November 13, 2010

IT ISN'T EVEN POSSIBLE TO OVERSTATE THE DEFLATION RATE OF THE PAST FEW DECADES:

Why Making Dinner Is a Good Idea (Jonah Lehrer, November 11, 2010, Wired)

This experiment reminds me of a provocative 2003 paper, “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” by the economists David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro. They argued that the rise in the weight of the average American in recent decades has been largely caused by a technological shift in food production, which allows us to cook calories with ever increasing ease.* (In 1965, a married women who didn’t work spent over two hours per day cooking and cleaning up from meals. In 1995, the same tasks took about 50 minutes.) The economists illustrate their argument with a parable about the potato:

Before World War II, Americans ate massive amounts of potatoes, largely baked, boiled or mashed. They were generally consumed at home. French fries were rare, both at home and in restaurants, because the preparation of French fries requires significant peeling, cutting and cooking. Without expensive machinery, these activities take a lot of time.

In the postwar period, a number of innovations allowed the centralization of French fry production. French fries are now typically peeled, cut and cooked in a few central locations using sophisticated new technologies. They are then frozen at -40 degrees and shipped to the point of consumption, where they are quickly reheated either in a deep fryer (in a fast food restaurant), in an oven or even a microwave (at home).

Today, the French fry is the dominant form of potato and America’s favorite vegetable. This change shows up in consumption data. From 1977 to 1995, total potato consumption increased by about 30 percent, accounted for almost exclusively by increased consumption of potato chips and French fries.

Why do the microwave and frozen dinner inexorably lead to obesity? According to the economists, the cheapness of calories (both in terms of price and time) has led us to dramatically boost consumption. Food stops being something we make and create — it doesn’t require very many lever presses, so to speak — and becomes something we simply ingest. Eating just gets easier.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 13, 2010 8:21 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« ON THE OTHER HAND, WE'RE NOWHERE NEAR AS SHAMEFUL AS OUR GRANDFATHERS: | Main | INDEED, YOU HAVE TO BE EUROCENTRIC TO BE DISCOURAGED: »