Three issues, one solution | OPINION

Pictures in my high school yearbook show the 1951 student body of West Valley High as 100 percent lilly-white Caucasian and with few exceptions, average to slim in build. What a contrast with last year’s M-PHS yearbook that pictured a healthy mix of races from around the globe and an unhealthy trend toward obesity. Call the obesity issue, Issue  No. 1.

Issue No. 2 is workers’ unpreparedness for retirement. One web-source reported that the average baby-boomer without a company sponsored retirement plan has set aside only $38,000. If there is a company-sponsored plan, the nest-egg rises to $88,000. Another source estimated that workers over 55 with established retirement plans have socked away $130,000 toward retirement and when they’re vested in company plans for 10 or more years the amount rises to $230,000.

If we look at how much workers have saved and invested outside their employer-sponsored plans, workers under 35 had $6,000 or less in savings,  ages 35-44 averaged $22,500, ages 45-54 averaged $44,000 and ages 55-64 had saved $65,000. Since Social Security may not be a sure thing and if income from interest and dividends from retirement accounts yields 6 percent per year, it would take a portfolio totaling $667,000 to produce a retirement income of $40,000 per year. Today’s average worker is going to come up short.

And now for Issue No. 3: People who study dining patterns claim that society averages between 4.8 and 5.1 restaurant dinners per week per person. Of course that’s a mix of pizza joints, fast food and fancy restaurants but no matter where prepared food is bought, chances are high that it delivers an overload of fat, salt and costs anywhere from three to 10 times that of good home nutrition. Add a Starbucks habit and the weekly bill for two is upward of $250 per week.

That $250 per week can run $13,000 for a year, and that’s with no tips, alcoholic beverages or deserts and ordering only the cheapest things on the menu. Seattle’s actual annual average for households eating and coffeeing out runs $11,269, but that figure lumps in poverty-level households that won’t be dining out much.

Believing that all things are connected it seemed natural to assume the three issues are joined. Obesity, insufficient retirement savings and the expense of dining-out are so linked that they might respond to a single solution: Home cooking. How do you fight obesity? Begin with healthful home cooking. How to save more for retirement? Cut food expenditures by replacing high-cost prepared food with low-cost home cooking.

Keep in mind that we live in a world where the polls never close. Every food item in a shopping cart is a vote and the physiques of shoppers mirror what’s in their carts to prove it. How is it then, that we haven’t come to grips with the close-to-home issues of body weight and personal finance? It’s so much easier to focus criticism on schools and government and taxes and coal trains while letting body weight and finances spin out of control.

Better to start by focusing on processed foods and how they not only provide lousy nutrition but the extra pounds they add cut into earning power. According to a study of nine nations, a 10 percent increase in a man’s body mass results in 3.3 percent less earnings while the drop for women is 1.8 percent. That translates to an average loss of $1,650 for men or $900 for women. Home cooking done right not only reverses obesity, it leaves more earnings available for retirement accounts.

There are good and bad reasons for not cooking. It’s messy enough that fully 25 percent of the respondents to a survey by Bosch Research said they can’t stand the mess. People working two minimum-wage jobs say they don’t have time, 66 percent said that grocery shopping is their most time-consuming chore and 28 percent said they simply do not know how to cook.

A division-of-labor issue arises if a wife or husband is saddled with all the menu-planning and shopping chores. Discovering spoiled ingredients in the fridge can be disheartening. But all excuses melt away once householders discover that they can eat better-tasting healthier food at home for a fraction of the cost of restaurants meals. And no tipping! The core question switches from where we are eating to what are we having for dinner.

Cooking does carry challenges. It takes time to plan, shop and keep track of what’s in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. Cleaning up carves a piece out of one’s evening. Some couples find it difficult to divvy-up cooking chores to keep one person from being stuck with it all.

The planning part can be easy for anyone willing to trade social networking minutes for searching out healthy recipes on the web. It doesn’t take long to discover that cooking is a creative art, not a chore and once that happens, the battle is half won.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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