Quick Self-Promotion/Good Article

My sister-in-law just sent me this article that she first saw in the print version of The Toronto Star. She sent it because it mentions the blog, the book, and my Dear Oprah post (woo!), but I’m actually posting it because, holy cow, it’s really good.

Well, mostly. I think the “vanity sizing” detour is crap, since the underlying belief there is once again that fat people don’t know they’re fat. The numbers on the tags stay the same, so they’ll never realize their asses are getting bigger! Which totally makes sense, if you think about it. I mean, I know that once petite clothes became more widely available, and I could just put on a new pair of pants without having to hem them, I started looking in the mirror and thinking I must be about 5’8″. 

That aside, check this out:

A U.S. survey tracking substantial weight loss found that individuals had to do the equivalent of 40 kilometres of walking every week just to maintain any weight loss.

“That’s a pretty big commitment,” says [University of Guelph obesity researcher Paula] Brauer. “We really underestimated how much it takes to lose substantial weight and keep it off.

“The big thing, really, is not the food,” she says.

“It’s the degree of physical activity that people have to do to keep the weight off. Most obese people are not overeating,” Brauer stresses.

And then the article ends with quotes from the Dear Oprah post — instead of with the usual quote from an obesity researcher saying, “Well, that’s all well and good, but fat people still need to lose weight for their health.” Awesome. Thank you, Diana Zlomislic!

ETA: Do I really still need to tell you people not to read comments on newspaper articles about fat? Sanity Watchers warnings always apply!

Merry holiday overeating!

We’re coming up on the Christmas season, which in the countries where most Shapelings live means that lots of people, Christmas-celebrators or not, take their one big break a year and go on vacation or visit their families. Every women’s magazine and lifestyle section in existence is having a feature on holiday overeating right now, and why should we be left out of the fun just because we think eating is okay? After all, in a lot of ways, food-heavy occasions like the holidays are extra fraught for fatties (even when those fatties practice HAES and self-respect). So I hereby present the Shapely Prose guide to dealing with holiday overeating.

1. Expect some. I have no illusions about the fact that I will eat a LOT of Christmas cookies — undoubtedly more, in retrospect, than I will wish I’d eaten. I could make this into a huge psychodrama where my willpower has failed me; I could inscribe my cookie eating as “compulsive” and flagellate myself for it; I could bewail my complicity in a culture of overconsumption. Or I could recognize that like many people, fat and thin — like most fat or thin Christmas celebrators who aren’t on a medical or weight-loss diet, I’d wager, and some who are — I am going to eat lots of cookies and go home with a little bit of a stomachache. Whatever. They’re cookies, not uranium.

2. Eat emotionally. People have been celebrating and bonding over feasts together since the dawn of human civilization (and maybe before). Negative talk about “emotional eating” sends the message that a rumbling stomach is the only valid reason for a meal. That might be true if we were all eating gray pap at solitary tables in Camazotz. But, fat or thin, food makes us happy and eating together makes us feel connected and thankful. Go with it.

3. Be good to yourself. Amidst all the holiday bounty, one thing you won’t see me eating this season is meatball subs (though there will very likely be some). I discovered at an earlier family Christmas that a) meatball subs are delicious b) they make me feel so sick you can’t believe. I like tasty food but I am not a sucker. The only obligation you have as far as “watching what you eat” this holiday season is your responsibility to your own health and comfort. Don’t make yourself crazy, but at the same time don’t make yourself ill.

4. You don’t have to be the fatbassador. Whatever your relationship to your fat and your family, whatever your family’s relationship to your fat, you don’t have to represent all fat people to them. Eat food you think is nice — don’t eat to say “fuck you, I’m not dieting.” Avoid food you don’t want to eat — don’t abstain to say “look, fat people aren’t gluttons.” It’s tempting at family occasions to try to send messages with what you choose to eat and not eat, but you end up punishing yourself to make a point that probably won’t even get heard. If you want to have this out with your family, use your words; if you want to avoid it for the sake of family harmony, you are hereby off the activist hook for the season.

Feel free to use this thread as a place to grouse about family — or let us know your favorite holiday traditions (like, say, avoiding family?).

