My biggest objection to the War on Fat People (and, good lord and little fishes, but I do have a lot of objections to this war…) is the sad fact that there is very little (if any) genuine concern for the ostensible objects of the battle, the fat slobs. We’re not the cause, we’re the occasion. We’re the proxies for the real battle, which is to regulate the food industry. The money in that industry (and the related economic sectors, like kitchen supplies, health & fitness, clothing, etc.) continuously thwarts attempts to rein it in, so the activists hope to starve the corporate beast by extracting pounds of flesh from us.
If the real target is the food industry, then go after them directly. Don’t propose fat taxes and promote public shaming so that we fatties will stop buying processed foods. Of course, as soon as a proposal comes down the road, then we have to deal with normative value judgments like what exactly is “healthy” food and how are diets (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) composed? Who is getting targeted for consuming allegedly unhealthy foods and why? Beyond food that contains adulterants or comes in hazardous packaging or has been contaminated with a poison or pathogen or contains pests and parasites or is simply not the product on the label, what can you actually identify in a food product that is harmful? The food puritans are spending a lot of media cycles trying to get sweeteners as such to be declared “toxic” when they clearly aren’t. How exactly are you supposed to regulate food apart from enforcing accurate packaging, preventing contamination/adulteration, and providing accurate nutritional information without imposing an unreasonable burden on the buyer and her right to choose her diet? The answer is to impose a burden on the buyer. I mean, she’s faaattt, so she shouldn’t be eating anyway and if she can’t buy food then we’re doing her a favor, right?
The latest idiocy is coming from Consumers International and the World Obesity Federation demanding that food be treated like tobacco, with warning labels, graphic photos of fat people plastered on the sides, changing the recipe formulations to reduce fat, sugar and salt in food (Measured how? Compared to what?), restricting advertising and “educating” the public. I think removing advertisements for just about anything from programs and publications aimed at children is probably a good thing, and public education has its place, except that we’re back to normative value judgments again about what constitutes “education.” Information based on scientifically valid studies paid for from public funds, or slanted hack-work like the Fed Up propaganda? Promoting diets made up from consumption of a wide range of foods with useful graphics like what your plate should look like, or promotion of the latest food fad tied to commercial products in the diet industry?
Various puritans propose to tax “unhealthy” foods to discourage their consumption, modeled on the sin taxes for tobacco and alcohol. Taxes on products because of ingredients is not going to work, though it will allow governments to extract yet more money from populations reliant on the cheapest foods and and who tend to have low voter turnout to defend their class interests. What do you do about food products that are just high in a particular ingredient? The Danes tried to tax food with high fat content and had to repeal because of the widespread presence of fat in ordinary and uncontroversial foods, like butter and cheese. What about food that just is composed of significant amounts of sugars and fats, like baked goods? Cheaply produced baked goods (breads, cookies, crackers, desserts) will still cost less (though proportionally more of the food budget of the people most likely to buy them, further reducing the money they have for other products), but locally produced items in independent bakeries and cafes would become significantly more expensive, harming local producers. Bakeries that specialize in products that have had all of the elements of traditional baked goods – gluten in dough, different sugars, wide varieties of fats, etc. – stripped out (applesauce and fruit juice to replace butter and sugar, for example) are niche markets, at best. The answer, of course, is that very high end bakeries and patisseries will continue to deliver delicious (though more expensive) pieces of culinary bliss, calories be damned, while the low-end mass produced stuff will become ever more processed to remove the offending ingredients. Maybe it will become too disgusting to eat, and so the puritans will have a win as they enjoy their expensive, decadent sweets while the slovenly masses do without. More likely is that high-end “artisan” shops will get exemptions from the rules so their high-social-status customers (the kind who already think nothing of shelling out $6 for a single loaf of bread) won’t be inconvenienced.
