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Thomas Anderson

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Did I just help society, or hurt society?

I just drove 1/2 mile to a fast food restaurant, in a car that gets 35 miles per gallon. I went through the drive through, and it took 3 minutes. I then drove home, and ate two chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and lettuce on rolls, and a large cola, all for 4 dollars and 19 cents.

Did I just help society, the economy, and my own personal health, or did I just hurt society, my own personal health, and the economy?

I would appreciate all points of view! Thank you!


Closing Statement from Thomas Anderson

Thank you very much for participating in this debate! I did not get any points of view from the restaurant industry. I guess if I were a reporter, that would be a "no comment"?

TED is awesome.

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  • Dec 19 2011: I suppose it has everything to do with how much you enjoyed the drive and eating and drinking the products you selected. I hope you enjoyed the drinking and the eating. The way I see it, you elevate the joy level of humanity when you elevate your own joy level. HAPPY TODAY!
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      Dec 20 2011: Honestly, I never saw that point of view coming! One point for being more idealistic than I am!
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    Dec 19 2011: Hurt society:
    - environmental pollution caused by farms and by cars
    - the food used to feed farm animals and/or the food that could be grown on the land used for farming, could be used to stop all hunger in the world
    Hurt your own personal health:
    - long story short: you're not giving to your body what it is supposed to be fed with in order to function at it's best
    - you chose not to take a short walk
    Helped the economy:
    - you've shown your support by placing money into the circuit
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      Dec 19 2011: What are you supposed to eat and what are you not?
      It worth an other debate, maybe I will launch it after the current one is over. :)

      From an evolutionary point of view you should eat what you are adapted to eat: meat, game, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fungi, berries, leaves. And don't eat anything appeared with modern culture and agriculture: grains, refined carbohydrates, most of the legumes, dairy, processed meat, alcohol.

      But you know, it sounds super-logical (more than that, actually - I think it is true, but it is only my personal opinion as a nutritionist going against the current), but this argument is very much ignored nowadays. WHO tries to force down 60% of our daily energy from carbohydrate sources and there is a huge unnecessary anti-meat propaganda, which only causes harm.

      When you go out to a McDonald's it is not the single 100 grams meat is what is killing you but the rest. Fries, refined oil, white rolls, mayonnaise.

      Physical activity is absolutely essential for a healthy living. No argument against that! :)
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        Dec 19 2011: There are some things we are adapted to, maybe because sometime in the past we had to, in order to survive. There are some other things we are built to get nourishment from, required if we want our bodies to function at their best. We should be aware of the differences between the two.
        Have you read the book "The China Study"? I warmly recommend it to anyone interested in nutrition. :)
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    Dec 19 2011: Hey!

    I'm a biologist slash nutritionist, so I will try to deal with the "personal health" part, I will gently leave society and economy to others. :)

    Driving - I have been to the US, so I know that in some cities it is impossible to be a pedestrian, but half mile is approximately 10 minutes on foot (20 minutes for the round-trip - high level of mathematics). With this amount of walking you can burn around 100 calories, breath some fresh air (again, I know you live in a city), feel the sunshine, etc.

    Food - I checked the McDonald's website's nutritional info and I counted. Two McChicken sandwiches and a large coke are approximately 1000 calories (a little more). Because of the high carbohydrate (sugar, white roll) content your lunch has a fairly high glycaemic index, so I suppose you got hungry approximately 3 hours later, right after your blood sugar peaked and fell. I am not against fast food, if you maintain a healthy living, do physical activity regularly, I think it's not a huge NO to be lazy and eat junk food from time to time. But eating there every day is pretty harmful, as we all know. You can always check how many calories should you eat (there are some websites which can count that based on your anthropometric values and some lifestyle facts). There is a general rule what everybody tends to forget: if you consume more calories than you expend, you'll gain weight on the long run. Also, consider that junk food is addictive. Foods there have some artificial flavor-enhancer in them which makes them super-delicious, your brain, your body literally overreact because of the supernormal stimuli.

    Summary - Did you help your personal health? Debatable. If you live like that all the time, than you definitely hurt yourself with this lifestyle. If it was a "once only" thing, you did no harm. Eating crappy food is your choice of course... if your body (and your brain) can deal with it, no problem.

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      Dec 19 2011: Thank you Sir ! What is actual chemical make-up of the artificial flavor-enhancer? What does it do Biochemically to the brain?
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        Dec 19 2011: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernormal_Stimuli

        Based on the Wikipedia definition, a "supernormal stimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved." Also, there is this sentence: "...explains junk food as an exaggerated stimulus to cravings for salt, sugar, and fats...". We are being set up for this by evolution. We naturally prefer energy dense, salty foods, because once we were lacking these. Now, when there are shitloads of these all around, they became harmful.

