My Turn/Alan Harris: Why can’t GOP see connection between health care and a healthy nation?


Published: 7/7/2017 3:24:11 PM

The current government’s philosophy that it’s not its job to create an even playing field for health care recipients is at the core of why Republican policies remain the most punitive and regressive of any policies in the civilized world.

Even countries with autocratic leaders realize that health care must be engineered to protect the citizens, and thus, even sustaining the rule of those leaders. Of course, this is not universally the case, and much coverage is not sufficient. But in the U.S., that citizens would allow this condition to fester and exist is beyond my furthest imagination, voting against your own best interests. America yet again shows why its brand of democracy is vulnerable in the extreme to simply awful ideas just like anywhere else.

Creating a system where good health care coverage is strictly a choice if you can afford it, is insane. When you look at the obesity problem in this country and the problems with mass food production and nutritional levels found, especially in processed foods, you realize that the problem is endemic and pervasive regardless of the organic foods movement and much better information on proper diet. That movement has created a much better understanding of the relationship between diet and long term health. However, most of the country can’t be bothered. That’s unfortunate.

I have long been a champion of good health and proper eating, beginning with my sojourn in Paris in the late 1960s. Escaping the American diet I grew up with was seismic. France seemed much more primitive in its lack then of large supermarkets, but the local corner “bucherie (beef, veal), charcouterie (pork) or the “marches aux legumes (vegetables)”, taught me to appreciate and understand what respect for food was all about. What better education than in France? But why pay attention to better information elsewhere, or even competent information right here, when our appetites for instant gratification steer us easily off course. The pharmaceutical industry is making a killing off our bad eating habits. The health care industry has mushroomed in recent decades simply due to bad lifestyle choices.

I am 74 years old, 6-foot, 2 and weigh 185 pounds. I’ve suffered one heart attack and that was about four years ago. I exercise three or more times per week including swimming, walking, weights, and now kayaking. I eat a diet that’s well rounded and fairly simple. I like whole grains in any form, fresh vegetables galore, seafood of any size and variety, sea vegetables, any fruit grown. As a chef for 40 years, my favorite origins for recipes were France, Japan, Indonesia, America, Italy, Morocco, the Middle East, Mexico, and very much the Caribbean with its mix of Indian, French Creole, Spanish, and Asian as well.

In the U.S., there’s a new fad diet in the pipeline constantly, it seems. If we are to be proper consumers, we need new ideas to consume, whether they help us or not. It’s big business. The president likes fast food apparently. That may account for the fact he cannot assess reality as it needs to be assessed. It might be tempting to bandage up the great dysfunction in Washington with the idea that diet has contributed to this dysfunction. A proper study needs to be done.

No one needs better nutrition than our congressmen and senators if they are to have the neurons firing on all six. Looking at the current historical model, I might safely wager that a lot of diets are sketchy, unbalanced, on the fly, interrupted, and very likely badly prepared. This is not meant to be a broad generalization, but let’s look at the state of affairs. I would concur that many times amazing results have been produced under sketchy conditions with judgment in the balance. But whenever I’m under duress, correct eating is my priority.

Europe takes care of its populations with mostly universal health care as a right. Here it is a viewed as a privilege. Even Obamacare has to defer to private practice and special interests. If Republicans have their bill passed, coverage will be seriously reduced. The current idea of a pooled resource of funds to spread out the coverage more equitably will be eliminated. The very wealthy will get billions in tax breaks in the range of $37,200 a year, while the average wage earner gets $300. The Congressional Budget Office report predicts a 45 percent reduction in health care spending by 2026. Trump’s bill cuts $610 billion from Medicaid and $839 billion from health care coverage resulting in 23 million Americans losing coverage. Then there’s the $64 billion cuts for Social Security Disability insurance. Cue up “Sicko,” the film by Michael Moore.

So much money is spent in the country on bad food. I say that unequivocally. Yet we’re a “free” market system with regulations on food under attack. We’re in an era where all the sensible laws and regulations regarding most life in general are under siege by this administration and its dismantlers of the so-called Administrative State. No sensible European country would allow such destructive legislation. Food and health are so inextricably entwined. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price offers the very worst in health and human services ideas, and the agriculture secretary post remains in limbo. But we know the winners. And their actions will exclusively benefit agri-business, and big corporations at the expense of our nation’s health.

Remember President Kennedy’s physical fitness programs in the 1960s? Remember Michelle Obama’s crusade for proper school lunches? Look at our new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Now there’s an advocate for improving food in our local schools. Not! She’s too busy dismantling public education. Schools do have some local autonomy, but as budgets get hammered even further, and schools have to drop programs and courses, lunches continue to suffer nationwide. Kudos to the schools that chart their own course and know that proper nutrition is a key to learning. When they partner with local growers, the whole community gains and prospers.

Face it. We’re not in the shape we should be in when diabetes is the seventh biggest killer in the U.S.

We allow a charlatan to become president of the free world. We take away or greatly reduce funding for all the essential programs, safeguards that make life possible for the average American.

We witness a concatenation of disclosures pointing to improper actions by the administration. Alas. It’s a circus without a tent. We have only each other to hold onto, hold tight to the shore as the stream careens over the falls.

A playwright, Harris has been a well-known chef for 40 years in Franklin County. He lives in Shelburne Falls.


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