I've been looking into obesity rates in South Auckland lately; how swathes of that part of our city contain not a single supermarket, but a vast flowering of burger bars, fried chicken vendors and pizza purveyors.
It's a calamity for the people of the area - and for the New Zealand taxpayer. In a (somewhat belated) response, some people agitate for public policy that will attack the issue, others demand that the Coca-Cola Amatils of the world pay compensatory funds direct to the local DHB, while others say everyone has free choice and no one is forcing anyone to stuff their gullets full of lard.
The last point is undoubtedly true, but so is the fact that fatty and/or sugary treats are extremely pleasant to consume, and highly addictive (if not physiologically, then just mentally). If you want to test this premise, take a plate of fudge slice into your average office, turn around briefly to grab a tissue, and when you turn back, try acting surprised that the entire plate has been emptied.
I always assumed that staying at home with children for most of the past seven years - right next door to two bakeries, a dairy, and a cafe - might have seen me pork up to epic proportions. And yes, the grind of early child raising does lead to lots of chocolate cake to soothe the soul. But in truth, it was returning to the office environment that did me in: the modern office is never more than a few steps from cafes, bakeries, supermarkets, vending machines, fast food outlets and luxury biscuit makers.
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And damn Sex and the City for making every woman in New Zealand bake cupcakes. Many bake furiously (the last refuge of a dieter), realise they're too tempting to keep in the house, and spend the next day foisting them off on workmates under the guise of "team building". No occasion is too minor: a stonking great plate of red velvet or lemon-iced cupcakes is proffered every time anyone has harsh words with a supervisor, makes it to Friday, or has PMS.
In the last office I worked in, not only was catering frequent and amazing, but blocks of chocolate lay in cupboards screaming your name (the fruit bowl didn't quite have the same siren song) and it was always someone's birthday, leaving, hiring or engagement (all necessitating cake). And faulty air conditioning made the office freezing cold, adding to the desire to stoke the inner fire with a deadly combination of starch and trans-fat. We worked hard, we ate harder.
While breaking bread is a time-honoured way to get the creative juices flowing, the type of eating that many of us undertake in offices all day long is counterproductive to health, leading to more unhealthy employees, and many more sick days.
More than that, it proves the wider point that if it is in front of you, most of us will succumb. In my own case, I am in no position to look down on people who find fast food hard to ditch, given my own inability to walk past a morning tea plate without stuffing my face.