And Now Back to Disappointing, Infuriating Reality

Arizona voted to ban gay marriage. Florida voted to ban gay marriage. California (most likely) voted to ban gay marriage. Arkansas voted to ban gay couples from adopting children. 

I can’t say Arizona and Arkansas surprised me, but California voting yes on 8, for me, is the kind of kick in the gut I got used to in the last couple of elections when, instead of celebrating giddily with massive throngs of people, I was sitting there with my jaw in my beer, going, “How? How the fuck did this happen?” (2004: “How the fuck did this happen again?”) 

Like Liss and Portly Dyke, I know how it happened, of course. I just still can’t fucking believe it. I saw the blogs starting to fret about Prop 8 last night, but I wasn’t listening to any analysis, and only about 35% of precincts were reporting when I went to bed, so I went to sleep thinking it could turn around. I listened to President-elect Obama say:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled – Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America. 

and I thought it could turn around. He said gay! The future president included gay people! Has that ever happened before? Yes, we can, motherfuckers!

But it didn’t turn around. The out-of-state fundamentalist assholes who dumped money into making sure Californians’ brief taste of equality would be no more than that got their way. Well done, assholes.

Portly Dyke, who knows a lot more than me about nearly everything, but especially about waiting for change when it comes to gay rights, offers some small consolation

When I was 17, the thought of being accepted as a queer in my family, or in society at large — the idea of being “out” at a job – any job (except maybe a gay-bar) — simply did not exist.

At the time, I was pissed about this at some level — but it was a vague, subconscious kind of anger — and I would never have expected it to be addressed in the media or a topic of conversation outside of the secretive community that I inhabited as a queer.

Now, at 52, I’m pissed again — but this time, my anger is out in the open.

That may be bitter cause for Hope — but it is, for me, Hope, nonetheless.

Bitter hope is better than no hope, I guess. And generally speaking, the sea change that started last night is cause for a lot of hope, bitter and otherwise. But let’s not forget that the hope here relies on keeping our anger out in the open. As Shark-fu put it, “Elections give us tools that we call politicians. It is our job to use the hell out of them…to hold them accountable and to work with them to bring about change.” 

It’s incredibly hopeful to finally be thinking of my new president as a tool in the useful sense, not the slang one. But one big step forward for equality is just that. There’s still a long fucking way to go.

You Know, You Really Are an Asshole

So, I guess I can add Denis Leary to the ever-growing list of comics I once loved who have gotten both more hateful and less funny over the years, finally reaching a point where I can’t fucking stand them. See also: Bill Maher, Dennis Miller. (Young’uns, it’s true: Miller was funny and not such a blatant loon once, a loooooong time ago, before you were born.) Chris Rock is on notice.

An excerpt from Leary’s new book:

There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can’t compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks . . . to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don’t give a [bleep] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you – yer kid is NOT autistic. He’s just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.

Oh, stop. My sides hurt. 

And another: 

Hillary Clinton - “If she had changed her campaign motto from ‘Blah Blah Something Change’ to ‘Vote for Me or Your Wife Won’t [Bleep] You,’ she would have had the election wrapped up at sunset on Super Tuesday. As Tip O’Neill once said – all politics is local. And for men, it doesn’t get much more local than your crotch.”

HA! OMG IT’S SO TRUE! Jesus fucking Christ. You forgot to mention she has cankles and might be a lesbian, and also, men enjoy beer and sports. 

Cherry on top? The title of the book is Why We Suck: A Feel-Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid, so I think it’s safe to assume his insights into fat people’s behavior are equally fresh and hilarious.

I don’t know, maybe Leary’s always sucked this much, and I’ve just gotten older and a whole lot more “humorless” about the kind of “jokes” that could be written by 8-year-old bullies if they wouldn’t get in trouble for swearing. But whether he’s changed or I have, Fillyjonk nailed the basic problem back in December:

It’s not that misogynist jokes — and racist jokes and gay jokes and nationality jokes and jokes about the mentally disabled — are unfunny because we’re just soooo politically correct. It’s not even just that they’re mean and offensive; mean offensive humor can be done well. It’s the fact that, though you as a privileged person may not realize the extent of it, these jokes are just SO FUCKING OLD. 

Seriously. Except, even massive amounts of privilege don’t explain why someone who’s been working as a comic for 30 fucking years doesn’t realize or care that jokes about men thinking with their dicks and shrinks coddling people who really just need a swift kick in the ass are TIRED. I mean, like 15, 20 years ago, there was that guy who did the whole “Shut the fuck up — it’s a revolutionary new form of therapy!” bit. OH WAIT THAT WAS YOU. You recycle that with a shot at parents of kids with developmental disabilities, and that’s your fucking leap into the 21st century? Way to keep it edgy, dude. 

