As the masters of their own destiny, human beings exert a certain influence over the entirety of their lives. Namely, their health and stability are susceptible to even minute changes that people might undergo. Through the decisions a person makes, he or she alters the courses of his or her quality of life. The choice between convenience and quality has greater implications than are at first apparent, and, unfortunately, society is evolving in a way that leaves no room for healthy decisions that eschew practicality and long-lasting benefits for immediate results. From something as seemingly simple as the food people eat to the chemicals that they might use in their everyday life, each choice that is made, in some way, influences their livelihood.
Due to the absolute necessity of nourishment, food has become an enterprise, and one that shills products that are nutritionally inferior to that which we can make at home. Mark Bittman, the lead food writer for Times Magazine, emphasizes the importance of a home-cooked meal. His article, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper”, attempts to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of home cooking. The prevalence of junk food is exacerbated by how simple we can obtain it. After all, people might wonder why they should spend the time necessary on a home-cooked meal when they can quickly and conveniently indulge in fast food instead. Bittman stresses that it does not take too much more time out of the day to prepare a healthy meal and it can be both enjoyable and convenient. Considering that what we eat might be the one action we have the most control over, the choice between junk food and healthier alternatives is apparent.
It is no mystery that junk food is notorious for harming the body in some way due to its lack of nutritional value and especially because it is “virtually addictive” (Bittman). It is presented as a quick and easy alternative to cooking a meal for oneself. Referring to Bittman’s essential question, whether or not junk food is genuinely a cheaper substitute, becomes answerable under a lens of nutritional value. It simply is not, considering the huge variety of foods that could be considered ‘junk’. Constantly eating out is a strain on both a person’s wallet and his or her waistline. The reason that it is such a compelling option is the propagandizing of junk foods—that they are ready-made, “a pleasure and a crutch” (Bittman); whereas, home cooking requires a degree of effort, leading to flawed assertions that “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home” (Bittman) and worse yet it is considered less time-consuming and more feasible considering people’s busy lifestyles.
There is a recurring element of convenience that comes with modernity and how we choose to incorporate it into our lives and to what extent we do so. Despite the chemical content inherent in super-sized fast foods, “indisputably, chemicals have helped raised our living standard and make our lives easier and safer” (Baker 16). That being said, however, we are hard-pressed to discover how many chemicals we ingest daily and exactly how much we are being harmed by them considering that they are increasingly prevalent. From the food that we ingest and the plastic containers in which we store leftovers, new toxins are introduced to our bodies at an alarmingly common level.
Beyond food, one can consider the products that are used to maintain a level of veneer on the materialism in consumer life. In her book The Body Toxic, Nena Baker reveals consumers buy products without much thought. For example, “Stain treatments for upholstery or floor coverings” (Baker 213) or “bug control” (Baker 213) serves no real purpose, generally, other than to satisfy some strange longing for superficiality. In addition, these products have a considerable amount of toxins. Baker suggests that this indifference to product content can be reversible if consumers engage with the product’s manufacturer or the retailer or show an interest in what the product does behind the scenes as opposed to what it is labeled to do. Toxins are an inevitability in life, so the burden is on the purchaser to investigate what they are buying and using in their home that may be having unforeseen effects on their health. Essentially, it is another choice between making more of an effort and critically examining the products we nonchalantly and frequently use.
Decisions such as these are questions of the convenience option. In other words, should consumers choose the easy fix for the short-term or the more time-consuming solution that provides a long-term answer? With the advent of expediting every process of life, there is always the danger of creating a culture of dependency, although, perhaps culture of convenience might be more accurate. The choice between convenience and effectiveness is both a personal decision and a “cultural and political” (Bittman) problem. There is no discouragement of the “food carnival” (Bittman) that has been glorified and allowed to grow and being able to eat whatever whenever. Similarly, these foodstuffs are affected by a variety of chemicals in order to preserve them, and these chemicals do not particularly discriminate between foodstuff and human. This carnival, as it were, is a bizarre celebration of consumerism and indulgence.