On the “Obesity Tax”

So, New York Governor David Paterson is proposing a tax on sugared soft drinks (among other things), and apparently calling it an “obesity tax.” (The NYT doesn’t call it that or imply that Paterson does, but the Daily News does; make of that what you will.)

I admit I’m not that fussed about the tax itself — just the name, if anyone but the Daily News is indeed calling it that — though Rachel over at Women’s Health News, who first sent me the link, makes a good case for the tax itself being bullshit.  Rachel can’t drink diet soda without getting sick, and she says:

Yes, I know, well if I were in New York, I could choose a beverage other than soda if the tax on non-diet soda is not acceptable to me. I just don’t really like the idea of punitive taxing for behavior control, especially when I perceive it as inconsistent and/or arbitrary. I can sort of understand it with something like cigarettes, where there is pretty strong evidence of inherent badness and there aren’t 800 other smokable tobacco products to choose from that are not being preferentially less taxed. However, will the Governor also be adding taxes to sweetened or just very naturally sweet fruit juices? Is there any evidence that the move would actually improve health, given the apparent endorsement of a particular choice?

That implied endorsement of a single alternative definitely bugs me, given that diet soda is loaded with sodium*, the carbonation can cause heartburn (I know from sad experience), and artificial sweeteners — while not necessarily as evil as your average e-mail forward would have you believe — can have nasty effects on people like Rachel and might not be especially good for any of us. If you want to tax pop, go ahead and tax pop — my wee libertarian streak is nowhere near wide enough to accommodate outrage over that. Nobody needs to drink pop, regular or otherwise, and as far as I know, there are exactly zero proven benefits of drinking it (other than helping people who work for big beverage corporations keep their jobs). If they were just slapping a tax on fizzy drinks, and calling it a tax on fizzy drinks, I’d shrug. But taxing only the kind that’s thought to make people fat — thereby implying that the kind not thought to make people fat is markedly healthier — and calling it a fucking “obesity tax”? I’ve got a problem with that. 

Liss says a lot of what I would have said if I’d gotten to this earlier, notably:

Resultingly, fat people are demonized, thin-but-unhealthy people are discouraged from thinking about whether regular soda is something they should cut out of their diets for any reason other than it now costs too much thanks to those damn fatties, and the simplistic associations between fat/unhealthy and thin/healthy are reinforced yet again.

The only thing I’d add is that calling this an “obesity” tax, as opposed to yet another “vice” tax, makes it quite literally about the punishment of fat bodies, rather than of “bad” habits that could be held by anyone. Not only are they once again conflating “fat” with “unhealthy,” they’re conflating “fat” with “vice” — reinforcing the message that fatness automatically equals a conscious decision to engage in (arguably) self-destructive behavior.

I mean, it’s basically the same thing, but I think the hair is worth splitting. Half the time, the “fat = unhealthy” camp promotes the idea that fat people are merely ignorant about proper nutrition, which is annoying enough. But the other half of the time, they’re promoting the idea that fat people bring fatness on ourselves because of emotional issues and/or addiction, which to my mind is even worse.

Fatness is not a behavioral issue. Choosing to drink soda is behavioral. Choosing regular soda over diet soda is behavioral. Overeating, among those who actually do it, is behavioral. (It should go without saying, but in case it doesn’t, labeling those things “behavioral” does not imply any judgment; I’m merely distinguishing between things people do and things people are.) Being fat is not behavioral; it’s existential. 

So saying you’re taxing “obesity” when you’re actually taxing a decision to purchase one kind of beverage over another is just so fucking wrong-headed, I don’t know where to begin. Apart from the behavioral/existential issue and the fat = unhealthy issue, here’s another one: A hell of a lot of fat people already drink diet soda, because we prefer the taste or, you know, because we’ve been told that regular soda is what’s making us fat. (I am constantly baffled by how people manage to reconcile the notion that fatties never restrict their calories or avoid sugar with the existence of a gazillion-dollar diet industry.) Personally, I haven’t had a sugared pop on purpose since about 1994; I find it way, way too sweet. I threw a party a couple of years ago and bought regular Coke in case anyone wanted any, and it sat in our kitchen for a year until we finally decided just to throw it out. (After, I might add, attempting to unload it on various friends, all of whom said, “Yuck, I don’t drink sugared pop.” ) Oddly enough, my obesity — you know, that attribute they’re proposing to tax? — did not actually make me forget that I hate regular pop and drink the whole case in one sitting. Nor did Al’s obesity make him forget he can’t handle caffeine, which is why he didn’t want it. Can you believe it?!?