I am just so fucking sick of smart, creative people playing to the lowest common denominator. It almost doesn’t matter to me if guys like Leary and Maher are really misogynistic, ableist, whateverist. I’m offended most by the laziness and cynicism of their schtick — why bother actually being funny when you can get just as many laughs/dollars tweaking lines you wrote in your fucking sleep 20 years ago? There’s a crucial difference between these guys and the douchehounds FJ was writing about: The douchehounds really do think hateful, played-out bullshit is still funny. (The douchehounds are, no doubt, Leary and Maher’s core audience.) But I’d bet everything I have that Leary and Maher are way too smart to be entertained by their own weak-ass jokes. They’re putting out a crap product they’re obviously not invested in and really shouldn’t be proud of, even if they are. That offends me as a goddamned consumer.

And also, you know, as a human being. There’s that.

Shapelings, who do you think is actually funny these days?

So that weight loss book thing…

Paul and Marianne have already covered this story about a study of 9 to 13-year-old girls involved in one of Duke University’s weight loss programs, which found that girls assigned to read a book with a weight loss story line (“Lake Rescue”) lost a little bit more weight than girls who read a non-diet book, and girls assigned to read no book at all gained a little bit.

The “Lake Rescue” group decreased its BMI scores 0.71%, the group that read another book decreased its BMI scores .33%, and the group that had no intervention increased its BMI scores .05%.

(Note: Marianne says “There is no indication that the girls who read the book that was not about weight loss and the girls who didn’t read a book at all gained weight,” which is accurate in response to the WaPo article she links to, but not in response to the study itself. For some reason, that article didn’t include any numbers on the other two groups.)

Marianne, our editor, and I were discussing this over e-mail this morning, and here’s what I said (yes, I’m blockquoting myself):

What I really want to know is how many pounds we’re talking about here. The fact that I’ve read 3 or 4 different articles on this now and haven’t seen a number other than the percentage by which they decreased their BMI tells me there were probably about 2 or 3 lbs. difference, max, between the girls who lost the most and the ones who gained. I don’t think I touched on this specifically in the “train yourself to read critically” chapter, but now I wish I had. “Statistically significant” weight loss is such a red herring — in these studies, a few pounds can be significant by scientific standards without changing the subjects’ health or even appearance noticeably. And I can’t count how many times I’ve read something like this, looked up the original study, and found out that yep, the difference in question is less than 5 lbs. The classic example is Alli — over a 2-year period, people combining dieting and Alli lost an average of THREE POUNDS more than the control group that was just dieting, and that’s enough to qualify it as a weight loss aid. One that makes you crap your pants.

Also, I can’t seem to find out the exact ages of the girls in the different groups. The whole cohort is 9-13, an age group within which some big fucking bodily changes naturally occur — and the study measured the girls’ weights twice, six months apart. So okay, first, six months have passed, and you’re seriously trying to tell me you can measure the effect of reading a single YA novel, as if no confounding factors might have cropped up in that time? Second, six months for a girl between 9 and 13 can be the difference between a child’s body and a woman’s body. How do we know the girls in the no-book group — a whopping 17 of them — didn’t hit puberty during those six months, or start to, in which case, a gain of .05% of their BMI is nothing? I mean, it’s nothing anyway for growing kids, but seriously, a weight gain so tiny you won’t even tell us exactly what it is in pounds, over a period of six months, is supposed to make us think a group of girls around the age where you start to develop breasts and hips is doing something wrong? And meanwhile, a weight loss almost as tiny in a different group of girls who might skew more toward 9 than 13 for all we know, also over a period of six months, is supposed to make us think a weight-loss case study disguised as a novel is some sort of magic bullet?

The fact that this has garnered so much attention — all of it, natch, with commentary on the “childhood obesity epidemic,” even though the increase in childhood obesity, just like adult obesity, has leveled off – makes my fucking blood boil on a couple of levels. First, because they have proven exactly squat, but the media is so hungry for new angles on the always crowd-pleasing OMG FAT PEOPLE ARE FAT story, they’ll take anything. And second, because I want to cite these researchers for flagrant misuse of children’s literature. As Marianne said:

Fiction that is written in order to preach a certain course of action rarely succeeds. It winds up formulaic and awful. If a writer isn’t telling a story that they believe in – that contains truth in all the fiction – the story will fail. It becomes propaganda.

Good books can make outsidery kids feel less alone, escape their troubles for a few hours at a time, and imagine possibilities beyond what they’re offered in their own lives. Encouraging fat kids to read novels is a fabulous idea, as far as I’m concerned. But encouraging them to read goddamned weight loss propaganda completely subverts the point of reading for both pleasure and enrichment as an outsidery kid — which is to enjoy being absorbed in a world where you aren’t made to feel like shit about yourself.

Which leads me to my final thought on all this. Given that all these kids were involved in a weight-loss program to begin with, and dieting is often a trigger for eating disorders at that age, if (big if) we stipulate that “Lake Rescue” had a real effect on the group of girls who lost a tiny bit more weight than the others, how, exactly, did that happen? Were they inspired to become even more extreme in restricting their food intake or exercising? If so, is that really a good thing?

