Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course
UPDATE: (Feb. 4, 2021) I wrote this article about the culture of convenience in 2019. The contents of the article are even more pertinent now. The pandemic made people even more sedentary due to restrictions and health concerns.
People were more likely than ever to use conveniences like curbside pickup and delivery instead of getting out of their car and walking around a store. Gyms, exercise classes, and other fitness facilities have been mostly closed for a year now. People were urged to stay home at all times and many do, staying inside, binge-watching the latest television shows, and working from their computers.
And it isn’t just adults who were affected. The few schools still operating in person no longer hold gym classes, and in most areas, children can’t play sports or play together at the park.
It’s pretty clear you don’t have to get Covid for your health to be seriously impacted.
(May 8, 2019) In the United States, we are lucky to have massive convenience at our fingertips. I was talking to one of the instructors for the urban survival course, who is from Sweden, on a car ride. He was blown away by some of the things I told him about the levels of convenience and comfort in the United States. Things I completely took for granted don’t even exist there. I thought some of you might be interested in hearing about some of the insights we discussed.
Before I left for the course, I was walking my dogs a mile or two every day with my dogs, but that was about it. I thought it was enough but I learned during the field exercises that it wasn’t even close to the physicality required during an SHTF situation. But I digress. Let’s get back to convenience.
A caveat before people respond indignantly and tell me about all the inconvenience with which they deal every day: this is an opinion piece. Obviously many people in America still work out hard and have manual jobs. But when two-thirds of American adults and 30% of American children are overweight or obese, you have to see that you are not in the majority.
And it’s the majority here that I’m discussing. Between a combination of low-quality food and extremely sedentary lifestyles, the majority are killing themselves with convenience.
The American Culture of Convenience
The first thing that struck me when I landed in the Balkans was how different their lifestyle is from ours in the United States. But the longer I’ve been here, the more obvious it has become.
In the United States, depending on where you live, everything is dropped in your lap.
Food can be quickly acquired by shouting your order into a microphone and driving around a building, all without you having to leave your car. And if you live in a larger town or city, with the advent of services like GrubHub and DoorDash, the food delivered to your home is no longer the domain of pizza chains. You can have your choice of practically any restaurant in town brought right to your door within 45 minutes.
But it isn’t just about food. Instacart offers pick-up services from a wide variety of stores, including places like chain grocers, Wal-Mart, and Target. All you have to do is drive up, let them know by phone that you’ve arrived, and pop your trunk. Poof. Your shopping is done. In some cities, you can even use services like Instacart to have these things brought to your door.
Amazon has brought us practically anything else we could want with two-day shipping, regardless of where you live in the country. Gone are the days of scouring half a dozen stores to locate the whatchamacallit you needed. A quick search on Amazon and One-Click ordering and it’s yours within 48 hours and you never moved off your comfy chair.
If you need to go somewhere you don’t even have to drive yourself or take public transit. Uber or Lyft will happily send somebody to pick you up and drive you anywhere you need to go for a reasonable price, and you can watch the approach of your driver from the convenience of your phone.
Entire billion dollar industries are evolving to make our lives more convenient and easy every single day. Imagine how stunned our hunter-gatherer ancestors would be to discover we don’t even have to leave the house to be clothed and fed in epic abundance.
We don’t walk much, either.
And speaking of drive-thrus and driving to the store to get your Instacart packages, we drive everywhere. Part of this is because of the way suburbia is developed. It’s rare to live in a neighborhood where you can walk to the market, the bakery, and the wine store. So instead of walking to get our goods, we drive there, dash in, and get back in our cars. Those in big cities probably walk far more than those in suburbia, and for those in the country, it depends if they actually have a place to walk and whether they’re taking care of a large property.
And if we’re not walking to run our errands, we’re not carrying stuff. We get as close as possible with our cars if heavy groceries need to be lugged in and we carry as little as we can if we’re heading somewhere. When you walk the dogs, you might take your phone and some poop bags but you’re generally not taking it as a training opportunity and strapping on a pack.
Then there are the stairs.
Even two-story buildings in the United States have elevators much of the time because everything, by law, has to be easily accessible to every person. (And no, I’m not saying that people in wheelchairs need to try to haul themselves up the stairs. I’m discussing a trend.) But it goes even further than that. Adding elevators to your home is a growing trend in both the United States and Canada. New home builders are including elevators in the original design of some homes.
On the other hand, in Europe, they don’t have elevators in many buildings with fewer than five floors. I walked up and down more stairs in the past month than I have in the past year at home combined, and I live in a three-story house.
And the list of conveniences that would blow the minds of people I met in the Balkans goes on.
It’s an agoraphobic’s paradise in the United States.
You can get all sorts of mobile services that come to your door – everything from hairstyling to dog grooming. Other people mow our lawns, clean our homes, service our vehicles, and take care of us in general. There are even people who hire others to walk their dogs. Some people definitely need help with physical tasks but able-bodied people should be able to do a little yard work, shouldn’t we? Especially if we’re preparing for some kind of apocalypse.
In many areas, things are perfectly level, the sidewalks are carefully maintained (because who wants to ask for trouble in our litigious society), and a slight incline is considered a “hill” that people avoid to make their dog walk a little easier.
