It’s time to dwell into what I consider to be two of the most (de)pressing issues of the American system: Health care and food. Let’s start with the latter. Food plays a big role in the American way of life, that turns rapidly into the American waddle of life when staple foods shift from wheat and water to burger and soda. With the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and fat-free products the portion of the population in the US that is overweight or obese has spiked (here is a good talk about that). Since I’m not a nutrition expert, I don’t want to go too deep into that, but I may have some ideas that I would like to propose.
First of all: Stop drinking soda all the time! I know your tap water tastes awful because of all the chlorine you put into it and I know that bottled water is expensive and evil (just do a quick google for “nestle” and “water”), but there are alternatives. You can filter the tab water or buy spring water by the gallon at Whole Food’s. And no, diet sodas don’t cut it. There are good reasons to believe that they are even more harmful than sugary drinks. Yes, there are unlimited refills for your super sized cups of Mountain Dew but that doesn’t mean you have to drink the dispenser empty to get your dollar’s worth. Right now there is a proposition for taxing soft drinks that have a high content of sugar in them and man there is some backlash against it. And by that I mean TV spots that claim the new tax would hit the poorest families the hardest, because they are the main consumer of soda drinks. Also businesses selling these drinks would lose millions. First of all, the business argument is weak by nature. If you are selling something that is harmful to the health, you should not be protected on the grounds that this is your business model. Chose something else. Second, the idea behind that whole proposition is that poor people with poor access to health care should not be drinking so much soda because they are the ones who cannot afford to be treated for diabetes! Which would be a great segue to the health care system, but I’m not done here. Besides rethinking your beverages of choice you might want to take a look at your comfort food. I went to Santa Cruz two weeks ago and walked along the Boardwalk, California’s oldest amusement park and for the first time since my arrival in California I have seen some really fat people. At the UC Berkeley the food is actually quite good, as is the sports program. Also there seems to be an incentive for girls to show off their shortest pair of hot pants together with the skimpiest top they can find while boys have to wear muscle shirts and shorts. So although there is always a bunch of ‘big guys’ around the hamburger and pizza station in the cafeteria, it’s not the norm. Here, at the Boardwalk, Average Joe and his girlfriend are wheezing and sweating their way from one food booth to the next one, shoving funnel cakes (google it) with ice- and whipped-cream into their gaping mouths or enjoying a dozen of deep-fried Oreos (just imagine it). This is NOT healthy by any means! And don’t say that’s the exception! There is a food chain that sells a french toast that comes in at 2780 calories. While we are at it: Why do you applaud your nine year old daughter for putting on a ton of makeup and perform to a Nicki Minaj song in a cheerleader uniform? Aren’t you the guys who want their girls to be virgins until they marry and go crazy whenever there is a hint of a female nipple on television? But I digress.
Now we can turn our attention towards the health system. Unfortunately, I have some first hand experience with it now and my conclusion can be summarized into one short abbreviation: WTF!? Let’s start with the fact that I have health insurance. A pretty good one as I was told. Still I had to pay $300 up front for a basic health check including some blood tests. This was the discount rate at the UC Berkeley Health Center and I didn’t even see a doctor. I saw an advanced nurse. Now, I don’t want to say that she was not qualified for the job, but for 300 bucks I would have liked to see the highest ranked doctor around. My plea for a bill that I could send to my health insurance company was answered with a harsh “We haven’t done this in 13 years.” and the ringing of my VISA card. I wanted to come back to discuss the results, but that would have been another $140 and even though I may get the money back at some point in the future (when the original copies will have arrived in Germany and been processed) I can not afford to do that regularly. I scheduled a phone appointment, which was free of charge. Later on I learned, that my trip to the hospital in an ambulance on my first day in Berkeley (yeah, I know, what a lucky fellow I am) was something around $3000-$5000 and I am still not sure if I have to pay for that, because my health insurance is never mentioned on any of the “accepted insurances” pages on any of the health center websites I have visited. Yeah, that’s right. Not all hospitals accept all health insurances. That is something that has not once crossed my mind, that you can have a health insurance and still not be treated because there is no contract between the health center and your insurance company. That is something that I have seen on “House MD” but never assumed to be real. Again: WTF?! Health is a big topic in the media, but it’s mostly fear mongering about how Ebola could kill us all within weeks interrupted by commercials that either go “How to get slim and ripped by being lazy? Take one pill of ‘Lazyripped 4000’ to every fried-cheese-donut-orgy and we guarantee [certain restrictions apply] that you’ll look like Gerard Butler in 300 in no time!” or “Are you taking ‘Lazyripped 4000’ and are you bleeding from one or more orifices? Call 1-800-GREEDY-LAWYER and make some mad money!!”. I don’t think that’s helpful.
One last thing I learned last week is that nuclear power passes for green clean energy here because it’s not a fossil fuel. I could overlook the imminent threat of a nuclear meltdown or a leak in the system or the theft of radioactive material by bad guys who want to build a dirty bomb, but the fact that we still haven’t figured out how to safely store nuclear waste for the next couple of thousand years makes me think than the term “clean” is inappropriate. It may be glowing green though.