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03.18.2015

An Open Letter to United Airlines: Bring Back the Banana, Please

DiabetesMap

“Excuse me, could I get a banana please?” I said to the flight attendant on my recent flight from SFO to JFK.
“Oh, I’m sorry we stopped that.”
“Stopped what,” I asked?
“Offering bananas as a snack.”
“Ok what can I get instead?” I asked.
“A cookie,” he replied.

The flight attendant did not agree with the airline’s decision and encouraged me to write a letter protesting the change. So I did and sent it to them via Twitter.

Dear United Airlines,

On Wednesday, February 12, 2016 I flew from SFO to JFK. In the middle of the flight I asked the attendant for a banana only to be informed that you had stopped offering bananas as a snack. When I asked what I could get instead the attendant said the only option was a cookie.

I am writing to request that you reinstate the policy of offering a banana as an option for a snack. You may wonder why I am going through such trouble for something as seemingly trivial as a banana. I would like the opportunity to explain why this is so important.

I just attended the “Healthy Lives, Healthy Kitchens” Conference presented in partnership by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America. Dr. David Eisenberg of the Harvard School of Public Health introduced the conference by presenting the following statistics:

  • Between 1980 and 2011 diabetes quadrupled in this country.
  • Today there are approximately 25 million people living with diabetes and another 100 million who have metabolic syndrome.
  • The CDC estimates 1 in 3 U.S. adults born after 2000 will develop Type II diabetes.
  • Diabetes costs the nation $245 billion annually
  • There is evidence that America’s children will be the first in the nation’s history to live shorter lives than their parents.

Diabetes is literally eating this country alive at a scarily aggressive rate. We, as a country are facing a major challenge. No one group can solve this problem alone.

Sugar is added to 80% of processed foods on US store shelves. Everyday we are bombarded with so many food choices, all with added sugar. I am writing to say that in a nation so full of sugar we don’t need another free cookie. We need a banana.

Some may try to tell you that the banana is higher in sugar than the cookie and is therefore worse for you. But that is simply not true. According to the American Heart Association daily added sugar intake should not exceed 37.5 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Your Otis Spunkmeyer Chocolate Chocolate Chunk cookies have 12 grams of sugar (otis spunkmeyer) and 0 grams of fiber. This is almost a third the maximum daily intake for men and half for women.

A banana has 28 grams of sugar and 6 grams of fiber. The reason a banana is good for you and a cookie is not is fiber. Fiber does three things 1) adds bulk to help fill you up without adding extra calories; 2) slows the absorption of sugars by your body, helping to maintain a consistent blood sugar level and prevent insulin spikes, and; 3) increases your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and nutrients from the food you’re eating.

The lack of fiber in that cookie causes the refined sugars to be absorbed quickly causing your insulin and blood sugar to spike and give you a surge of energy. If that energy is not immediately used your body turns it into fat. The repeated spike of insulin caused by eating sugary foods is what causes metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

We can fix the sad state of America’s health by changing what we eat. Chronic disease is preventable if we eat the right things, namely a diet rich in whole plant-based foods and low in animal based products, sugar and added oils. My soon-to-be husband David (a United Premier 1K Member) exemplifies the truths that chronic disease can be prevented with diet and that we are not a victim of our genes. He has a family history of heart disease. His father had his first heart attack at 44 and died of one at 74. Two of his aunts have suffered symptoms of heart disease. Despite being extremely active (he completed three Iron Man triathlons) and eating a well balanced diet by USDA standards, David had elevated cholesterol and had been taking a statin for several years. In 2012 he read The China Study and learned that he could prevent heart disease by adhering to a whole foods plant-based diet, low in added oils, as evidenced by the research of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Based on this evidence he made a commitment to a vegan diet. Prior to commencing the diet his total cholesterol was 210. After just 3 months of vegan eating his cholesterol dropped to 180. After another 3 months of eating vegan and low fat his cholesterol was 140. This is a powerful testament to the omnipotence of food in preventing chronic disease.

Some may say that eating this way is extreme. And I would respond, in relation to what?? The multitude of life threatening surgical procedures performed each year to fix peoples hearts and staple peoples stomachs?? Or to the $330 billion we spent on prescription drugs in 2013??

The very simple fact of the matter is that diet is extremely important. We don’t hear this more because the big food and drug companies don’t want us to. They want us to continue to eat all the processed and fast foods and believe that we can take a pill when these foods make us sick. So this message will not be propagated from the top down. We will not hear it from the companies who manufacture our food-like substances and our drugs. And many of us won’t hear it from our doctors because the sad truth is that many of them are suffering from the same confusion about diet and because of that they believe people are unable or unwilling to make the needed changes in their diet and lifestyle. We won’t even hear it from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics because their biggest sponsors are The National Cattleman’s Association, ConAgra, General Mills and the National Dairy Council and Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo are on their list of approved continuing education providers.

So this is why I am writing to ask that you bring back the banana. America needs help from big companies like you who have the ability to exact change. This is consistent with your commitment to build a sustainable future. It aligns with your supporting education for families and children around healthy food choices, as shown by your partnership with Feeding America and Common Threads. Shouldn’t this commitment extend to your customers? After all a better planet is of little use if all of it’s inhabitants are sick with chronic disease.

It would be awesome if United was the catalyst for changing the way US based airlines feed their passengers. The asian and middle eastern airlines provide a worthy example that offering plant-based meals on all flights is possible. But for now all I am asking is that you do away with the cookie (or equivalent in each class) and offer a banana instead.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and consider this small change.

 Sincerely,

Georgi Maule-ffinch