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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004


By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 23, 2004

Imagine life 50 years ago. The average 21st-century Joe probably wouldn't want to go there, because in 1954, many of the conveniences that Americans now consider modern weren't even conceivable. The majority of today's so-called "indispensable items" -- computers, cell phones, ATM machines and the Internet -- have only just started to have a significant impact on society. Yes, technology is certainly changing the world, but is this change a subtle facelift or a Michael Jackson botch job?


Since the 1950s, the American diet has undergone a revolution. For practical purposes, the concept of "seasonal foods" no longer exists. While there is still something to be said for a fresh summer tomato, foods that would never be available during the midwestern winter are now transported thousands of miles to grocery stores in Minnesota and around the nation. Apples, oranges and watermelons, not to mention guavas, papayas and kiwis, can be found in the produce sections of American grocery stores year-round. As a result of the vitamins and nutrients provided by readily-available fruits and vegetables, modern Americans are taller than ever. But are they healthier?

Today, Americans have an enormous variety of food choices. For that reason, America is encountering nutritional problems that it did not face 50 years ago. Americans can eat anything at any time -- whether they are hungry or not. And what are modern Americans choosing? Well, what they're not choosing is three balanced meals every day. Sure enough, the American diet has come to follow the motto of the fast food industry that fuels it: the bigger, the cheaper, the faster, the better.

It's almost trite to say so, but as a result of their freedom to choose foods, American citizens are overweight. Nutritionists argue that it's the frequency with which Americans partake in "indulgence foods" that has caused their belts to burst. Americans have begun to eat disproportionate amounts of fat, salt and sugar. Sure, apples are always available -- and so are lean meats and vegetables chock full of vitamins -- but these items seem difficult for Americans to prepare (really, how hard is it to wash an apple?). Regardless of preparation time, apples simply dont taste as good as ice cream, bacon double-cheeseburgers or potato chips -- this much is true for the majority of the American public, at least.

"Indulgence foods" are easier to acquire than most healthy foods. It takes less effort to stop at the drive-thru or a vending machine than to dice fresh vegetables or even -- again -- to wash that apple. It is more efficient to heat up a TV dinner or go to a restaurant than to prepare a meal, but it is simply not healthy. The foods Americans love to eat are also relatively cheap, making it hard to say no to the impulse to buy. And, as bad choices pile on bad choices, waistlines expand, cholesterol skyrockets and arteries get clogged.


Fortunately for Americans, food is not the only aspect of health that has changed in the modern era. The advances made in the field of medicine -- whether it be chemotherapy, laser eye surgery, Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI) or the drug cocktails that sustain those afflicted with the AIDS virus -- have made American lifetimes last longer than ever. To put it bluntly, there has never been a better time to be ill; the chance of recovery is better than ever.

In the last 50 years, tuberculosis, malaria, polio and smallpox have been virtually eliminated. The threat of pandemic disease has become almost a non-issue for many Americans. Although the delusion that these diseases have become obsolete is a luxury that, for now, many can afford, our interconnected world makes it more probable than ever that despite all of our medical technologies, America might still confront an epidemic. Last year, Americans were shaken by this possibility when cases of SARS were discovered in Toronto. Diseases like SARS may seem to be light-years away when they are in Hong Kong or Singapore, but when they creep into neighboring countries, another Black Plague suddenly seems plausible.


While new inventions like the Internet and cell phones have brought people closer together and made the world seem just a little smaller, they have had their negative consequences as well. Thanks to cell phones and e-mail, vacations aren't what they used to be. Gone are the days when one could take a vacation and be out of reach of the office. Gone are the days when "I wasn't at home" or "You must have called the wrong hotel" were viable excuses. Cell phones and e-mail are tethers to the office that tie Americans to work no matter where they try to hide.

The Internet has also affected the way that many Americans gets their news -- a rather alarming fact, when one considers the potential unreliability of Web information. While a portion of the news on the Internet is credible, a level of caution is required when reading the news and other information on the web that we, as consumers, expect to be reliable. The Internet truly does represent a revolution in the availability and speed at which news is broadcast to the world, but it also symbolizes an open playground where even the most illegitimate sources may have their say.

Generation "Y"

A few years ago, an eminent American academic concluded that history ended with the resolution of the Cold War. In many ways, he was right. With the growth of technological, economic and cultural connections made possible by the inventions that have changed our lives, the old way of thinking about the world truly is changing. This blurring of the lines between foreign and domestic globalization is, without a doubt, one of the larger issues facing America and the rest of the world as we confront the changes of the last 50 years. Issues such as climate change can only truly be addressed by a concerted effort from the entire developed world.

In the last 50 years, many of the issues that once faced America and the world have been solved. The Cold War is over and the threat of worldwide nuclear war is fairly low. Many of the diseases that caused so much pain in the past have either been eradicated or staved off by immunizations. Americans today are faced with many choices -- most of them every bit as difficult and important as those that faced our grandparents and parents before us. How we come to terms with the technological and medical advances in our world will define our generation and leave an indelible mark on history. Will we be remembered as the generation that gained final victory over cancer? Will our generation be the one that pulls the whole world together, finally dissolving the lines between "us" and "them"?

We stand today at the brink of opportunity, not only because of the technologically advanced times in which we live but because of our place in the world. History, undoubtedly, will remember the choices of our generation. We should make every effort to make those choices count, whatever they may be. If this means picking up that apple and giving it a good, thorough rinse, then so be it.

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