This summer we took our three girls to the Pacific Northwest. We went in late July when we knew we’d want to escape the heat. We explored Seattle, Mt. Ranier, and along the coast of Washington. The beauty of what we saw took our breath away. Everything was lushly green, flowers bloomed everywhere, moss covered every rock, and waterfalls shot off of cliffs like comets. The contrast between the blue water and the coastal islands of Washington and our South Texas landscape was strong, to say the least. And yet, that was not the most striking difference I noted between the two places. There was something far more important that I observed.
Most of you who know me know that I do not eat fast food. Stopping in at a Whataburger is something that is a very big deal in our family and only occurs when we are on a road trip with no other options. Our drive down to Mt. Ranier was one of those rare occasions. But as we drove from town to town on our way, we realized that fast food was not on the menu. There simply weren’t any fast food restaurants. Unlike our own state where every 30 feet you are presented with the option of hamburger, double hamburger, triple hamburger, or fried chicken, finding a fast food restaurant seemed next to impossible.
What we could find, however, were markets. Fruit markets and vegetable markets dot their towns and highways like fast food restaurants dot ours. It was striking. You could travel ¼ mile in any direction from wherever you were and run into some fresh produce. So while the girls were a little disappointed to miss out on their rare fast food treat, when they each received a little bag filled with fresh cherries and peaches, the complaining immediately stopped.
Nature feeds us best. Lean meats and fish, vegetables, fruits, roots and seeds… these are the foods that nourish our bodies and promote good health. The people of Washington seem to take that very seriously. The obesity rate in the state of Washington is near 25%. It’s another strong contrast between their home and ours, where the obesity rate is over 30%. Certainly their food options and choices play a tremendous role in that.
Yes, one can argue that if we had their weather, we would be healthier, too because we would exercise more and spend more time being active outside. I agree that that is a valid point. But as all of our patients know, what primarily drives healthy weight is diet. Exercise augments our weight loss and helps us lose it the right way and to keep it off, but the cornerstone of health is what we eat. Besides, San Antonio is riddled with gyms that are fully air-conditioned. We really can’t use that as an excuse.
So does the weather in Washington also account for all of the fresh produce? Contrary to what seems obvious, upon inquiring I learned that many of the markets in Washington are NOT selling produce from their back yards. Much of it is imported in from other states! What seems to be the difference between them and us is the kind of food that people demand.
What would happen, I wonder, if someone built a string of fast food restaurants along the Washington coast? Would their seductive scents lure Washingtonians in and taint their healthful image and clean arteries? Or would the restaurants end up closing down due to lack of business? Is it the lack of availability that keeps Washington residents healthy, or is it their commitment to good health that is the reason for the lack of availability? I would like to think it is the latter. It is empowering to know that the people can dictate the market rather than just being victims of circumstance.
What would it take to turn our city around? Is the voice of a few people committed to health loud enough to be heard? Well, Horton thought so. Let’s try it! Let’s be a voice to all – to anyone who will listen – saying, “Let’s change!” Let’s make our home a place where we are known for our beautiful river, our fabulous basketball team, and our healthy citizens. Urge your friends, family, coworkers to turn away from the fast food world. Support stores that offer healthier food options and carry fresh produce. Support restaurants that have health-promoting foods – not just a couple of options, but whose menu is full of healthful choices. (My personal favorite is Green.) It seems like an impossible task, but even the most difficult tasks have to start with a single step. This is my first step. What will yours be?