Chapter 13 Seven Calories

even calories. That’s all the energy we need in our modern world to obtain 2,000 calories. Just seven calories.  Imagine it is lunch time. By the time you get to your car, you only have 25 minutes left. You’re hungry and in a hurry. So you drive to the closest fast food restaurant. Fortunately, there isn’t a long line in the drive-through. You are on the phone when you pull up to the outside speaker. You look over the pictures of your choices. Your stomach is growling. You’re salivating a bit. The aromas of cooking meat waft across the parking lot.

 Now the work begins. Actually, it began when you put your foot on the brake pedal and pressed the button to lower your window. Years ago, the brakes might not have been powered, you might have also needed to press in the clutch, and you’d have to actually roll down the window. Now, you can save energy and time with a light touch on the brake and simply press a button to lower your window.  When a voice asks for your order, you distractedly choose the number associated with the picture that is the most attractive to you right now.

 Then the offer comes, “Do you want to supersize it?”  You look back at the pictures, this time calculating the great deal of the extra size and options. Burger, extra fries, extra soda. You’re thirsty anyway.

 It’s easy to say yes when your stomach is growling, and you don’t have time to carefully consider the ramifications. “Yes” is the easiest and most efficient answer.

 Back to burning calories. Your foot shifts from the brake pedal to the accelerator. Again, no clutch required. Your car eases forward. When you reach the window, you lift your foot off the accelerator and press down on the brake again.

If you’re a woman, you now have to exert extra effort; you have to reach all the way across to the other seat and lift your heavy purse on to your lap. If you’re a man, you simply shift your weight to remove your wallet.

 Once you have payment in hand, you then must reach all the way out your car window, toward the cashier, who takes your money. You then keep your arm out the window, waiting for your change.

 You have a few seconds of rest while they bag up your food. When they return, you reach all the way back out your window to receive your bag of food. You pull that 2,000 calories of hot, good-smelling food into your car and immediately reach for a French fry while you begin to negotiate the trip back to work.

 How many calories did you expend to get that 2,000 calorie meal?


     That’s it. Seven calories.

 Now, imagine you were alive in a different time, say, 1,000 years ago. What would you have to do get 2,000 calories?

     Well, 30 ears of corn will give you 2,000 calories.

 To get those 30 ears of corn, you’d have to plan ahead. In the spring, you would cut a row in the soil, place the corn seeds in, tamp down the soil, and water it.

 Over the coming weeks and months, you’d tend your corn, pulling weeds away from the stalks, maybe carefully pouring water that you carried from the nearby river.

 Finally, it would be time for harvest. You’d walk among the stocks, pulling away the ears of corn, which you’d carry in your arms to the edge of your garden. There, you’d shuck the corn, and prepare to dry the exposed ears.

 While they were drying, you’d cut down a tree, gather the wood, and split the bigger logs into manageable sizes. You’d then carry the firewood back to your home.

 Once the corn was dry, you’d grind the kernels using stones.

 And now, viola, it’s time to bake the corn cakes in the fire you built with the wood you chopped.

 Finally, finally, you’re ready to eat the small portion that is left of your 30 ears of corn.

 Do you think you expended more than seven calories? Probably more than the 2,000 calories that you just ate.  It’s a wonder people even survived back then. So much energy was spent to get calories into their bodies.

 The point is that our environment has radically changed, but our biology is basically the same as it was in ancient times. Where it used to take thousands of calories to get food, we now have food everywhere at literally the touch of a button. Worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) the food now tastes amazing, is easier to eat, looks and smells delicious, and it gives us lots of energy quickly and efficiently. And we have to do very little to get all this wonderful, calorie-rich food.

 In such an environment, even with a thin biology much less a heavy biology, it’s amazing we are not all morbidly obese.