Knowledge: Use it or Lose It

brain dead

A mind is a terrible thing to lose

One of the great advantages that the human species has over the other creatures of this world is a developed brain that allows us to learn things beyond mere survival skills.  We can ask questions of what, how, where and why and come up with answers that can not only give our life meaning but enables us to survive beyond factors that would otherwise see our existence come to an early demise.  Sadly, that same capability can have the reverse effect and ultimately lead to our early demise as well.

While we have learned to cure life threatening diseases we have also taken that same knowledge and devised chemical weapons to kill one another.   We have learned to convert the decay of prehistoric life and use it to energize our homes and workplaces never realizing at the time that it would eventually contribute to the decay of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the very planet we call home.  Once fixated on this our knowledge of wind and hydropower was lost almost entirely, being relegated mostly as sources only primitive people used.

Our research into the human anatomy has perhaps been more extensive than any other field.  We can now see and measure data from the time life is conceived and follow it all the way through, not only until we draw our last breath but postmortem as well.  From zygote to corpse.  This knowledge has given us the greatest health care capabilities in human history.  We not only can now fix a lot of things that once ailed us but inform the human being what preventative steps to take to ensure a long, healthy and productive life

Of course there are caveats and anomalies that occur in our ecosystem that makes science a pursuit that seldom has absolutes.  But then science never has presented itself as a source of absolutes.  In and of itself science is not a body of knowledge that has reached conclusions per se.  But apart from mystical senses and gut level feelings, it is our best source of information to help us understand more tangibly our life and all that that entails.

Scientific inquiries and cause and effect observations can render us information that will improve our world.  Those fields that focus on human behavior provide information used to improve life, making us healthier and efficient.  Assets we cherish and benefit us all.   Provided of course that such humans focus their attention on making the world a safer place rather than one that threatens our existence, we should do all we can as a society to fulfill this condition.

knowledge is power


What if we had at our disposal sufficient evidence that could improve the well-being of millions of children?  Information that would help them perform better during their formative years where they learn more easily and retain what they learn longer.  What if this information also showed that this improvement could be achieved, not through some new technological discovery that only the wealthiest amongst us could afford, but is something that has been within our reach since we evolved out of the murky waters and began to walk upright on dry land?

This information is not new to the human species.  One could actually say that it is a wisdom that has been lost over time.  That time where we slowly separated ourselves from a way of life where we met our basic nutritional needs through simple farming practices to the present where we now have to rely on huge agribusinesses to provide our daily bread in the form of less nutritional processed food.

We have gone from eating naturally grown foods that for the most part meet the requirements our bodies need to live a healthy life, to one where nutrients are not only lost in the process of production, but where newer chemicals have to be added to give greater shelf life to such foods while also creating human health risks.  The result has been an increase in cancers and heart diseases where few used to exist and obesity rates that bring the problems of diabetes with it.  We eat more meat now than ever before and as a result have increased our risk for heart disease.    

This change in our eating habits has been passed down to each succeeding generation and as result “the current generation of kids could be the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.”  Associated with this is the other factor where many children are deprived of essential nutritional meals needed to build strong bodies and minds in their early years – POVERTY.

“More than 16 million kids in America live in households that struggle to put food on the table.  That’s 1 in 5 kids.”  Combine this factor with food supplies where nutritional balance is deficient and you have a potential threat where America’s future generations will no longer be able to compete with other global societies who have taken steps to ensure that personal income is not a causal factor for children failing in school.

Healthy eating is key to a healthy lifestyle. For decades, nutritionists and government agencies have urged Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, yet we are still not eating enough of them. One largely untried way in which government policy could encourage Americans to eat more healthy foods is by making it easier for farmers to grow more of them, which would increase their availability to consumers. Instead, federal farm subsidies are disproportionately directed to the production of ingredients for unhealthy processed foods, using methods that degrade our environment and squander scarce resources.   SOURCE 

Poverty obviously makes it harder to buy nutritional food stuff conjoined with the more abundant availability of cheaper processed food loaded with sugars.  Small farmers’ markets that used to give most people within a community access to a diverse assortment of vegetables, fruits, dairies and meat products have been replaced with large supermarkets whose shelves are loaded with sugared and salted processed foods as well as meat and dairy that’s been raised in cramped, unsanitary factory farms where beef, chicken and pork products have been injected with antibiotics and growth hormones.  Elements that get passed on down the food chain wounding up on the dinner tables of American families.

