Suzanne Fields

Beautiful women crave thinness and both men and women tone tummies and buns on expensive gym equipment, but the epidemic of obesity spreads long before middle age, and falls hardest on the poor.

Surveys estimate that three of five Americans are overweight and the cost of groceries, the size of incomes, demands of work and the abundance of fast food contribute to 68 percent of the "fat" problem. The more hours a mother works in a week, according to the Joint Center for Policy Research, the greater the likelihood of an obese child in the family.

Food fashions run from serious concerns for health to absurd arrogance in seeking control of food production. Environmentalists in America, where food is the cheapest in the world and where we're free to eat as well as speak as we like, take sides in controversies over genetically modified food that have little effect on their own lives. In the Third World, famine and malnutrition are real.

"Why did Zambians go hungry in the midst of a drought-induced famine last year while millions of tons of food aid were allowed to go to waste?" asks the Wilson Quarterly, in a cover story on the pleasures, pomposities and politics of foodies. Answer: "Because the corn was genetically modified."

Environmental extremists - none of whom go to bed hungry - argued that it was better for Zambians to go hungry than "risk" supping on genetically modified corn, even though the "risks," such as they may be, are far from substantiated by scientific research.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, is outraged. "They can play these games with Europeans who have full stomachs," he said, "but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake."

Arguing over what to eat is old stuff, of course. When the serpent persuaded Eve to try the forbidden fruit, and Adam (who was not very bright) dutifully agreed, the First Couple stocked a full pantry of troubles for their descendants. Instead of feasting in the Garden of Eden, we settle for junk food for thought.

But no more arguments today. There's Christmas turkey and Chanukah latkes on the table. Scrooges, keep your scolding to yourselves. Bon appetite.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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