There is also the proxy of “fast-food” (especially McDonald’s) as a stand in for “foods we don’t like to eat, and so no one should eat them.” The greatest irony is that, even though low end burger joints and fried chicken chains are held up as the exemplars of What Is Wrong With Food Today, the most consumed food item in the US is pizza, and only a minority of pizza consumption is done through the big chains like Domino’s, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut and others of that ilk. Pizza is found on menus from the lowest local food stand to the highest, hippest upper-end eateries. Pizza is ready to take-and-bake at Costco and most grocery stores. Frozen pizza dwarfs most other frozen food items, and comes in versions for all income levels and degrees of food snobbery. Pizza take-out is more likely to be a locally owned and operated independent eatery than it is to be a chain franchise. Pizza is also, arguably, the least “healthy” of any kind of fast food, with its fat-laden toppings, sugar-saturated sauces and preservative-and conditioner-riddled crusts.
Chain restaurants above a certain size must provide nutritional analyses of the food they serve, plus ingredient lists. This makes it very easy to cherry-pick and demonize them, especially those that are at the low end, serving the lowest status consumer. The majority of prepared food does not come from their kitchens, however. It comes from locally owned and operated eateries, from the tiny taquerias to the so-hot-and-cool food trucks to the local 4 or 5 outlet chains to the neighborhood full service favorites. Think about my post Food Ubiquity – Food I Can Walk To. Everything except the Jack in the Box (a local San Diego-owned national chain, so, in a weird way, a true part of the local scene) is local, small-scale, and “good” when compared to the evil corporate giants. The ice cream at Daily Scoop is no less rich and fatty than what I could get at Baskin-Robbins. Most of those restaurants have burgers, pizza, sandwiches, fried chicken, fries, onion rings, etc., larger, fattier and more caloric than their equivalents at the national chains. They do not have to provide nutritional analyses of their offerings, and so can play at being healthy and virtuous. Are they going to be evaluated and taxed based on the sugar, salt and fat levels in their meals? If not, why not? Because well-heeled patrons are allowed to buy their way out of fat shaming?
The biggest proxy of all is that fat person == unhealthy life. Obesity is the proxy for eating things that I think are disgusting, not exercising in ways I think are correct, and not conducting yourself in ways that I approve of. Someone who is obese must also be diabetic, have heart disease, fatty liver and a whole host of other maladies. If you’re fat, you can’t be healthy and we are justified in saying and doing to you whatever we want because you’re faaattt. If you’re obese, you must be over-indulging and eating all this processed fatty, sugary, unnatural corporate food stuff because, well, you can’t possibly have become faaattt except by stuffing your ugly, icky fat face full of Cheetos and burgers and soda, probably by sticking both hands in your mouth at the same time! Why do you even need to eat, you obese cow? You should just live on your fat reserves until you are, like, normal size. Just drink water and starve your way down to slimness! If you must eat (eyeroll), then you had better only eat healthy foods like kale and quinoa and beets. Oh, and exercise! You need to Get Moving and quit being such a lard ass. Pilates and yoga and cross fit and lifting heavy – start with that. For every bite that goes in your mouth today, you must perform calisthenics immediately to burn those calories up before they turn into MORE lard on your ass!
I’m obese and I’m healthy, so fuck you. I eat a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a little meat and dairy, almost every bite of which is prepared at home. I don’t eat much in the way of processed foods aside from a few condiments that are part of my cooking and the occasional tortilla or sandwich roll. My soda indulgence is a Diet Coke a few times a week. Eating out is something I do every 6-8 weeks. I walk several hours a week and lift weights on a regular basis. My labs results rock. I’m willing to bet that if someone wrote down our respective diets and exercise habits, I’d be healthier on paper than the average food puritan. Just what is it that I am doing (or failing to do) that makes the simple fact of my weight an occasion for national pearl clutching? Because somehow it might become problematic for me personally in some way at some point in the unknowable future? Trust me, I’m on that because I care one hell of a lot more about my personal well being than you do.
I’m not here on Earth to be your battering ram in your obsessive battle against Monsanto and Archer Daniels Midland. I’m a adult who has the right and the sovereign authority to do with my life as I see fit, just as you have. I will eat what I want in the quantities that please me for reasons that are my own, just as you do. I don’t care to exhaust myself through compulsive over-exercising, or malnourish myself through controlled starvation, just because you’re afraid of getting fat like me.
I am not the shock troops of the corporate overlords trying to make you fat. Really.