In closing, allow me to quote myself, not for the first time: 

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

*I’ve been busted on this repeatedly in the comments, and rightly so. That was one of those old food myths I’ve been carrying around in my head for years, and I, of all people, should have known to fact check it.

Dear Oprah

Dear Oprah,

Please just stop. Please. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way (though some of my commenters will). I mean please, stop doing this to yourself.

I know saying that is pointless, because I’ve been there, and I know it’s hardly a matter of just telling yourself to get over it and accept that this is what your body always does, what your body always will do if you keep dieting. But gosh, it would be so nice if you stopped. 

A few months ago, I was on your show via Skype — as an average viewer, not a guest or an expert in anything — and we exchanged a little preliminary banter that was eventually cut from what aired. You said, “Kate, I understand you have a blog — tell us a little bit about it.” And I said, “I write about body image and self-acceptance.” That’s my stock answer for anyone who might not be prepared to hear the words “fat” and “acceptance” right next to each other. It’s a bit of a cop-out, frankly, but the fact is, no matter how proud I am of what I do here, I’m not always in a mood to explain or defend it. I don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle every day. That doesn’t mean I back down from my principles, it just means that sometimes — like when I’m freaking out because I’m on national TV, and Oprah just asked me a question, and the topic of the day is not anything fat-related — taking the path of least resistance is the best way to protect my own sanity. So that’s what I said to you. 

Unfortunately, the sound was still buggy on the Skype connection at that point, so I could barely hear what you said back. It took me a moment to process your reply, during which time I was all, “Holy crap, Oprah just said something, and I don’t know what it was, and now I have to attempt to respond without sounding like an idiot.” But then, your words finally arranged themselves properly in my mind. 

What you said was, “I’m still working on that.” 

And what I said — because I was still panicky and felt like you’d been waiting a day and a half for a response from me already — was, “Well… uh… um… good luck!”

I beat myself up for that answer for days, until the show aired and I learned that that part was gone anyway. As soon as you turned away from the screen with my head on it and started the show, I started running through all the better answers I could have given you. “Well, have me back in May 2009, when my book comes out!” was one obvious response, but really, here’s what I would say if I had that moment to do over: “We all are.” 

We are all still working on it. Even me, even people who have been waving the fat acceptance banner for decades longer than I have. We’re all still working on it, because the messages are relentless – the messages that tell us we should hate ourselves, starve ourselves, make dieting at least a part-time job (for our health!), the messages that tell us we will never be loved if we “let ourselves go,” the messages that tell us there is only one acceptable female body type, and you and I are both too fat for it, and you’re too black for it, and millions of women — the majority of us, actually — are too something (even too skinny) for it. Those messages never, ever let up, and rejecting them involves a conscious choice, every dingdang day. And some days, like I said, you don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle.

Some days, you feel like it would be so much easier to take on that old part-time job again — especially when you’ve done it so many times, for so many years, you could do it in your sleep. All you have to do is carve out three or four hours a day to exercise more vigorously, obsess about what you’re going to eat next, and prepare it; stop listening to your body and only pay attention to your food plan and workout schedule; cut out some hobbies and social time to make room for the job; recall all the tips and tricks for not eating at holiday gatherings, at restaurants, at your dear friends’ houses, at your own birthday party; retrain yourself to believe that salad dressing — let alone artisanal bacon, creme brulee, whatever — doesn’t taste good enough to warrant its negative effects on your job performance; talk constantly about what you’re not eating and how great it makes you feel, in hopes that some of your friends will join you at this lonely little workplace; and — most importantly — continue to believe with a religious fervor that your body is an ugly, hateful thing that must be punished and diminished. As long as you really believe that, the rest isn’t so hard to keep up, once you get used to it (again). 

