Southerners, perhaps more than any other Americans, have a love affair with their food. Of late however, the relationship between Americans south of the Mason/Dixon line and their food has become more complicated and by many measures, downright dangerous.

According to the Trust For American’s Health 2009 study, eight of the ten states with the highest rates of obese and overweight children and adults are in the South. Mississippi led the way with the highest rate of adult obesity at 32.5 percent, making it the fifth year in a row that the state topped the list. Four states now have rates above 30 percent, including Mississippi, Alabama (31.2 percent), West Virginia (31.1 percent), and Tennessee (30.2 percent).

Yet we continue to worship at the altar of Paula Deen, making her one of the most watched, highest paid and most beloved of the Food Network stars. Ms. Deen’s secret recipe to our hearts? Butter. Lots of butter, cream, bacon and processed foods.  Watching what goes into her recipes reminds me of a saying my boss was fond of uttering: I love sausage; I just don’t want to see them make it.

We have become a nation addicted to processed, premade assembly line food that has been wrung dry of nutrient value, loaded with salt, preservatives, chemical additives and artificial everything. Because most of the populace under forty has been weaned on this stuff, many have never tasted what real, slow cooked fresh food can taste like.

Believe me, if we demanded it, KFC would sell it. What we have instead is the artery clogging Double Down Chicken “Sandwich”.  Michael Debakey is undoubtedly doing back flips in his grave. This sandwich is actually two pieces of deep- fried chicken stuffed with bacon and cheese. It tips the scale at 540 calories and ten grams of saturated fat!

Enter Jamie Oliver. The British super chef launched a campaign in the UK five years ago that focused on healthy eating and proper nutrition and diet for the nation’s school children. Inspired by his success across the pond, Oliver came to the West Virginia community of Huntington. Named by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 as the most obese city in the US, Huntington signed on to be featured on ABC’s Food Revolution.

As anyone who has seen the series can attest, pizza, nuggets and processed foods aren’t going down easy. Oliver has more than his work cut out for him as the processed food industry, industrial food manufacturers, advertisers  and a cadre of farming conglomerates have too much at stake in keeping America fat.

We have seen the enemy and they are us. Kudos to the spotlight our First lady is putting on the issue of childhood obesity. When America wakes up and starts pushing back against the food industry like it did with big tobacco, perhaps we’ll start to see some slimmer waistlines and longer life expectancy.

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Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender

Michael J. Solender is a recent corporate refugee whose opinion and satire has been featured in The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Winston-Salem Journal, and Richmond Style Weekly. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for The Charlotte Observer and is the City Life Editor for Charlotte ViewPoint. His micro-fiction has been featured online at Bull Men’s Fiction, Calliope Nerve, Danse Macabre, Dogzplot, Gloom Cupboard, Full of Crow, Pangur Ban Party and others.

You can find more of his work at his website and also at his blog.