Living Off the Fat of the Land

This week, I have good news for all of you poor folks who are out there doing crazy things like watching what you eat and working out. There's no need! The world's junk food manufacturers are going to look after us.

For example, according to a Reuters report last week, a prominent chocolate bar maker announced that it was doing its part in the battle of the bulge: it was cutting its king-sized bars in half. It is not, however, actually removing the other half from the package. No, instead it plans to market the halves as two bars in the same wrapper, thereby making it, and I quote, “shareable.” For the record, the minute everyone who reads this column is suddenly struck with a case of Chocolate Bar Generosity Syndrome, I want your first thought to be: Chandra.

Meanwhile, a major hamburger retailer, which I won't name in this space, has added salads to its menu. Presumably this is because nothing counteracts a ground beef patty with lettuce and mayonnaise better than greens layered with bacon and ranch dressing.

No word yet though on whether a famous North American convenience store will jump on the healthy eating bandwagon any time soon. It currently sells soda pop in cups that clock in at 1.3 litres in Canada, which is approximately as big as three football fields in American terms. It used to boggle my mind to think that anyone could consume that much liquid in a single sitting; of course, this is before I discovered the Englishman's capacity for ale.

While portion size reduction and eating less fat can only help, I suspect there are other factors at work in the obesity epidemic. For instance, according to the World Health Organization, the average American ate 147 pounds — yes, pounds — of sweeteners in 2001. I'd say that's the equivalent of eating your own body weight in sugar, but clearly when you eat that much sweetener in a year, your body weight is an upwardly mobile and hard to track number. Further, about 62 pounds of that amount was high fructose corn syrup. Now I know what you're thinking: you're sitting there, saying to yourself, “Ha! Ha! Silly columnist! Obviously I am safe because I did not drink 62 pounds of corn syrup last year.” To which I reply, “Ha! Ha! Silly reader! That's what I thought!” Then I started looking at the ingredient lists and found it in things like iced tea, lemonade, jam, fruit drinks, and bizarrely, a package of boneless, skinless chicken breast meat. I'm not sure why anyone thought I might want my chicken sweetened, so I can only conclude the chickens themselves drank a lot of cola on the farm.

Now before the farmers start pelting me with corn awareness pamphlets, let me say that there's probably nothing wrong with corn syrup sweeteners per se. It's just there's an awful lot of it and other highly refined products in our food supply these days. We've developed lazy palates — we want things super sweet or super smooth and super sized. And the problem is that our bodies don't seem to be designed for taking on that much highly refined or processed food on a constant basis.

If you'll forgive a little scatological etymology (translation: word history best not discussed in polite company), consider pumpernickel bread. “Pumper” comes from a German word meaning “breaking wind,” while “nickel” means “demon” (translation: your body could extract nutrition from the bread, but by heck it had to work like the devil for it). I'm definitely not one for glorifying the old days and I admit there was a really good reason why people switched from “old world” pumpernickel to other kinds of bread, and that is: you can also build brick-type houses out of pumpernickel loaves.

It's just that eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich on white bread with a glass of iced tea may well be the digestive equivalent of sticking your finger in an electrical socket.

What's that? Oh, sorry.

Didn't mean to ruin your lunch.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit

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