Some days, all that sounds a hell of a lot easier than resisting the messages — especially when you think of all the praise you’ll get once you’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight, or how good it will feel when you get to put on a smaller dress (though that feeling goes away quickly, as it must, or else you might lose your motivation to keep going). How proud and in control you’ll feel — again, for a few minutes at a time, for as long as it’s working. How much better people will treat you, as long as there’s less and less of you. I totally get that. 

But I stopped giving in to it. And boy, I wish you would, too — because you’re way too smart to take that sucker bet yet again. 

It kills me to hear you say things like, “”I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, `How did I let this happen again?'” Honey, you didn’t “let it” happen again. Your body made it happen again, because your body does not freakin’ want to be thin. And every time you quit the part-time job of dieting — or even just cut back your hours — your body goes, “Thank god!” and starts storing fat hand over fist. It happens to nearly all of us. I know you’re a woman who’s used to defying odds by quite a lot, but there is no shame in having a body that responds to dieting in exactly the same way as pretty much everyone else’s. 

You say you’ve been eating too much and not exercising enough. Maybe that’s even true. But defining “too much” and “enough” is tricky business, and when you’re trying to do that in the context of shame and self-loathing, chances are, you’re going to come up with values that represent punishment, not healthy moderation. When I see you say things like, “I was so frustrated I started eating whatever I wanted — and that’s never good,” I just… Gah. Oprah, we’ve been over this. Grown women are allowed to eat whatever we want. More to the point, we are allowed to want, period. The fact that so many of us have come to believe “whatever we want” equals “never good” is heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measure. 

You also say, apologetically, “I definitely wasn’t setting an example.” Well, you were, actually — just not the example you wanted to set. You’re not an ideal role model for either dieting or self-acceptance, but in terms of the latter, you are — forgive me if this comes off as harsh — an ideal object lesson. One of the Shapelings (hi, Rebecca!) who sent me a link to the Yahoo article this morning also offered her response to it:

I guess the main thought I had was, “Thank you, Oprah, for showing me that my struggle to give up dieting is the right struggle.”  I have been fighting the diet demons this week, but reading this article was a nice shake-up.  I don’t want to look back at my life at her age and see the same story and body hatred.  It’s nice to see confirmation that I am doing the right thing for myself, despite the cacophany of voices telling me I’m not!

In that respect, to my mind, you’re setting a terrific example — you’re showing the world that no amount of money, or hard work, or discipline (whatever guilt you feel over easing out of that part-time job, come on, don’t even try to tell me that Oprah Winfrey lacks self-discipline and determination!) can make a stubbornly fat body remain thin for long. I just wish, for your sake as well as for the millions of women who look up to you, you could find a way to reframe your struggles with your weight, to practice and promote Health at Every Size, to believe that you are a beautiful woman — you so are! — who does not need to keep apologizing for what she eats or what dress size she wears. I wish you would choose to be the role model you’re perfectly suited to be, instead of trying to be one you’re not — and instead being an object lesson. 

I’ll tell you a secret, Oprah — I also hit what you call “the dreaded 2-0-0″ this year. At least, I think I did. The last time I weighed myself was on a dog scale at the vet’s office, and I was about 185 lbs. I’m pretty sure I’ve gained about 15 since then. Why? Well, there are a zillion possible explanations and contributing factors, but the simplest one is this: My last diet ended in 2003, which you’ll note was 5 years ago. When I started that diet, I weighed about 190. The vast majority of people who deliberately lose weight gain it all back within 5 years, and a huge chunk of those gain an extra 10 lbs. or so, to boot.  And I do seem to have plateaued at this weight after gaining steadily for quite a while, so… I could sit here and tell you how I went on Lexapro, and I started eating out more and resumed putting the dressing directly on my salads and slacked somewhat on exercise — in a nutshell, how I gave up dieting as a part-time job and relegated food and exercise back to the category of  “things I think about, just not to the exclusion of having a life” — but the real reason for the weight gain is, I’m just not that special. I do not have magic powers that allow me to transcend my genetic predisposition to fatness, and I was not so much more committed or determined or desirous of thinness than everyone else who diets that I could somehow, through sheer will, overcome the massive odds against keeping it off for more than five years. I’m just not that special.

