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Week 20: The Fat Farmer

Yes, this week’s title may sound graphic…but it reflects a real and troubling trend facing a facet of our society once thought shielded from the obesity epidemic.

For most of us, the image of the American farmer is that of a rugged, hardworking, lean and muscular being. We’ve seen countless photos of these farmers taking on their daily chores: plowing, digging, planting, baling, tending to livestock and more. In our own lives, we may have even known a farmer or two who fits that description to a T.

And why wouldn’t the farmer be lean and muscular? After all, farming requires a high amount of manual labor, many times from sun up to sun down. Not to mention, many farmers raise chickens for eggs and meat, tend to cattle for beef purposes, and often have access to acres of fresh food crops, as well as maybe even a nearby pond or stream for fresh fish.

Basically, because of their business and environment, farmers should easily follow the “fish it, grow it, butcher it” rule and therefore must be lean as a result, right?

Up until a few decades ago, this scenario was generally the norm. Farmers would only eat predominantly what they produced or traded with other local farmers. And coupled with the heavy manual intensive lifestyle of farming, they maintained long, lean, and muscular frames.

Then why are so many of today’s farmers so overweight?

The answer…like the rest of our culture, they have been lured in by the seduction of salty, savory, and sweet…all in a convenient package.

The Evolution of the Farmer’s Diet

Breakfast. Let’s take a look at a common breakfast of our traditional farmer of “yesteryear.” They probably awoke to a good ole’ cup of black coffee, a couple of eggs from the chicken house out back, a slice of farm-raised ham, a piece of the freshly baked loaf of fresh grain bread baked the day before, and a slice or two of fresh tomato picked from the vine the night before.

Then, not so long ago in our nation’s history, the story changed. The drive-thru doughnut shop replaced the farmer’s market in town. And before you knew it, a couple of iced pastries each morning before chores started to become the norm. And that local coffee shop was gobbled up by a national coffee chain, and those delicious tasting, calorie-laden mocha lattes made their way into the farmers morning ritual as well.

Snacks and Drinks. In recent years, the farmer realized it was much more efficient to have a pack of cheese crackers or maybe a scrumptious candy bar or two in his overalls while he was out working the fields, so he didn’t have to take a break for a snack (of course). Or more likely, the taste of the prepackaged, processed snacks won out over the taste of the carrot he could pluck fresh from the dirt or the berries he could pull from the berry patch.

To quench a farmer’s thirst, the old-time farmers’ pitchers filled with clean fresh cold water have now been replaced with convenient and easy-to-grab energy drinks or cans of soda, loaded with extra, unnecessary calories.

Lunch. The normal farmer’s lunch of years ago consisted of the fresh produce and whole grains that were harvested on their very own farm, with maybe a slice or two of beef (from the cattle that was butchered from the back fifty earlier in the summer) that was broiled the night before. But that lunch has now been replaced with the maple honey chipped ham lunch meat and delicious prepackaged loaf of white bread, a few tablespoons of creamy mayonnaise, and some chips and a soda…all from the local convenience store.

Dinner. In days gone by, a traditional farmer’s family supper centered around a whole chicken–one that had been raised on the farm for meat–roasted with vegetables harvested off their land. The hearty meal may have been complemented by baked potatoes and a garden-fresh salad, packed with greens and cucumbers. And dessert may have been some tasty homemade apple sauce, from the apples in the tree orchard.

Ironically, today this meal is still being served…it has just “evolved” into a new kind of meal.

That roasted chicken has become breaded and fried chicken, the baked potato has become mashed potatoes with heavy cream, butter and topped with gravy, and/or crisp fried potato wedges…and the lettuce and cucumbers have been replaced with other sides like mac & cheese and creamy coleslaw.

And that homemade apple sauce…that’s been replaced with a delicious prepackaged apple pie (who has time to make homemade apple sauce when you’re trying to run a farm, right?) and served with a couple scoops of vanilla with chocolate and peanut butter chip ice cream.

Late Night snacking. And late evening, when the old-time farmer would turn in for the night: these days there’s a couple of their favorite shows they need to catch on the flat screen. And boy, there’s nothing better than a reheated piece of that apple pie with another scoop or two of the ice cream while taking in the shows.

The Moral of the Farmer’s Story (aka: why are we picking on the farmer?)

Why are we telling this sad story of the farmer? Should he be singled out of the population? No, on the contrary…essentially the farmer has fallen prey to the same temptations as the rest of us: small amounts of produce and whole grains overshadowed by highly processed foods, refined grains, and added fat, salt, and sugar. The ironic part is of all folks, the farmer is surrounded by healthy options, yet they still fall victim.

And sure, for the most part, farming has changed in other ways as well. Much of the manual labor has been replaced by machines, so the amount of heavy lifting day in and day out has been reduced, and as a result calorie expenditure is lower. But we should recognize that excessive amounts of body fat on these farmers is not a direct result of less activity, for if the farmer was truly following the “fish it, grow it, butcher it” rule, they would be hard pressed to be anything other than lean beings.

We know the real culprit plaguing the fat farmer…it is the unfavorable foods at their fingertips at almost all times, and how much of it, they choose to eat.

Pep Talk

Let’s stand up and admit unfavorable food is a formidable opponent. Then, let’s build strategies into our lives and our families lives to eradicate this opponent.

Week 20 Quiz:

1) A common breakfast of our traditional farmer of “yesteryear” was? a) a couple of eggs from the chicken house out back b) a piece of the freshly baked loaf of fresh grain bread baked the day before c) a slice or two of fresh tomato picked from the vine the night before d) all of the above

2) Which meal would help keep the farmer lean? a) maple honey chipped ham lunch meat sandwich with chips b) fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw c) roasted chicken with vegetables and a baked potato d) both a & b

3) Farmers have become overweight mainly due to machinery replacing manual labor. a) False b) True

4) The most likely reason today's farmer might have a couple of candy bars or maybe a pack of cheese crackers in their overalls while they were out working the fields is because the candy bars and cheese crackers: a) provide a highly efficient source of good calories b) cost much less than the natural snack alternatives like carrots or berries c) taste better than the natural snack alternatives like carrots or berries d) none of the above

Once you've taken the quiz, click here to see how you did.


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