This change in lifestyle didn’t go unnoticed by educators who over the years have watched more and more kids fail in school for reasons they have little control over – failing to eat nutritional meals.

Research has shown that most kids don’t eat a nutritional breakfast if they eat at all before coming to school.  This leads to problems where kids are unable to focus on their  class material and often wound up in the nurse’s office with stomach pains from hunger.

Hunger has a huge effect on how a child performs at school.  In fact, 9 out of 10 teachers say having a healthy breakfast is key to academic success.   SOURCE   

Though many schools across the nation are now implementing school breakfast and lunch programs that benefit all children, state and local budgets are stretched and financial resources for such programs are often the first to be cut.  These budget cuts are a direct result of those lawmakers who initiate tax cuts with the belief that such cuts will improve the overall economy.

The reality is that the tax cuts most people experience are often insufficient to make up for the loss in vital social programs like SNAP and Medicaid that serve the poorest of the poor.  It is amongst this income group where most of the children who fail in school exist.  Poor diets and poor health care eliminate the competitive edge these kids need to win a spot in the job markets that deliver high salaries and health benefits, ensuring instead their place in a cheap labor market with few if any benefits where continued poor nutrition will repeat itself.

I find it unremarkable that the nutrition levels are the lowest in those parts of the country where people support extreme measures to reduce social safety net resources that will prevent children from failing in school.  Of the top ten states with the worst public health conditions all are controlled by conservative politics and eight are in the old confederate South, where nearly a third of all inhabitants are considered obese.

An example of conservative politics taking its toll on the poor is how Republicans voted on the recent Farm Bill.  This bill is up for renewal every five years and essentially has two parts.  The one that offers subsidies to farmers and the other that provides nutritional aid to Americans in distress, mainly in the form of food stamps.

Long ago, when subsidies helped many poor farmers, you could defend the whole package as a form of support for those in need. Over the years, however, the two pieces diverged. Farm subsidies became a fraud-ridden program that mainly benefits corporations and wealthy individuals. Meanwhile food stamps became a crucial part of the social safety net.

So House Republicans voted [this year] to maintain farm subsidies — at a higher level than either the Senate or the White House proposed — while completely eliminating food stamps from the bill.   SOURCE

Ideology has taken hold of our collective mind and in so doing has put our children at risk.  Not the wealthiest among us whose parents can afford to purchase the nutritional food items that cost more because our agricultural policy has focused more on grains for fuel than fruits and vegetables.  Not the wealthiest who can afford the increasing cost of health care in this country to replace heart valves that burn out from too much fat in their diet.  Not the wealthiest who are assured a better future in the job market because they were able to achieve higher scores in school from being able to meet their daily nutritional needs.

It is the people whose incomes keep shrinking each year while the wealthiest 2% continue to see their incomes rise.  It is the family where there is only one parent who has to work two jobs, if they can find them, to make enough to pay the rent and keep the house warm during the winter while their food budget has only enough in it to buy the cheaper, less nutritional processed food.

These same states that have the worst population health problems are also home by and large to those areas where the religious right keep pushing for laws to prevent abortions.  Most abortions are occurring with young, unwed mothers from poor families  who find themselves the victim of an unwanted pregnancy.  They are the least likely to be able to bring their child up in conditions conducive to competing with the other kids in school from richer families.  Yet the religious right that forces these unwanted pregnancies through anti-abortion legislation because they hold the view that “all life is precious”, seem to have no qualms of seeing that life suffer after they are brought into this world by cutting programs that provide sufficient nutrition and health care to them during their formative, developmental years.