Neither are you, in that regard. We’re both plenty special in other ways — I mean, love you or hate you, I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue that you’re not an extraordinary woman — but just not that way. In that way, we’re both just normal fat women who dieted and gained it back and dieted and gained it back and dieted and gained it back, as normal fat women do. But here’s the difference between you and me, when it comes to that. You hit 200 and sent out a press release detailing your shame, embarrassment, and anger at yourself. I hit 200 and shrugged. Because it’s not any different than being 199, and not really any different from being 185, and when it comes down to it, not all that much different than being 115. I can’t shop at as many stores, I don’t get hit on quite as often (though I still do, as recently as Sunday night), some people aren’t as friendly to me, and some people are downright hateful in ways they wouldn’t have been when I was thin. But as trite as it may sound, this is the damned truth: I’m still the same person I was when I was thin — and when I was in-between, and the day before I cracked 200, and the day after. Cracking 300 or 400 or any other arbitrary number would not change who I am, either.

The weight regain did not make me bad or lazy or ugly or sick or stupid or broken. It just made me fatter. 

That’s all that happened here. You got fatter. You’re still one of the most accomplished women on the planet. You’ve still got more money than god. You still give away a lot of that money and do real things that help real people. I know there are people around here who can’t stand you precisely because your refusal to stop believing you can and should be a thin person too often manifests as yet more heartbreaking, infuriating, wounding messages about how fat people are bad and thin people are good. But I can’t help admiring you anyway. And I can’t help feeling for you when I read about your shame, embarrassment, and anger at yourself. I know exactly how that goes — hence my last diet. I still get twinges of all those feelings and have to work my butt off to resist them. As I should have told you during that brief moment when we talked, we are all still working on it.

I admit I’m tempted to get angry at you for wasting your phenomenally powerful bullhorn on promoting body shame instead of telling other fat women that they’re not bad, undisciplined people. But I can’t, because I know just how loud and demanding those voices in your head are, the ones that say, “It doesn’t matter that you’re one of the most accomplished women on the planet, because you let yourself get fat again!” I know the pure, unfettered irrationality of that train of thought isn’t obvious when you’re in the grip of hating your body. The voices are too insistent.

So I guess all I have left to say to you is what I already told you in person: Good luck. I so hope that one of these days, you manage to make peace with your body. And man, when that day comes, I sure hope you go on the air and tell your millions of viewers you’ve discovered that not hating yourself is about a bazillion times more rewarding than mortifying yourself, literally and figuratively. That right there is what I know for sure.

All best,

Kate

Burritos and desire

On Sunday, when Dan and I got home from Thanksgiving traveling, we got burritos at Chipotle. On Monday, what I wanted for dinner was a Chipotle burrito. On Tuesday, what I wanted for dinner was a Chipotle burrito.

I didn’t get them on Monday or Tuesday, because eating Chipotle three or even two times in a row is absurd (without, I suppose, a good reason — anyway it’s definitely absurd for me). Instead, I considered what it was about Chipotle burritos that made me want to eat them over and over again — the protein? The fats? Did I maybe just want to spend more money than I needed on food? Eventually I determined that it’s because it’s getting wintry here and I want to eat things that are substantial and warm. Eating a Chipotle burrito is like eating a hot water bottle, and that is what I want.

The point here is that eating what you want is not the same as satisfying all your desires at face value. Sometimes doing what you want means digging deeper than just noticing what pops into your head — it means evaluating, even second-guessing. It’s a fine line to walk, to be sure, between self-analysis and self-abnegation — asking “do I really want what I think I want?” sounds suspiciously like a diet strategy. But the baseline of not automatically denying yourself anything is still of paramount importance. You approach it thus: “Okay, I probably don’t really want another Chipotle. If I do, I’ll get one, but I think something else is really going on.”

Indulging my Chipotle craving would have had the following effect: I would have eaten two more Chipotle burritos, and tonight I would want another one. Evaluating the craving didn’t get me any burritos, but it got me to understand at a deeper level what kinds of foods will be mentally and physically satisfying right now.

