An Inclusive Litany

5/30/02

Tonya Weathersbee in Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union, May 27, 2002:
Each time I visit Cuba, I find myself fast-forwarding to the day when the end of the embargo and free market reforms will lead to the makeover it so desperately needs.

I see Cuban Baroque and Neoclassic mansions that age has crumbled into stony ash restored. I imagine government buildings with elevators that go all the way to the top without nary an ominous rumble. Heck, I imagine restrooms with toilet tissue.

What I try not to imagine, though, is what the people will look like if there is ever a McDonald's on every corner. Because while Cubans have to struggle to get most of what they need, they don't have to struggle with obesity.

On every corner, at every turn, there is a rush of sinewy men and toned, shapely, Spandex-wearing women. Their bodies aren't the result of hours in a gym or under a surgeon's knife but rather the result of a life filled with economic inconvenience and the drive to persevere in spite of....

[W]hen I see Cubans on the street, I see a picture of resiliency, not despair. I see people walking, bicycling, riding scooters. I see people using their physicality to get through life.

If we Americans ever found ourselves in a situation like that, I'm not sure we'd survive. Right now, we are struggling with an obesity crisis. About 13 percent of children younger than 10 are either overweight or obese. A good chunk of adults are overweight, too—thanks to a culture of plenty that craves fast food and fuel-guzzling SUVs.

Companies dole incentives to employees who exercise and maintain their health; signs urge people to carpool, take elevators and eat less fat. And in case anyone forgets, obesity is just as life-threatening as malnutrition. [!] ...

Two years ago, a 52-year-old Cuban man told me that all he wanted out of life was to be guaranteed a coat when it was cold, enough food to feed his family, and not have to ride a bike to work when he was 80. He wasn't asking for much.

But what he didn't realize is that if he lived past age 80, he might have his bike to thank for that.

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