Sunday, May 28, 2023

Decadence and Health Externalities

 Sitting down to a lovely meal with family.  The menu is a salad (asparagus, spinach, strawberries, vinaigrette), roast chicken with a bit of cajun spice, and lamb chops.  This feels like a very luxurious meal, and in some respects, primarily because of the lamb, it is.  My weight is down another half pound the next morning.

However, every time we sit down to this type of meal, in the ideal we shouldn't be comparing it against a big platter of pasta, or a trey of fast food.  It feels decadent to eat this way, but is it really?

I first heard the term "externality" in reference to the environmental crisis.  The term was applied to pork farming and processing, these large cesspools of waste, and water contamination.  The argument was that the "externality" of the environmental impact wasn't figured into the cost of the product.  The pork was only able to be sold cheaply if the cost of clean-up (or proper handling in the first place) was not figured in.

There are other kinds of externalities though, the primary one being the cost of the health deficits from regularly eating that bowl of pasta or that fast food:  Insulin, infections, amputation, blood pressure meds, meds to manage triglycerides, continuous glucose monitors, treatment of strokes and cardiac problems, and loss of productivity.  Some of it might be picked up by insurance, but that doesn't mean it isn't swamping the economy.

We don't typically think like this.  We are so used to eating shit food that it just feels viscerally like we somehow don't deserve to sit down for this meal.

Let's break it down though, where it really matters:  Replace the lamb (a treat) with chicken leg quarters or thighs, and it's really only a couple of dollars a pound.  If you want, substitute sautéed cabbage for what I put in the salad.  For the price of a Chipotle burrito, we can buy a whole mess of this protein and prepare it for ourselves.  Even the 45 or 55 minute break while it is cooking has built in health benefits if you can sit down and relax or chat with friends and family while it is cooking.