By “mentally,” by the way, I don’t even just mean the emotional satisfaction one normally gets from eating. Here’s what I had for dinner last night. We normally call it “sour chickpeas,” which is what it’s called. I was having none of it. Dan, knowing my feelings in re: eating something warm and filling (I believe I had actually complained that sour chickpeas “sounds cold”), said “what if I call it curried chickpea stew?” In that case, I said, give me some right now. Sometimes it’s not even about the food, but about the context.

People sometimes feel put off by intuitive eating because they think it’s a matter of always having a clear, unsullied image of what foods you truly want. In fact, people’s desires are rarely so crystalline, about food or anything else. Intuitive eating, and body acceptance in general, rests not on a foundation of knowing just what you want but on a foundation of knowing that you are allowed to want. Society likes to tell us, especially women, that our desires are not only unimportant but unseemly. I’d like to say the opposite. Don’t just notice your cravings, but think about them, examine them, go elbow-deep in them, pick them up and look underneath. It’s not about having a perfect sense of what you want for dinner, but of truly, fundamentally understanding that you can desire and seek nourishment, emotional as well as physical.

Surviving Thanksgiving, again

As we all know, Thanksgiving is a fraught time for fat people and anyone else trying to practice body acceptance and self-love. On the one hand, the whole holiday is about celebrating the bounty of food, which in many families means eating big servings of dishes you never even think about for the other 364 days of the year. It’s the one day we’re all “supposed” to do that shocking thing — unapologetically enjoy eating food. On the other hand, Thanksgiving often involves a lot of family time, which means many of us are put into close contact with the very people who helped to fuck up our relationships with food in the first place. It seems a bit unfair.

So, US readers, consider this your open thread to ponder, vent, celebrate, bitch, scream, praise, and do whatever you need to do to survive (and preferably, enjoy) Thanksgiving. We did this last year and it seemed to go well, so I suppose this is our very first annual Shapeling tradition. Have at it! What are your plans? Who will drive you most crazy? What are you looking forward to? Mr Machine and I are cooking a non-turkey-based meal for some friends, one of whom is about to take his qualifying exams — we feel they deserve a home-cooked meal (though we haven’t entirely decided on the menu yet).

Happy Thanksgiving, Shapelings!
funny pictures
more animals

Quick Hit: Turns out People Aren’t Rats

Check it out:

Calorie restriction, a diet that is low in calories and high in nutrition, may not be as effective at extending life in people as it is in rodents, according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

You don’t say.

Go read the whole article. Some interesting stuff there. I’ve got lots of thoughts, but I have to go write for people who pay me.

Guest Blogger Tari: Want to Save the U.S. Economy? Go on a Diet!

So this morning, Australian Shapeling Marg sent us an article with the headline, “Americans must diet to save their economy.” Yeah, really. The basic idea is, since producing food uses so much energy, we could halve our energy demands and hold off fuel price increases if we all just stopped eating so much. Yeah, really.

Our friend Tari is not only a fat rights activist but a goddamned hippy an ecologically conscious badass who pays serious attention to where and how her food is produced, in hopes of having the smallest possible impact on the planet. I figured she could rant about this one far better than any of us could, and I was right. (She’s also dang speedy with a rant!) Tari, thank you so much. Shapelings, please enjoy. –Kate

By Tari Follett

Want to save the US economy? Go on a diet.

So says New Scientist environmental reporter Catherine Brahic (big time Sanity Watchers on the comments, of course). I have to admit, although I was skeptical at first, by the end of her writeup, I totally saw her point and was on the verge of calling Jenny! Or, you know, NOT.

So, why is it that we must diet to save the economy? Because the economy is tanking due to the energy crisis:

That’s the message ecologists are trying to get across this week. They say the apparently looming energy crisis could be averted if US residents cut their calorie intake.

David Pimentel of Cornell University and colleagues have drawn on an extensive body of existing studies to highlight the wastage in the US food production chain. To bring their point home, they have estimated how much energy could be saved by making a few relatively simple changes to the way corn is produced.