This ideological approach that insist that equal opportunity is there for all who want it is unwilling to recognize that we live in a structured economy where one’s fortune is in large part based on their birthright.  There may be laws on the books that afford everyone an equal opportunity but there is no law that ensures each family will have a job that provides a livable wage in which to raise healthy productive children.  The income gap that has developed now to a level where 80% of U.S. adults are near poverty, rely on welfare, or are unemployed means that more children will suffer in school as the U.S. continues its decline in education among the developed nations.

School nutrition programs have a leveling affect, allowing lower income children to compete which children of advantage.  Not only in academics but in their careers.

You would think that with all of this knowledge we have been able to gather that the right choice in how to deal with it would be obvious.  But knowledge unused is essentially knowledge lost.  Too many of the wrong people are in positions that prevent reliable knowledge from being a part of policies that make this a better place to live for everyone.  Too many people in the right places hold rigid views that blind them to the harm their flawed perspectives cause.  Too many people who can effect positive change have greater loyalties to a few over the many.


Helping them inherit a better world


This coming school year I have volunteered to be a part of school nutrition program that will feed every child in that school a healthy breakfast prior to the start of their classes.  Income will not be a factor.  It’s a pilot program and we’ll be learning how to reach the most children effectively as we proceed.

I’m not sure at this point where exactly I will fit into this project.  But I hope it has something to do with sharing the simple knowledge that feeding our children a healthy breakfast each day will make them better people.  Such a small step when consistently followed can lead in most cases to high success rates in school and later in their careers.  Their knowledge base will envelope how to take care of themselves and their children better as well, so health issues in this country, especially with obesity, cancer and heart disease will once again be something less common in our society.

It’s amazing how a little knowledge can go a long way once people learn to move past the decades of misinformation deeply ingrained into the habits and lifestyles that contribute to their own ignorance.  If only that barrier was as easy to break down as it was to build we could turn our low educational status on its head and health care into little more than annual physicals.  But as Lao-Tzu noted centuries ago, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.


14 responses to “Knowledge: Use it or Lose It

  1. Excellent writing, Larry. I heard about the Republicans’ plan to eliminate SNAP the other day. Everything about their behavior screams punish the poor and reward the well-to-do. Our nation’s obesity crisis threatens our economic safety, yet conservatives continue to work against bettering the health of all. We live in the richest nation in the world and yet it is the meanest and most backwards. To most conservatives and to all libertarians, it’s a matter of personal responsibility, which translates to: “the hell with you poor folks.” Crazy – but they all live next to “poor” folks, they might have relatives that qualify as disadvantaged and certainly many of their constituents are in that category. Thank you for writing this and for stepping up in your community.

    • “To most conservatives and to all libertarians, it’s a matter of personal responsibility, which translates to: “the hell with you poor folks.”

      Sadly I think these type of people just don’t want to recognize the awful truth. We’re all guilty to some degree of looking the other way from our social responsibilities but the radical right makes it religion it seems.

    • If any one has been witness to this Hans it has to be you in your capacity as a probation officer. The repeated poor choices you must have experienced with a lot of your clientele.

  2. Having worked at food pantries in both Iowa and NM, I am happy to say that a great deal of emphasis is place on real food in NM. I spent my morning bagging zucchini, potatoes, cheese, and beans for distribution. There were boxes of eggs, tomatoes, onions, rice, apples, oranges, being set up for the days service to those who struggle to feed their families. We have the backing of our farmers markets who donate all their excess each Saturday as well as various bakeries and other food distributors. I never saw such stuff in Iowa who mostly handed out canned goods and a loaf of bread. Although I believe that less meat consumption is preferable, what is essential is that we get away from processed foods which have been chemicalized to death to preserve it. Real food is the best. Glad you are getting involved Larry. You will get such great satisfaction for sure.

    • It’s encouraging to hear about your involvement with such a program Sherry. And yes, getting natural, non-processed food into the bellies of little children will have greater health benefits.

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