by José de la Isla
MEXICO CITY — Not everyone knows but perhaps they should. The New World people conquered Europe beginning in the 16th century with their fresh fruits, vegetables, condiments and confections. Sugar was one of them.
The other thing that most of us don’t think about too much is that sugar became as addictive as heroin. It went from a luxury to a necessity to a mind- and body-altering food. Over the last five centuries, sugar consumption has come to be virtually measured in terms of mountains instead of teaspoons.
The evolutionary consequences of all that is now showing up in the North American human body.
After only the United States, for instance, Mexico is second in soft drink consumption in the world. It represents a total 300 million cases annually. The value of the Mexican market is around $15.5 billion, according to a report by México Alimentaria.
Another related finding by the same group is that Mexico also occupies second place in childhood obesity.
One in four children between five and 11 years are overweight.
About 71 percent of women and 67 percent of men over 20 years old are overweight, also.
These have become health and economics isissues for Mexico and other countries throughout all of North America.
Mexico’s 700,000 corner stores are the economic mainstay for many families. They have been severely impacted by the proliferation of supermarkets and warehouse stores. This is not unlike the United States, where neighborhood stores, except in megacities, have become a thing of the past.
Mexican corner-store sales declined during the past four years. In March, they were down 5.2 percent over the year before. Meanwhile, large organized commerce grew 8.2 percent.
But the bigger problem might be the products the “tienditas” dispense. In many cases they are soft drinks and cigarettes. Both products in some way pose major Mexican health hazards.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation released a report, “Growing Up in North America,” in May. It shows that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico together report obesity rates 26 to 30 percent among their 120 million children. Obesity rates in the U.S. and Canada a soaring.
Now here’s the paradox: growing numbers of obese children are malnourished and suffer anemia to a significant degree.
Is it any wonder, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed $500 million in May to tackle childhood obesity over the next five years. The focus will be on affordable healthy foods and physical activity.
Another approach — whether a godsend or not — is the partnership between Coca-Cola Co. and Cargil Inc., partnering to commercialize a natural sweeteners.
Rebiana, the new product without calories, believed to sweeten a product naturally.
It may pose a challenge to the soft-drink market dominated by cane sugar, corn syrup and synthetic sweeteners. Sounds good, but there’s a rub to this technical fix. Rebiana could have some toxic effects.
This takes us back to our drug analogy.
While Rebiana is natural herb in South America, it is prohibited in the United States and Europe. In 1985, it was found to be associated with hepatic — meaning liver — concerns.
Rebiana’s roll-out as a food additive will occur where it is not prohibited: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and other South American countries.
Social evolution may have reached a point in North America where foods that previously nourished humans are now used to feed the economy. And along the way, we overlook their long-term consequences.
Now we should hope that those political fanatics who like scaring people into Latinamericaphobia and a “reconquista” are right. If the reconquista is like the original one, it will revive eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe our survival will depend on it.
(José de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. He is author of The Rise of Hispanic Political Power (Archer Books). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) © 2007