Friday, April 01, 2016

An Gorta Mor On The Rebound

Once upon a time, the Irish were starving. Literally starving to death.

Hundreds of thousands died in those dreadful days, the worst year forever labelled as Black '47. So where are the Irish today, 169 years on from the most devastating period in its history?

On track to become the most obese folk in the world, that's where.

Well done, Ireland! Top of the charts, on the rebound from the depths of hunger.

There's competition for the position, however. The UK is trending up in weight class, along with a few other countries who took in thousands of Irish fleeing An Gorta Mor. Could there be a trend, something for the scientists to consider? New Zealand, Australia, the United States; waistlines are expanding and buttons are busting as more and more become obese in these prosperous nations.

Sure food is readily available in these places, and in general the population has the financial means to acquire more nutrients than a body needs. Add to that the ability to buy transportation that lets a person ride in lazy comfort instead of walking, burning up calories, and it's more going in than expended.

But the people in France don't show this marked uptick in Body Mass Index. They're all thin as saplings. And the scientists can't quite understand why this is happening.

Blame the spuds.

The Irish survived on potatoes while farming fertile land, the fruits of their labors being paid to the landlord for excessively high rent. The spuds grew themselves so that the tenant farmers could focus their attention on the crops that kept a roof overhead. At the height of the famine, the nation exported a tremendous amount of edibles and all the poor Catholics could do was watch it sail away while they dined on potatoes and buttermilk if they were lucky.

They are still consuming spuds to this day, mashed and fried and mixed with cabbage on occasion. Maybe the French did indeed invent the chip but they don't eat much of it. They don't have a cuisine based on boiling things to a grey pulp, either.

Ireland can't escape the obesity epidemic unless its culinary offerings become more French, and how is such a drastic change to take place? You have your comfort food that you turn to, and it's something your mother or grandmother made, something she found comfort in as a child, and so it goes. When you find it soothing to down a portion of curry chips, washed down with a pint or two of Guinness, how are you ever going to find equal relief from life's stress in a salad?

The obesity epidemic is being driven by the descendants of those who once were starving. It's the history that's creating a problem, and you can't change history.

You can't really change people's eating habits, either. Not when they've been raised with that spectre of skeletal, raggedy children who would have killed for so much as a bite of that boiled bacon with all its greasy fat.

Eating like a bird, that's fine for the French. They have all that fashion in their blood, after all. Ireland and its diaspora have their spuds. It's no contest.

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