        AGAIN, I would like to emphasize that if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, do physical activity every day, if you know your body and your barriers - there shouldn't be a problem.

        Sorry, but I do not really know the chemical structures of these molecules, but it is sure that many of the junk foods contain particular flavor enhancers which make for example mustard much much more intensive. Personal experience. As soon as I enter a McDonald's and I eat a sandwich somehow I feel that the flavors I feel are not real. But also, I know that they are extremely delicious and I want to go back...
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          Dec 19 2011: I really appreciate your response. I wish I knew the truth about additives and chemicals. I truly believe that no-one should go without proper nutrition, and that nutrition should be exact.

          If a body needs one more atom of Zinc, it should get it. If a body needs 1200 calories a day, the calories should be the best kind of calories there are for that particular body.

          I should be able to know exactly what my metabolism needs. With the wave of a scanner, I should be able to detect that I need .004 milligrams of Riboflavin, to be sent to a specific cell trying to work.

          Thank you for letting me ramble! Now I'm hungry again :)
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    Dec 21 2011: You could walk to the restaurant. 1/2 mile is absolutely not a long way. No fuel used, no pollution, an advantage for your health, it would have taken more time, but if you are not in lack of it, and if the weather was OK, you might have had a nice walk. Besides, you could choose something instead of fast food reastaurant. In this case that would be more beneficial for your health, and you would support people who contribute to a more healthy life, especially if the more 'healthier' meal would have been more expensive (it's a big chance of this). So, you would have lost a little bit more of your time and money, but there would be less harm for everything. Probably.
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    Dec 20 2011: addendum: I don't think anyone at that fast food restaurant should be making less than 10 dollars per hour. They work hard.
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    Dec 19 2011: I'm sure there are many little african children asking the same question.
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    Dec 21 2011: Sounds like a word problem in a math class. I'm assuming you say "I ate" as a stylistic device, and that you really "increased joy" by sharing the chicken sandwiches and the large cola with the young lady in your picture. That would certainly have helped your immediate society, while your health benefited from non-overconsumption. Giving you credit for contributing the measly four and a half bucks (with gas) to the national economy, along with amusing all these commenters for an aggregate hour or two, it sounds like a pretty positive experience to me.
  • Dec 20 2011: Thanks, Thomas and ethan. Your explicit expressions of "thumbs up" just elevated my joy level. I love the way we humans can have such strong, positive impacts on each other. I respect us for using our freedoms, powers and resources to do that. I acknowledge my wonderfulness. I acknowledge my equality to you.
  • Dec 20 2011: The only way you've helped society, is by stimulating the economy.
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      Dec 20 2011: the economy is stimulated by saving, not consuming
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        Dec 21 2011: Huh? Must the old theory that when you buy from a business you stimulate the business yield to a new theory? (You stimulate the business by not buying from the business?) I'd love to see the math.
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          Dec 21 2011: that theory you refer to is 80 years old. my theory is more than a 100, with its roots as old as twice as much.

          the "math" is this easy: either you produce consumer goods or you produce capital goods. consumer goods just make you live for another day. capital goods increase future production. we work less yet have much more than our ancestors. it is because of all the capital accumulated throughout countless centuries, always adding more to our heritage.
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        Dec 21 2011: I appreciate your explanation, Krisztián. These 2 theories are not in conflict. It's not an either-or between producing capital goods or consumer goods. A healthy economy needs both at all times. Of course if there's a shortage of lendable capital, then saving will help build that. But if there's not, consumption adds to corporate profit and confidence and also provides capital. I've never heard a company urge the public, "We wish you would buy a little less of our product, and save your money instead." And I don't think I ever will.
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          Dec 21 2011: it IS a choice between consumer goods and capital goods. what is not clear on that? any resource, any hour of work is put either in this or that. the more we save, the more capital goods we have. capital can come from savings only. there is no other source of it, unless our good UFO friends start to donate some.

          you can damn surely bet on no company producing consumers goods will urge you to consume less. but i can also assure you that if you do, and that company must shrink in result, other companies producing capital goods will be grateful for the cheaper resources. don't stop at the first step of logic. follow it all the way to the end.
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        Dec 22 2011: We're pretty far from the topic of this conversation. I'll just recommend any basic text in economics. Read up on the connection between corporate profit and capital investment. That could be an eye-opener.
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          Dec 22 2011: you are very kind. how many "basic texts" you have read on economics? can you recommend one? i must have read the wrong ones, since i derived my above conclusions from my study material that consists of 12 hours of audio lecture, and 10 books. but i'm always ready to learn new things about "corporate profit" and "capital investment".
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        Dec 22 2011: Hi Krisztian,
        How does one get interested in economy so much?
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      Dec 23 2011: "The only way you've helped society, is by stimulating the economy."