Wait…where’s the part in there about going on a diet? I mean, anyone who’s read their Michael Pollan has heard about how horrible the industrial food system is, putting corn into every fucking thing in the grocery store, supporting inhumane CAFOs and environmental devastation, oppressing farm and factory workers around the world, yada yada yada. Telling Americans to go on a diet is NOT the same thing as changing the way corn is produced, and considering how much “diet food” is chemically-flavored corn byproduct, I don’t think it would have quite the effect Brahic seems to think it would.

‘Cause, see, the big problem with corn production is not that people eat too much. It’s that corn farmers grow too much. (Hint: it’s the system, not the people.) Moving swiftly on…

Their conclusion is that energy demands could easily be halved. That could stave off the prospect of further rises in the costs of fuel, they say.

To do that, however, would require a considerable change in the average US diet. The average American consumes about 3747 kcal per day compared to the 2000 to 2500 kcal per day recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The 3747 kcal per day figure does not include any junk food consumed.

Producing those daily calories uses the equivalent to 2000 litres of oil per person each year. That accounts for about 19% of US total energy use.

Okay, so I used some advanced Google-fu to try to track down what David Pimentel (a noted biofuel skeptic, longtime ecologist, and generally reasonable science type) and his colleagues actually said in whatever published report Brahic is talking about. I just couldn’t imagine that someone who knew the intricacies of the industrialized food system, and its devastating environmental and economic impacts, would boil it all down to telling people to stop shoving baby donuts in their pieholes. Especially since, in the very quote above, it’s the reporter drawing that false conclusion – energy demands being halved is not the same thing as people eating fewer calories. Most of the food-related calories Pimentel is referring to come from the fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides being sprayed on the production end of the system, transit costs, and that sort of thing….not so much the actual kcals in the baby donut itself.

I couldn’t find any recent statements or research from Pimentel. (If anyone else tracks it down, pass it on – I’d dearly love to review it.)

Brahic (who, as far as I can tell, is using Pimentel’s research – wherever it came from – as a vehicle to promote her own views) next moves on to the ever-popular “go veggie” argument. Now, as a committed flexitarian (meaning I eat mostly veggie with occasional meat), I agree that reduced meat eating has a huge environmental impact – especially if it’s mostly (energy intensive) factory farmed meat being cut out. Seriously, I think taking money away from those sick de-beaking fucks at Tyson is a wonderful thing…but it has nothing to do with going on a diet. Just switch it up to some nice ethically-raised free range chickens from your local family farmer, and you’re cutting the fossil-fuel kcals in your food without necessarily changing your caloric intake one whit. (Of course, that’s disregarding the limitations of class, location, and finances that make this not so much a workable solution for lots of people.)

Even Doc Pimentel agrees with that:

In 2004, Pimentel estimated 6 kilograms of plant protein are needed to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein. He calculates that if Americans maintained their 3747 kcals per day, but switched to a vegetarian diet, the fossil fuel energy required to generate that diet would be cut by one third.

The next part is a little trickier. Brahic is using some crazy new math I don’t really follow.

In addition to the 3747 kcals, the average American consumes one third of their calories in junk food and Pimentel and colleagues suggest this could be cut by 80% and the total calorie intake be reduced by 30%. That could drastically cut the amount of energy which goes into feeding Americans, as junk food is typically low in calories, but energetically expensive to produce.

Okay, for starters, where the fuck is she getting the data that says the average American consumes 3700 kcals, PLUS a third more calories in junk food? Say what? That’s over 5600 kcals. Every day?
Seriously? I mean, the odious Morgan Spurlock didn’t even quite pull that off by eating at Mickey D’s three times a day… and I somehow doubt that’s a habit of the average American. In fact, per the latest data (2004) from the UN Food and Agriculture Office, Americans average 3770 kcal per day. Now, I’m not sure if FAO is including junk food in there or not, but I’m guessing they probably don’t count junk food calories separate from regular ones (especially since they have a dietary breakdown that includes fats and sugars and other junk-food-type ingredients right there on the same page).

What’s really just pants-pissingly hilarious, though, is the bit about reducing that phantom third-of-overall-calories-from-junk-food by 80%, which somehow reduces the overall number by 30%. Now, I wasn’t a math major, but lemme see if I can add this up: 3747 + 1874 (the extra third, assuming that 3747 is two thirds) – 1499 (80% of the 1874 junk food calories) = 4122 kcals. Hang on a sec, 70% of 5600 is only 3920! Hey, wait…maybe she lives in a land where numbers don’t have a constant value?

