05 March 2009

Something Old

I was digging through my Giant File O' Crap (it's like a File-o-fax except not) for something specific today relating to Lauderdale. I did not find what I was looking for (did it ever exist? Good question), but as usually happens when I dig into the File O' Crap I found something amusing.

One of the great things about being a "writer" is that you have a tendency, because you think you can write, to write a lot. And save everything you write. Computers make this much easier than I'm sure it used to be. In any event from time to time it's fun to dig through the old files and look at what I was writing--and thus often what I was thinking--a few years ago. I thought I'd post one of those old bits here.

This came out of a larger project that was never finished--and that almost certainly never will be--called
This Fucking Town (I was probably going to change that title), subtitled "Observations on Life NOT in America." I wrote several pieces and stuck them in there under this heading, including a lengthy and philosophically contorted introduction that was actually difficult for me to follow and which I probably wrote while drunk. We'll skip that.

In any event, this piece would have been written in the summer of 2004, almost certainly in August. I enjoyed rereading and thought some reader somewhere might get a kick out of it.

I wonder how Burger King feels about themselves. At 0830 in the morning at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the only food available on base to the hungry young airman is a Whopper at the Burger King. The picture above the order window—and it is just a window, a window into what looks like a single-wide trailer—has an animated drill sergeant admonishing us to “Have a burger for breakfast!”

What the hell kind of dietary advice is that? Exactly why does the Air Force (and the Army) allow Burger King to propagate that kind of disinformation to all their young soldiers and airmen who may not know much about healthy eating and living? And why does Burger King feel it’s a good idea?

Certainly we all enjoy a fatty fast food burger now and then; they taste good after all. They taste good because they’re loaded with saturated fat in the form of beef fat, mayonnaise, ketchup, cheese, and the like. I love Whoppers. I also love KFC fried boneless chicken breasts, but I can eat one of those without having to pay penance for my sins. A Whopper is not the same.

I don’t blame fast food restaurants for making us all fat. For starters, although it may look that way when we go to Wal-Mart or Disney World, we aren’t all fat. Most of us feel fat. Hell, I’m definitely not fat, but when I look down I can see that I’m carrying a little bit of all that beer and vodka I drink around the midsection, enough to cover up the abs that I know used to be there. But I’m not fat. And neither are fully a third of the rest of us Americans. The ones who are fat, well, they can’t blame fast food either. Often, they can blame themselves.

Not that this will stop fat people from suing McDonald’s. At least the judge threw that case out. But if people would just not eat crap all the time, they wouldn’t have problems with their weight. Weight management is easy, at least if you’re reasonably smart. I blame fat people for ignorance more than anything else; it's not even laziness half the time. And they can’t possibly all be that stupid; the problem is, we don’t teach anything approaching healthy living in schools, and if we did, I can guarantee you we’d screw it up. It would all be government mandated and based on that stupid 7-level pyramid scheme they created to bolster the prices Midwestern farmers can get for their grain crops. And it wouldn’t work anyway. All Americans do not fit into the same peghole, though that is exactly what national health education in high school would try to do.

So we produce a bunch of 18-year-olds every year who join the military and go out to their friendly BX one morning and see a perky animated drill sergeant ordering them to have burgers for breakfast. Well shoot, the Army wouldn't tell me to do it if it wasn’t good. And then we wonder why we’re having problems with overweight troops.

This is of course a bigger problem in the Air Force than in the Army, since Army people stay more active with daily unit PT and the like. The Air Force has tried this in the past, but it always fails. I’ll admit that I’m part of the problem. I haven’t been to a unit PT day since December of 2003. I’m hoping to avoid them until I PCS in 2006. If I wanted to get up every morning at the ass crack of dawn and run myself silly and destroy my knees, by God I’d join the Army. I joined the Air Force because we take a more reasonable approach to such things—or at least we used to.

The Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. John Jumper, who is himself an avid runner (like many insane people), recently revamped our yearly physical fitness test. Now, instead of sitting on a bicycle peddling slowly until our hearts and lungs reach a certain mythical point of capacity defined by pencil-necked geeks in a laboratory in Washington, we actually have to go out and run, and do pushups and situps. I hate running and situps, but I still think the General has the right idea and support it. If you’re going to measure my fitness, why not do it by measuring what I can do? Lung capacity, which is what the bike test measured, was always four fifths genetic anyway.

But then there is that pesky fourth part of the equation, the tape test. Now, as a skinny little white boy, I don’t fear the tape test. The test is worth 30 points, and to get all 30 your waist measurement has to be under 32 ½ inches. Even when I was a drunk I had never had a waist that big. No problemo.

But I’m also all of 5’9” or so. A guy who’s as skinny as me but 6’3”, by nature he’s going to have about a 33 inch waist. Ergo he can’t max out the test, even if he’s in better shape than everybody else in his squadron. (Never mind that if your goal is to max out the annual fitness test, you need bigger goals.) Once again, it seems we’re trying force everybody in the Air Force into the same peghole. No problem for me, since I’m small and can fit most anywhere, but it’s a big problem for many of my colleagues. And what’s to say a person can’t be in decent shape and still carry a little bit extra around the gut? Hell, half the generals and chiefs in the AF today can balance their coffee cups on their beer guts. That’s just the way the Air Force is. I think Jumper doesn’t really like those guys and wants to be rid of them, which soon enough he will be.