      Not necessarily, all that has been done is the buyer supporting state subsidized foods and so hurting locally grown food.

      I would say the defendant is guilty of three charges: health, economic, and green house gas damage. ;)
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    Dec 19 2011: Hey Thomas,

    I felt a small irony about the fact I said the body should need what it needs.
    Of course you won't hear your body's shout about the need of 0,000007 mg sodium.
    But you should know your barriers...
    "Oh, fuck, this dinner was too much, and I have been eating these huge dinners for 2 weeks now. I am not heading in the right direction, I need to cut the portions and do some PA daily from now".
    or... "I don't eat enough, I started to lose weight, but I don't want to. What should I do?"

    I am genetically lean for example and my metabolism is naturally on a high level all the time because I had some hormonal problems with my thyroid when I was a teenager. I can eat whatever I want, I know I won't get fat. Also, I know that if I start to work out every day, I can have bigger and bigger muscles, but I won't ever be a body builder, 'cause my rate of metabolism cannot allow me to gain weight (nor fat or muscle tissue).

    Something like this... you have to know what you can and cannot do with yourself.
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      Dec 19 2011: Thank you sir! I hope I ate enough beta-cryptoxanthin today...but since I never studied chemistry, it will be a long time before I find out... :)
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    Dec 19 2011: neither the "economy" nor "society" exists as a real entity. the economy does not have preferences, feelings, interests, so you can not hurt or help it. you can only hurt or help individuals.

    for example the mayonnaise certainly does not help your heart to do its job. but the owner of the restaurant thanks you for the money you left there.
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      Dec 19 2011: Thank you ! But did I affect the economy, or society in any way?

      (Mr. Varga just explained that I ate 1000 calories for 2 sandwiches and a drink...I didn't realize it was 1000.)
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        Dec 19 2011: you affected both society and the economy in so many ways it is impossible to list. these effects however are very small.

        you increased your chance of a heart attack or cancer with 0,00...01%. it directly translates to the medical cost of some fraction of a dollar. this money will be payed either by you or some insurance of yours of the state. in both cases, medical service providers earn a little profit and they lay a hand of some resources they otherwise would not need. the price of those resources will go up very slightly. it means that some other businesses will pay marginally more or will reduce their use. it will lead some reduction of production or profit. if it is the production, the price slightly goes up. if the profit, then some people will earn less. they will buy less other stuff. and so on and so on. after a few such steps, basically everyone on the earth will be affected, however in a so small degree that it is unnoticeable.

        the same avalanche of supply and demand changes will propagate through the economy as an effect of the buying itself. you redirected 4.19 dollars into that restaurant. it means that they will reach out for some more materials. the price of those materials will marginally go up by a fraction of a cent. it means that somewhere else someone will buy less of those products or other products. the price of those other products will go down. that will result in somewhat reduced production of those items. in effect, you commanded the economy to produce slightly more chicken and flour, and slightly less chocolate, microwave ovens and spaceships. you also commanded the economy to produce all the stuff that is needed to produce a chicken. you redirected some electricity to the chicken farm. you requested some more antibiotics, nutrients and construction materials used to build chicken farms. the effects are totally negligible, but nevertheless real.

        so something like this.
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          Dec 19 2011: Yes, that's what I'm talkin' about. Thank you! I ate two chicken sandwiches, and now we don't have any spaceships! :)

          I know that sounds funny, but it's kind of true...?

          Thank you!
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        Dec 19 2011: thomas, pretty much yes, but with a little correction. we don't have a spaceship if we had a 99.9999999% spaceship already, and we needed just 4 dollars to finish it. now you used this, and so we need to wait for someone else to give up that 4 dollars, so we can finish the spaceship.

        or, we don't have a spaceship, so we need 100 million americans to give up one meal in order to get the 400 million to make it.

        but it is even more complex. because if 100 million americans give up 4 dollars, the society can decide that something else, worth of 400 million dollars, are to be constructed. the money will go to the most important and most wanted use. it can be a fusion reactor. it can be a number of bridges. it can be cancer research. it can be coffee. we don't know how down on american request list the spaceship is.

        imagine it like a long wish list composed of individual wish lists of people. as you give up one need, you will invest on the second on your list. this time, you chose a 4 dollar junk food. it means that you didn't spend that money on *everything else* on your list.

        of course, you have another 4 dollars, so you will get the second on the list. and the third, and so on. what you gave up is the last thing on your list that you could get, but now you will not.

        the economy is a kinda complex thing.
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          Dec 19 2011: I am gonna save up for a spaceship, because I know the food will be better distributed on the next planet that Humanity will move to! :)