Sunday, May 9, 2010

West Virginia stereotypes

Most of you who know me know that we have a weekend cabin outside of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.   Anyone from the DC area knows all the jokes about West Virginia - mostly involving a lack of intelligence, missing teeth, hillbillies, marrying your cousin, or something to do with the movie "Deliverance."  I've heard most of them, and am sure to keep hearing them more and more as time goes on.

I had many of those stereotypes in my mind as well when we bought Pinewood.  I soon found out that some people are some of these things - the people in and around Berkeley Springs are not the best educated or most worldly; they do not have the best dental hygiene.  But they are some of the nicest people I've ever met - the "locals" really have a small town mentality and embrace new people.  They start conversations with you in diners; drivers stop at walkways to let pedestrians cross; and the waitress at Betty Lou's asks where your kids are because they aren't with you when they have been the last 20 times you went there.

But I was deeply disturbed when one stereotype was really in my face yesterday.  I've always heard that West Virginians are overweight and unhealthy.  And a lot of them are.  Most live below the poverty level - WV is the third lowest state in per capita income, and as of January 2010, the unemployment level was 9.3%.  So I'm guessing that eating healthy food is not high on the priority list.  But while grocery shopping yesterday, I observed a large woman with two overweight pre-teen girls, and one average size elementary school daughter doing their shopping.  What caught my attention was not the size of the woman or her children, but rather, what was in her grocery cart.  She had 8 3-liter bottles of soda - orange, root beer, mountain dew, and coke, and not one of them diet; two huge bottles of Hawaiian Punch; and no less than 8 frozen pizzas.  At that point, I had to walk away.

I am trying to figure out why this bothered me so much.  I am overweight, and have been since my children were born (my oldest is 9 and my youngest just turned 7).  Most of my siblings and parents are and always have been overweight.  I did not learn healthy eating habits growing up, and still am not the healthiest eater.  I drink at least one soda almost every day - usually Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper.  And my day is not complete unless I've had at least one sweet treat, probably two, and sometimes more.  So who am I to judge what other people eat?  Actually - I don't think I was judging her, but rather observing her and wondering what makes us different.  I think it is that, thanks to Weight Watchers, I have learned to try to make some healthy choices as part of my overall food intake.  I eat a salad with my lunch most days of the week, try to eat more vegetables with dinner, and try to eat fruit as a sweet treat instead of ice cream or cookies.  "All things in moderation" works really well with the Weight Watchers plan.

I think that is what struck me - there was not one piece of produce in that woman's cart.  Had there been any kind of fruit or vegetable, I would have thought that they are part of what she and her family eat.  But the fact that all that was in there was processed food and a LOT of drinks loaded with sugar and chemicals just hit me hard.   It makes me sad to think that her children will probably be overweight for most of their lives, and will never learn healthy eating habits.  And unfortunately, it will probably be a trait passed on for generations.

I'm hoping that I learn a lesson from this woman - or actually just reinforce lessons that I already know.  And that I teach them to my children as well.  The choices you make in what you eat have a direct result on your quality of life - maintaining a healthy weight by eating healthy food makes you live longer, and lessens your chance of getting most cancers, diabetes, and high cholesterol.  Living a healthy life can raise your life expectancy, and make the quality of that long life even better.  It's not always easy or convenient, but the best things in life never are.

And you can - and should - have the candy bar or birthday cake every once in a while.  Because they are yummy - and everyone should have something yummy - in moderation of course.

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