Food, Meditation, Exercise and... Economic Class?


I’ve just finished a slew of books on the environment and neuroscience in the last month. They include:

All of them are worth a read, except maybe “Healthy Brain, Happy Life,” which turns into a “Sex In The City” memoir-type for many of its pages. There is also a very common theme in all of them: eat well and avoid processed foods that are environmentally damaging; meditate to find peace of find; and exercise for emotional well-being.

On some level we all know this stuff, of course. (My girlfriend said when I told her about one of the books, “exercise is good for you? Shocker” in a deadpan voice.) But I don’t think most of us realize how much this stuff affects our bodies and minds. Eating well, exercising and meditation won’t inoculate you from pain, and isn’t a panacea for depression. But it can help you feel calmer, saner and more present, and you’ll likely have none of the diseases that come along with western eating, such as cancer and diabetes.

But I do have one problem with all this good advice, and it’s our good old friend, economic class. All of these authors are likely upper middle class and highly educated. And while everything they say is true, they don’t address the elephant in the room: access.

What do I mean to access? Well if you’re lower middle class living in Ohio, you probably don’t have access to the gigantic Whole Foods in Cleveland because, well, it costs too much. What doesn’t cost too much? Frozen meals. McDonalds. A bag of chips. All those things provide quick energy but almost no nutrients. This of course leads to a number of health problems and an earlier death.

This goes for meditation as well. Meditation might be ubiquitous in Brooklyn, but many people are unfamiliar with it other pockets of the United States or don’t have access to a $15 dollar class where they can learn from an accomplished teacher. Exercise is more achievable for most of us. After all walking and running are free. But God knows it’s hard to get motivated to exercise when one is just struggling to survive. As your stress goes up, and the cortisol invades your bloodstream, often the easiest solution is to have a drink.

Of course, I don’t have any easy answer for this all because the answer is very complicated. But I do want to point out what isn’t obvious to everyone else, and that is the obvious class bias in the highly educated, NPR-listening crowd (which I am very much a part of currently). The goal isn’t maybe to judge the working classes. The goal maybe is for everyone to have access to all things that create a happy life.