Dr Alfred Dawes | Bring back the P...it’s really the physical inactivity!
Since my last article in which I sarcastically called for bans on Nutribuns and patties, I’ve learned a few things. Chief among them is that Jamaicans don’t run jokes with patties. I received numerous calls from persons defending patties, and even what bordered on hate mail.
Even the highly esteemed Professor Trevor McCartney gave me a proper tongue-lashing while singing praises about his beloved patties. The goodly professor is right, though.
Patties fuelled his and my parents’ generation growing up. A cohort of Jamaicans who would be the first to enjoy improved public health and not be subjected to infectious diseases outbreaks such as malaria, yellow fever, yaws and polio.
Those diseases neutralised through effective sanitation and vaccination programmes in the 1940s and 1950s. This generation of baby boomers was the luckiest set of children to walk this earth. No need to worry about infectious disease epidemics unlike their parents, and no obesity epidemics like their children.
THE PATTY GENERATION
Having got their vaccines, they ate all the patties, bread and butter, and buns to their hearts’ content before going outside to romp in a crime-free environment. They would grow up to be the richest, healthiest and had the highest life expectancy of all the generations of mankind. But how did these poor kids from poor homes achieve these remarkable health statistics?
Fitness clubs weren’t even a thing back then. Arnold Schwarzenegger had not brought bodybuilding to the mainstream audience yet, and Jack LaLanne was the man. There were no CrossFit training, 5k runs, boot camps, exercise videos, personal trainers, or home gyms.
Fried chicken and rice and peas was for Sunday dinner and the ice cream man would provide the routine dessert. The poorer Jamaicans ate salted mackerel, salt fish, something called ‘shad’; and corn pork. But there was no hypertension as there is now.
There never was an issue with excess weight. The difference between growing up then and now is the type and portions of food consumed and, importantly, the level of physical activity.
Those kids never walked anywhere. They ran. They had no fear of criminals so they would walk to and from parties through areas we now avoid driving through at night. To get a bus meant walking some distance to a bus stop. No radio taxi service. No plentiful cars.
When they went to dances they actually danced. Not take selfies with friends and bottles.
A party was fun when you danced until you sweat. No all-inclusive parties to encourage overeating. Not even a pan chicken man to visit at 3 a.m. You had to go home or satisfy with a roast corn and dry coconut on the side.
At school they ate patties and drank sugar and water. This was actually a good thing then. Patties then had real meat. Not the loads of filler present in today’s commercialised versions. The protein and carbohydrates from this staple kept them energised to learn, play sports in the evenings, and walk home.
I recall a conversation during a courtesy call with former Governor General Sir Howard Cooke, where he referred to patties as one of the greatest contributors to the development of the poor Jamaican in his time. This is because it was an affordable, energy-packed, and nutritious meal that provided the poor students with the nutritional support to focus in class and acquire the education that would lift them and their families out of subsistence living. He probably would be disappointed with me because of my last article as well.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
But that world is no more. We now live in a world where we don’t walk anywhere. We drive. We sit at desks staring at papers and screens all day. The kids wake up to phone and tablet screens from an early age. TV and video games are surrogate parents. There are no mandatory physical education classes and playing outside just doesn’t happen anymore.
The average number of calories burnt per day is far less now than it was even 20 years ago. We are now forced to find ways outside of our regular routines to increase the expenditure of calories. But this is unnatural and it explains why persons are inconsistent with home gyms, aka clothes hangers, and gym memberships.
The foods have changed. Who even knows what shad is? We eat processed tin foods. Fast food is a staple and not a treat. Pastries and desserts accompany more meals. More sugary drinks in larger serving sizes. Late-night cravings are met with ease and delivery, takeout, supersizing, food trucks, commercial farming, hormone-laced animals, genetically modified foods and high fructose corn syrup in everything make our diets cesspools of empty calories that guarantee weight gain.
Our world is designed to make us overweight, but we can’t stop living in it. In order to be healthy, we have to decide not to be of this world. To do that means a lifestyle where physical activity is a part of the routine. Not something you have to do but you get to do.
Whatever activity you choose, it must be fun, not torture. It should not be done with a goal in mind, say, to lose X pounds, but done because of the amazing feeling you get when you exercise. Find a physical activity that makes you happy so you will be motivated to keep at it.
In conclusion, I would like to apologise to Professor McCartney and the Patty Liberation Front for any inconvenience my sarcasm may have caused. Ceasefire!