But what does the Air Force do to help you out if you’re not passing the test? They tell you to figure it out yourself. You go on a mandatory visit to the health and wellness center, and they put you on a program, and hopefully it works. Meanwhile, there’s a Burger King on every Air Force base in the country, where people are being ordered to have burgers for breakfast.

I have nothing against Burger King. As I said, I enjoy a Whopper now and then because it tastes good. But I also exercise and ensure that 90% of my meals are prepared in my home with healthy fresh ingredients. Few if any of my colleagues can say that, and many of them will argue that it’s because they don’t have time. Well, maybe not, but if I have time I wonder how other young officers without much more responsibility don’t. It can’t be because I’m single; if anything, I have less spare time because I have to do everything myself (this of course only applies to the married and childless, since children really do take up all your time). Yet I’m capable of a reasonably healthy (barring the drinking and the high-stress job) lifestyle. The simple fact that I can do this makes me assume pretty much everyone else can, whether they do or not.

But I also know that most people don’t live healthy. Many may try, but they don’t succeed. This is a big part of why Gen. Jumper wanted to revamp the fitness program. He encouraged wing and squadron-level fitness activities, and ordered that all supervisors were to ensure that their people had an hour every workday for exercise—and he didn’t mean an hour before or after work or instead of lunch break, he meant one hour at any point during the workday. Jumper’s no fool; he doesn’t want his people working 9 and 10 hour days at home and then deploying for 179 days out of every year. Whether that’s what our squadron commander wants or not, it wasn’t Jumper’s intent, and he’d tell you that if you asked him. Jumper may work those kinds of hours, and I’ve no doubt that he does far more, but that’s the price of command and any intelligent commander accepts it as his burden. (This is also why I don’t seek any command.)

Still, that hour per day is hardly mandatory. One can argue that perhaps it should be, but I’d balk at the suggestion that I need to go to the gym every day for an hour. What would I do there? I’m trying to gain weight, not lose it; you can’t lift weights every day and get any results. But at least Jumper is trying, as few before him have. He’s made some rather questionable decisions, but this isn’t one of them.

So why then is there no place anywhere at Al Udeid to get a decent meal at 0830 in the morning, except at the Burger King, where all you can have is a Burger For Breakfast? How on Earth did the idea of promoting a new healthier lifestyle for Air Force personnel result in this situation?

I don’t like sounding provincial, but at least at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, where I’m supposed to be right now, the chow hall is open 24/7. They aren’t serving all 24 hours, just during the posted meal times, and the food is beyond awful. But if I wake up at 0800 and put some clothes on and go take a pee and then want something to eat, I can walk over to the chow hall and grab a bowl of Wheaties and some orange juice and canned pears and make a peanut-butter and banana sandwich, and now at least I’ve had a good breakfast. Here at Al Udeid, I have no choice but to eat a Burger for Breakfast. And I have to pay for that, which brings to mind the missed meals problem. But that’s another issue entirely.


Rambling Speech said...

Interesting article. I've learned a lot about food in the last year- and I'm relatively smart. The food pyramid doesn't even come close to explaining the relationship between your body and food. You'll laugh, but I was counting up the points from your article deciding if your breakfast at Manas was a good one!

Whopper=16 pts
Cereal(3 pts), orange juice (1 pt), pears (2 pts),
Peanut butter (4pts) and banana (2pts) sandwich (3pts)= 15 pts

LOL- you saved yourself a point (though probably kept your cholesterol lower)... :-) But I get the point and I liked the article!

Smitty said...

But what does a "point" actually mean? The amount of sodium and saturated fat in the whopper is far more than 1/16 more than the amount in the cobbled-together breakfast. Calorically there may not be a ton of difference, but then, calories are fuel, and certainly someone in my condition needs the calories to fuel a hyperactive metabolism. But it matters where they come from, presumably.

Here's what I see from calorie.com for a Whopper w/cheese (because if you're going to get a fast food hamburger you might as well get the cheese):
760 cal, 423 from fat
47 g fat, 16g saturated
115 mg cholesterol
1450 mg sodium
33 g protein
3 g fiber

And for the combo breakfast:
711 cal, 168 from fat
18.7 g fat, 3.5g saturated
0 cholesterol
700 mg sodium
18.5 g protein
12.7 g fiber

The relationship 711/760 is approximately 15/16 (.9375 v .9356), so it seems points are awfully close to calories. So calorie-wise, the two breakfasts are 15:16, not meaningful. Calories from fat? 6:16. That's a lot. Saturated fat? 3:16. Cholesterol is 0. Sodium is 8:16, and fiber is 16:4. The only place the Whopper is better is in protein, which could be made up by replacing the canned pears with a cup of yogurt or something similar.

I really think part of the problem is that not everybody needs to watch what they eat in the same way. We all need to watch what we eat, but we all need to watch for different things, too. Certainly, though, the amount of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol in the Whopper totally outweigh the similarity in calorie count and the protein level. Certainly we could put two people on two diets, one being the Manas breakfast (with another point of something) and the other being an all-whopper diet, and see who's healthier at the end of a year.