You can get meal kits brought to your door with every single ingredient you need to make a gourmet meal, right down to the seasonings accurately doled out in little packages. You can have fresh fruits and vegetables dropped off at your door by your local CSA. You can get subscription services of all types with the delivery of things like cosmetics, fitness gear, food from exotic locales, wine, candy, home decor items, socks, and dog paraphernalia.
Looking at it from the perspective of the area where I’ve been spending time, it’s simply mind-boggling that all of these riches are brought to you at the click of a button.
And it’s killing us.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, the obesity rate in the United States is staggering. A lot of it is our food. Thanks to subsidization by the USDA, many of the foods that are cheap are highly processed with low-quality ingredients. The NY Times reports:
At a time when almost three-quarters of the country is overweight or obese, it comes as no surprise that junk foods are the largest source of calories in the American diet. Topping the list are grain-based desserts like cookies, doughnuts and granola bars. (Yes, granola bars are dessert.)
That’s according to data from the federal government, which says that breads, sugary drinks, pizza, pasta dishes and “dairy desserts” like ice cream are also among Americans’ top 10 sources of calories.
What do these foods have in common? They are largely the products of seven crops and farm foods — corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, milk and meat — that are heavily subsidized by the federal government, ensuring that junk foods are cheap and plentiful, experts say.
Between 1995 and 2010, the government doled out $170 billion in agricultural subsidies to finance the production of these foods, the latter two in part through subsidies on feed grains. While many of these foods are not inherently unhealthy, only a small percentage of them are eaten as is. Most are used as feed for livestock, turned into biofuels or converted to cheap products and additives like corn sweeteners, industrial oils, processed meats and refined carbohydrates. (source)
And even when we try to clean up our diets, foods are genetically modified, produce is doused in pesticides, and it’s packaged in all sorts of hormone-disrupting material that leaches in when you heat it up.
But it’s not just the crappy food. A lot of folks in the United States just do not get off their butts. And – I hate to say it – but I’m talking to a lot of people in the survival and preparedness world. Sitting at a keyboard or phone typing all day while Netflix plays in the background is sedentary to a deadly degree. On average Americans sit for 8.2 hours per day and this does not include the average 7-ish hours a day we’re sleeping. And when we’re not sitting, it doesn’t mean we’re doing things that are good for us. We spend a great deal of time standing in line and driving in our cars. And the trend toward inactivity is only increasing.
Meanwhile, obesity contributes to many diseases such as:
- High blood glucose (sugar) or diabetes.
- High blood pressure (hypertension).
- High blood cholesterol and triglycerides (dyslipidemia, or high blood fats).
- Heart attacks due to coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.
- Bone and joint problems, more weight puts pressure on the bones and joints. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a disease that causes joint pain and stiffness.
- Stopping breathing during sleep (sleep apnea). This can cause daytime fatigue or sleepiness, poor attention, and problems at work.
- Gallstones and liver problems.
- Some cancers.
The National Institute of Health is incredibly concerned about the future of overweight, sedentary Americans.
More recent evidence points to differential roles for body fat distribution patterns, in addition to excess overall adiposity, in elevating risk of many major chronic diseases. The large numbers of children entering adulthood overweight, together with increased weight gain in adulthood, portend an enormous burden in terms of human suffering, lost productivity, and health care expenditure in the coming decades. (source)
And – since it’s the purview of this website – imagine if the SHTF and you were too overweight and sedentary to go out and acquire the supplies you need to survive. Imagine what will happen when your medication runs out and you have a preventable disease brought on by your sedentary lifestyle. Imagine how your family will feel watching you suffer.
You need to add more movement to your life.
Unless you are among the 23% of Americans who meet the national exercise guidelines, you need to add more movement to your life. I suspect that there are a lot of people who believe they are disabled because getting started on a movement program is hard. It really does hurt, I know. But there’s a very good chance as you begin to move more it will become far easier. Don’t give in to it if your doctor says, “Oh, you’re disabled” and hands you a sticker for your car unless you really, truly are. If there’s even a glimmer of doubt in your mind, try to move just a few more steps each day. Instead of using the scooter to shop, push a cart to give yourself something to lean on. You aren’t training for a marathon – 10 extra steps a day will add up if you keep on pushing. But, MOVE.
The best way to increase movement is to decrease convenience. I don’t mean that you need to suddenly become a hunter-gatherer but you need to get off your duff. (To get started, check out this article or Bug Out Boot Camp and of course, always contact your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Blah, blah, blah.)
You need to carry heavy things instead of getting them delivered. You need to climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator. You need to actually go inside the store to do your shopping instead of sitting in your car, waiting for stuff to get loaded into your trunk. Park at the back of the parking lot, or better yet, at a store further away. Quit ordering from Amazon and buy things locally so you can walk around the store. Look for the hills and walk up and down them instead of avoiding them. If you want to eat restaurant food, go to the dad-gum restaurant. Find a place to walk to every day – maybe the post office, a coffee shop, or the dog park – and make it part of your routine.
It’s not unusual in other parts of the world to walk 8, 10, or even more miles, every single day. You don’t need to start there but maybe you should strive to get there. Once you’re in your groove, it should only take an hour or so to walk 4 miles. Using your feet as transportation is one of the healthiest things you can do.
Don’t be a casualty of the culture of convenience.