I also particularly LOVE the “junk food is typically low in calories” line. Make up your own joke.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of the actual, substantive points of the article. Factory farming is horrible for animals, the environment, the economy, and for people. Eating less meat demonstrably reduces overall energy usage on a global scale. Single serving packaging wastes energy and materials needlessly. Reducing the amount of meat and processed food we eat is a step towards better physical and environmental health for most people.

But you know what it ain’t? A diet.

In trying to stay abreast of what’s going on in the environmental movement, I see a lot of fatphobia. The constant flourishing of a fatass as the foremost symbol of Classic American Overconsumption is a popular theme, and speaking out against it in environmental circles often a difficult and thankless task. In that context, quite frankly, this is a pretty mild example of the usual “if we stopped burning fossil fuels and eating meat, we’d all be skinny vegans riding bikes everywhere” rhetoric.

It’s a cheap shot, though, and the reasons for making changes to how we look at what we eat are strong enough to stand on their own – without bashing fat people, without using Madison Avenue marketing smoke and mirrors, without playing on the engineered fears and insecurities of a constantly bombarded populace. But then, Brahic and her editors (who knows which of the two slapped the headline on this article?) aren’t in the business of actually making the world a better place. They’re looking for clickthroughs and ad revenue… and everyone knows, chicks can’t resist an article with “diet” in the
title!

On Problems to Be Solved

So, the headline of this AP article is okay: “Europe plans free fruit, veggies for school kids.” Nothing wrong with that — in fact, I think it’s a swell idea. But you do know what’s coming next, right?

An estimated 22 million children in the 27-nation bloc of nearly 500 million people are overweight because of bad eating habits.

Right. So I guess the writer personally observed 22 million children to determine that their fatness is the result of “bad eating habits” — and indeed, that they’re actually fat, as opposed to just growing children whose BMI ranking could change substantially in two weeks’ time? ‘Cause otherwise, that sentence is ludicrous. Even a stone fatphobe with a modicum of journalistic integrity would write “… in part because of bad eating habits” — if nothing else, what about the ZOMG SEDENTARY VIDEO GAMES NEVER OUTSIDE factor? — or just end the sentence at “overweight” and allow people to draw their own conclusions. (Which, unfortunately, they totally would.) But no, 22 million children just have bad eating habits, period. True facts!

And it gets better. (The article’s like 200 words long, and still, it gets better.)

“You only have to walk down any high street in Europe to see the extent of the problems we face with overweight kids,” EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said.

Problems you can see just walking down the street? Like what? Roving bands of tubby little thugs demanding protection money from local businesses? Pillaging and plundering? Bursting out into elaborate musical numbers on busy streets? What are these great societal problems that are obvious to any pedestrian?

Oh, right. The very existence of fat kids is a problem.

Fuck you, Mariann Fischer Boel. Children’s bodies are not a problem for the government to solve.

And that’s inevitably my problem with programs like this, and the way they’re sold to us. I am 100% in favor of free fruits and veggies (though I’m not naive enough to think those won’t be traded for sweets by fat and thin kids alike, I should add). Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan. It fucking infuriates me that with all of the many, many excellent reasons to do all the things I’ve just suggested, the only potential outcome that can muster the political will to enact any of it is weight loss. Fuck having a cleaner, safer, more fun environment that might lend itself to people generally feeling more energetic and vibrant (which might also lead to more productivity, for all the hardcore capitalists out there) — unless we can get rid of the fatties, it’s wasted money.

Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a problem to be solved. A polluted environment is a problem to be solved. Corporations weaseling their way into schools are a problem to be solved. Unsafe cities are a problem to be solved. Car-dependency is a problem to be solved. The need for many people to work every waking hour just to get by is a problem to be solved. The widespread belief that exercise is primarily a punishment for fatness or a talisman against it, not something enjoyable that generally makes people feel better, is a problem to be solved.

Human bodies are not a fucking problem to be solved.