitting with others. The food is a means to communion, not an end. But many Americans have forgotten the connection between eating and friends and family---to life itself.”
An experiment by Koert van Ittersum, associate professor of marketing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, reinforces this point. Researchers decorated a room at a Hardee’s restaurant with indirect lighting, soft music, white tablecloths, and candles. Customers were randomly assigned to this room, or to the adjoining room with the standard interior. The result: fine diners spent nearly 5% more time eating – while consuming less - only 86% of the food on their plates, vs. 95% for those in the regular area. The difference was 775 calories for fine diners, vs. 949 for the regulars. And yet, fine diners also rated the food more highly. “You create a nice atmosphere, people talk more, they concentrate less on the food,” explained van Ittersum. “And they leave the place more satisfied.”
By contrast, many Americans eat a meal in ten minutes or less, says Badler. We rarely drop the fork – and when we do, it is to shovel the food with our fingers. “It is as if (Americans) are in a race; or that they feel that someone will take food away from them...although there has not been a real scarcity for most people who do this,” he says.
And this feeling of scarcity – that if the other guy wins, we lose nearly everything - may also be the key to our overheated politics. The reality, though, is that if the other guy or political party wins, we will still be standing, and if our guy wins, the sun still will not shine every day. Like our odd sports teammate, it may be the differences among us – not our similarities – which contribute to our long term success.
And whichever political team wins, each one of us still needs to pursue a decent and healthy life – one which comes from living in community, not demonizing others.
For me, this value helps shape my everyday life. I am a liberal, Democrat Jew. My mentor of the last half dozen years is a conservative Christian Republican. I am more of a peacenik; he is a former Air Force fighter captain. And yet, he is one of my wisest, most trusted friends. I would never have gotten to know him – or my other Republican friends – if I kept my distance – and my life would be considerably poorer for this.
As Americans, too, our lives are poorer whenever we vilify the other, rather than inviting him or her to explore ideas. In fact, says Badler, the vast majority of Americans no longer think critically. Instead, we think tangibly about what we possess, the taxes we pay, our power and status - while ignoring ineffable ideas which make us laugh or cry or pull together in common effort. And this sense of commonality, of being part of a greater whole, is what is being lost amid the endless campaigning and endless vilification of those who are different.
So, how to make a real difference in the world? It starts simply enough. I am cutting down on eating solo and instead sharing more meals with others – either in person or on the phone!By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist