Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss

The number of Americans who are sick is greater than those who are healthy. More than 100 million adults have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. 122 million have cardiovascular disease (2300 deaths each day) and 3 out of 4 adults are overweight or obese. This of course comes with corresponding costs. For example cardio vascular disease cost $351 billion a year in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, diabetes costs $327 billion while the overall cost of obesity is said to be $1.72 trillion (yes with a t). Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and  Dan Glickman former US Secretary of Agriculture argued in a NYT Op-Ed that better nutrition is the answer, that what we eat –or don’t—is largely responsible for the large proportion of Americans being sick and correspondingly for a large proportion of health care costs. They talk about how little our culture pays attention to nutrition and suggest remedies. One suggestion is a program of medically tailored meals for the sickest patients. This alone could save $9000 per patient per year.  Also such an approach of better focus on food and nutrition could be sustainable and environment friendly.

Weight loss consumes so much of our time, energy and resources, why not switch our focus to health. Why not place our attention, our very time, energy and resources, on healthy eating instead. Weight loss affects our appearance, and healthy eating is more substantive. Somehow I can’t help wonder if that switch wouldn’t help us in other ways, perhaps move away from the superficiality of our culture and towards its more meaningful aspects. If we did, if we could, just think of the benefits— to our health, well being, sense of joy and purpose, not to speak of how a focus on health instead of weight would work towards a society with better health care delivery. And should we ever get past the superficiality around us, we might even be more likely to elect better leaders!

Slave Labor and Supply Chains

The UN describes modern slavery as the condition of people whose work “is performed involuntarily and under the menace of penalty.”  Modern slaves can be forced to work through threats of violence, through withholding of identification, through threats to family members, and also through subtler means like financial pressure or limiting movements. All told according to a recent report by the Walk Free Initiative, in 2018 there were 40.3 million people living in these conditions, mainly women. When Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, as the last stronghold it made slavery illegal throughout the world.  One problem is how difficult it is to track down the offenses. It is part of countries with shady human rights certainly, but it is everywhere, including the US. Of these 40 plus million there are at least 16 who are part of the supply chain, meaning the people who work on the things we buy. Even if slave conditions are outlawed within manufacturing, it is difficult to enforce, to make sure products are entirely made by slave free labor. The fashion and the tech industries are two of the worst culprits. With fashion for example, we want cheap clothes, and cheap clothes can only come with cheap labor.  Some businesses are onboard, yet because products can have many parts which come from many different countries it is often difficult to know if slave working conditions were involved. Another aspect of the tragedy is that so many of those who are forced to work and/or live under these conditions are not aware they are being exploited. There are no easy answers, but one hope lies in education: Educating people about their rights, and promoting human rights education among vulnerable populations such as those of migrant workers or those likely to be in underage marriages.

If and when we can, let’s contribute to that education.

Prisons in Norway

As a follow up to a recent post about abolishing prisons, this BBC News story on prisons in Norway makes an important point. Prisons there are beyond what many criminal justice reformers dare to hope for here. The setting is rustic, there are no barbed wires around and the guards who are called Prison Officer Assistants function like teachers, counselors, mentors. The whole idea behind the Norway prison system is that those who are in prison will one day be neighbors and so rehabilitation is opted over retribution, so that when they come out prisoners are better people than when they went in. Since in Norway the maximum sentence is 21 years all prisoners are eventually released. Each inmate has his own cell with TV, a bath and a view of the woods outside. They study trades, pursue degrees, take yoga classes, go into retreats when they need to. And what is striking especially when compared with US prisons is that there is no violence. Once in a while an inmate may act violently but the facility has none of the incidents of violence that are routinely expected in contemporary US prisons.  Each guard who has had at least 3 years of training, is assigned about 3 inmates, so the ratio is far different than  in the US and surely also makes a difference. After 2 years of this approach the recidivism rate in Norway has gone down to 20%.  Prior to that, it had been 60 to 70%. In the UK it’s about 50% and in the US it is 68% within 3 years and 76% within 5 years.

Of course this approach is expensive and that argument may be used by critics as a drawback. It costs the equivalent of about 98,000 British pounds per person. In the US the average is usually $30,000 but can be double that in some states. Economics tell us however, that there are social costs, and opportunity costs, and I suspect when all these are added together (not even factoring in the social good and humanity of the issue) the Norway type of prison may in the long run turn out to be cheaper.

Finishing The Agenda of Civil Rights

Given the overt and implied racism of the recent onslaught of tweets and accusations from Trump and his devotees and given the ones that are still to come, we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity. I shun politics in these pieces, but this is not about politics, it is about values. We have it seems, made the next election a referendum on Trump.  But in this case it is not nor should it be about him. It is about the values he represents, values that have vibrated with many who felt overrun by people of color and by the presence of religions other than Christianity.  This is not about ideologies, it is not about the rationalizations some may give, it is not about the arguments the more articulate on each side come up with. It is about finishing the agenda of the civil rights movements. It is about racism and immigration.  It is about all those, who are not yet able to put an individual’s humanity ahead of color, religion, sexual orientation or country of origin. It is about what does and will make us into better human beings, what will help us grow, reach out, serve others as individuals and as a nation. Those who seek entry into the US illegally seek conditions other than poverty or death. Is seeking survival or increasing your safety really a choice? It’s not a question of open borders. There are alternatives. But it is a moral question. To those who are so critical of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants, I say, what kind of a choice is it when you have no choice but to leave all that you know?  I am an immigrant. I know what leaving everything behind feels like. Way back all those years ago that is why people like our family sought to immigrate to the US. Then the US stood for the kind of country that helped people, the kind of country that was inclusive and accepting of diversity (even if at times reluctantly), the kind of country one wanted to be part of. Those are values worth standing up for and our voices must be loud and clear. By whatever means we choose, whatever means are available, let us march, write letters, speak to friends as well as foes, protest peacefully, post useful information, repost important thoughts… Even more important let us vote and make sure everyone we know does as well—because we can no longer remain silent. We must stand up for our own diversity.