This consumerism is pervasive. As aforementioned, it influences the availability and propagandizing of food along with the products that we use in our homes for everyday situations such as storage. However, its reach does not end there, and it extends even into therapeutic exercises and curative medicine. Ronald Hoffman and Barry Fox’s book Alternative Cures That Really Work encompasses a guide of remedies and supplements for common sicknesses. Medical ailments are, in a sense, the consumerist problem given another form. In other words, if there is a pill for any given sickness that can be taken and work almost immediately, what incentive is there to solve the root cause of the problem? Every commercialized medicine comes with a list of side effects that may or may not affect people once they take it. This being the case, why is reaching for the pills as a solution nearly a reflex when we are certainly better off solving the problem without the risk of introducing more?
In their book, Hoffman and Fox outline a variety of therapies and detail why they work and provide evidence of their effectiveness. Again, and it cannot be emphasized enough, it is a question of effort. How much are we willing to expend when it comes to facets of life that might be more practically and cost-efficiently cured by natural methods? This is the conundrum presented by consumer culture. Its power is immense and envelopes us. Many people make choices about their health, which are directly influenced by the weighty hand of consumerism; the way products are presented by various media does not aim to uphold them as a cure but a commodity.
Many of these issues are intensified by the media. Although, it is hardly surprising when “television shows such as The Biggest Loser” (Our Bodies) are glorified and encouraged although contestants employ “dangerous weight-loss techniques, including self-induced dehydration, severe caloric restriction, and up to six hours a day of strenuous exercise” (Our Bodies). This is especially disappointing because it encourages viewers to make the wrong choices about how to healthily manage their bodies and in turn their health. These dangerous techniques are prescribed as miraculous cures to lose fat immediately and look ‘amazing.’ However, all the while it fosters a culture of self-degradation.
It is an incredibly vicious cycle when the junk food problem is added into the formula. Media imagery teaches people “to hate their bodies” (Our Bodies) by instilling negative self-images because people fail to meet an arbitrary goal that is established by the media itself. The cycle is simple: media such as The Biggest Loser ‘inspires’ its audience to lose weight with little regard for the effects of the method. On the other hand, if the viewer learns to eat healthily, they are confronted with their first dilemma, and that involves the availability and perceived ‘costliness’ of home-cooked food. While undeniably a healthier option virtually every other time, it has been propagandized to the point of being expensive and harder to do than just going out. Then, considering that healthier food is too ‘difficult’ to obtain, the person in question has fewer options and is essentially committed to a less healthy option. Consequently, this means that they miss out on the benefits of healthier food and they are unable to learn the proper exercise techniques. Since they did not learn the proper exercise skills, they might become disheartened by the lack of results and resort to more extreme and dangerous methods. Resorting to these methods will very likely have an effect on their health which could also result in new medications and the ingestion of chemicals that have even worse side-effects that are glossed over.
While the choices we make are certainly our own to a degree, there is no denying the influence the world around us holds in regards to the likelihood that we will make these decisions. Imagery is a powerful weapon that alters our ability to make healthy choices, and the media constantly bombards us with the latest and the greatest products that they claim will surely change our lives. Ultimately, it is our choice to eat well, avoid unnecessary medications, and practice careful consumerism. We consider convenience to save us time in the long run, but the avoidable toxins we unconsciously administer into our bodies will likely shorten our lives.
Baker, Nena. The Body Toxic: How the Hazardous Chemistry of Everyday Things Threatens Our Health and Well-being. New York: North Point, 2009. Print.
Bittman, Mark. "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 June 2013
Hoffman, Ronald L., and Barry Fox. Alternative Cures That Really Work: For the Savvy Health Consumer-- a Must-have Guide to More than 100 Food Remedies, Herbs, Supplements, and Healing Techniques. [Emmaus, PA]: Rodale, 2006. Print.
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. Print.