Food & Fat
This brings me back to something I've been pondering lately: Is there a way to have a war on obesity that is not inherently a war on obese people? Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat says no: "I say enough is enough. I say it’s time to call for an end to the ridiculous notion that there can be a war on obesity without having a war on obese people." But I think that's not true.
Mind, I do think the distinction between the war on obesity and a war on obese people is one that most public-service writers and journalists are incapable of. My favorite bad example is a poster in the NYC subways against junk food: it shows the silhouette of a very fat man, with pictures of all sorts of junk food about to slide into his gullet. I really think our repulsion at his profile is assumed, and that repulsion is supposed to transfer to the junk food. And I am angered by how much "it will make you fat" has replaced "it's not good for you" by some malign synechdoche.
On the other hand, I have to say that I like and approve of a recent commercial about sugar in soda: A medium-weight, slightly nerdy guy opens and eats one packet of plain sugar after another, while people look aghast; the announcer says, "You wouldn't eat 16 packets of sugar, but that's what you get in a 20-ounce soda." Now, there may be all kinds of sizist motives for choosing a medium-weight person for the ad, but the ad does makes the issue one of nutrition, not weight, with the emphasis on the food.
In other words, I think one way we can have a war on obesity but not on the obese is to make it all about the food, and specifically--like the ad I do like--about amounts of certain foods. I wish the ad in the subways had shown the food going directly into a heart, clogging it. To me, that's more about the real problem--junk food--and more accurate about why such foods are bad as a stable diet. When messages focus on foods that offer too much of components most of don't need and not enough of components that everyone does, they seem pretty sane to me. Unlike messages about obesity per se, they're not stigmatizing fat people,and they're not doing a disservice to slender people by suggesting that they don't have to worry about nutrition because they aren't fat.
One semi-examined basis of various opinions about food, obesity, and the war on obesity is one's conclusions or assumptions regarding how much eating and weight are connected. I daresay 2/3 to 9/10 of the populace would look at me and figure I eat junk food all the time, a view that is demonstrably not true. On the other hand, many fat-rights activists say that fat people eat no more than people of other weights; In another post, Dances with Fat says, "Studies show that healthy habits, like vegetables and walking, can help increase the odds of being healthy (though of course health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, and there are never any guarantees) but have almost no chance of creating long term weight loss." I think both of these perspectives are wrong.
The most convincing study I have read is that fat people at a stable weight eat the same as average people at a stable weight, but people at any weight who are gaining take in more calories than people at any weight who are stable.
I have to say that I don't know study design: it convinces me because it corresponds with my personal experience and manages to reconcile all the other, widely disagreeing studies.
In my view, my fat is in part a record of my past eating behavior. I have no trouble saying that. The widespread and infuriating problems are that (1) people think my fat is a record of how I eat now, and most of all, (2) people think that weight and health are public and moral issues instead of private and practical issues. I think it's ridiculous to say that changes in eating & activity don't affect weight at all--almost, though not quite, as ridiculous as my belief in my 20s, still held by almost all people, that the right changes in eating & activity could quickly yet sustainably bring my weight down to what the insurance weight-charts said I should weigh. Rather, my fat represents an complicated and even incalculable complex of where I have been and where I am in terms of intake and use of energy. Doesn't that make a lot of sense? And doesn't it sound rational, without any shaming or justification attached to it?
On a moral level, I believe that food is just food; I certainly don't believe in evil food that one is naughty to eat. However, on a practical level, I think that some food is manifestly more healthful than other food, and that food with maximum nutrition and moderate-to-low fat and/or sugar is on the whole a better choice than food with minimal nutrition and high fat and/or sugar. Some food, like Cheetos, I just don't see any use for at all, except to make money for the snack-food company. Others, as appalling as the campaign to redefine the Cookie Monster is to me in other ways, I find myself thinking of as, in the Sesame Street phrase, "a sometimes food."
Let's be clear: I am a complete fat-rights activist, the idea of deliberate weight loss twists up my brain in horrible knots, and I personally don't expect ever to be "normal weight" short of getting one of a group of illnesses I don't even want to think about. But I feel certain that we have to be able to discuss healthful nutrition without shaming. I wonder if that discourse can ever include talk about ways of eating that will keep us happy and never hungry but, especially in a sedentary life, not promote unnecessary weight gain. Maybe not--maybe society is just too fukked up for that conversation to happen. At least I have found a group of people with whom I can discuss just healthful nutrition in a fat-friendly, non-moralistic way, and that I am very happy about.
Status: time for The Walking Dead