From the Mailbag: Good News, Bad News

A Shapeling writes:

I am a biologist attending a large, well respected conference on insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

All the experiments were well designed, good solid data, and a lot of it correlates EXACTLY with the message of your blog, like the factoid I gleaned that fully 25% of Coronary Artery Disease cases diagnosed have no known risk factors- not high cholesterol, not obesity, not smoking, not type II diabetes. The fact that exercise and activity level is a better predictor of long term health than fat. That pear-shape fat (subcutaneous fat) releases adipocytokines that protect against metabolic disease, improve lipid and glucose metabolism, and positively correlate with increased longevity and quality of life.

The problem is the huge disconnect. It made me want to curl up into a ball and cry- which is what I did as soon as my husband joined me at the conference.

  • The slide that had a picture of an obese man with the caption “homo stupidus.”
  • The news that the AHA reclassified anyone over 27* (me!! me!!) on the BMI scale obese with the attendant scare-the-crap-out-of-you warnings.
  • The obese diabetic (ob/ob db/db) mouse model- google for images if you’re curious- which is considered a great way to model the metabolisms of healthy fat people like you and me and then tell us we’re all going to die and its ALL OUR OWN DAMN FAULT.

Sigh.

Sigh, indeed. Also, as I said to the Shapeling, HOLY CRAP, are they seriously moving the cut-off for obesity down to 27?!? Ten years ago, that was the cut-off for overweight! If this is true, people with a BMI of 26 have now gone from being a healthy weight to overweight to just shy of obese, without ever gaining an ounce.

You’d think things like that would make people wake the fuck up. You’d think.

And seriously, “Homo Stupidus”? Charming.

Anyway, Shapelings, have at it. And thanks to the sender-inner, as they say over at CO.

*Update: The Shapeling who says this in now says she thinks she must have misheard or misinterpreted this — or the presenter might have been from a different country. The Wikipedia page on BMI notes international variations in keeping with what she heard, but as far as we know, the AHA hasn’t changed anything recently. So if you’re American, you can exhale. A little.

Three to Four Hours a Day

Did y’all see this?

Maybe you CAN blame being fat on your genes. But there’s a way to overcome that family history — just get three to four hours of moderate activity a day.

Seriously. Just exercise moderately for three to four hours a day, and you won’t be fat! LIKE MAGIC. 

The best part is where they tell us that that’s really not as much as it seems, and offer the same old list of ideas that’s offered in every article exhorting us to just get twenty minutes of exercise a day, or half an hour, three times a week, or one hour, five days a week — whatever the hell the recommendation du jour is. 

Instead of watching TV for a few hours at night, take a brisk walk, he suggested. Or use stairs instead of elevators, walk instead of driving, or take up a structured exercise such as swimming.

Or, you know, just park your car farther away from the mall! Like, 15 miles away!

Seriously, we’re supposed to walk briskly or take the stairs for three to four hours? I have walked briskly for three to four hours on occasion, but only on occasion, because it’s a fucking huge time investment. People are supposed to work at least eight or ten hours a day, then go home and say, “Hi, family, lovely to see you, off for my brisk walk now! You’ll be in bed when I get back, so see you in the morning!” And that’s without getting into the fact that a whole hell of a lot of people in the U.S. don’t live somewhere where they could take that long a walk if they wanted to — unless they just did hundreds of laps around their backyards or living rooms. Today, theoretically, I could walk over to the lakeshore path and take it downtown, then turn around and come home, and that would be just about four hours of brisk walking. But when I was growing up in the suburbs, my only path from home to anywhere involved highways and no sidewalks. Also, fuck if I’m going to take that walk every night of my life, throughout the Chicago winter and the Chicago summer, instead of actually spending time with Al and friends, unwinding from writing all day. And I love walking!

Fortunately, though, the article also offers another way to get your three to four hours a day: become Amish. The study of this particular genetic variant — thought to affect 30 percent of people of European descent (so I’m not sure if people of color are off the hook or expected to exercise even more) — focused on an Amish community in Pennsylvania, where the lack of cars and modern technology means folks are pretty active in their daily lives. In that context, people with the genetic variant in question often were getting three to four hours of moderate exercise every day, and they were no more likely to get fat than people without it.

Which… bully for them. There’s a lot to be said for that lifestyle. But most of us aren’t fucking living it. 

Study co-author Dr. Soren Snitker of the University of Maryland acknowledged that it’s unrealistic to expect most people to shun modern conveniences and return to a 19th century lifestyle for the sake of staying trim.

Ya think? 

Look, I’m a fan of movement. I don’t own a car and live in a pedestrian-friendly city. I have a flexible schedule and am not working multiple jobs. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to devote three to four hours of my day to exercise unless somebody starts paying me for it. The idea that I should be doing that — that 30 percent of white people should be doing that — solely to avoid being fat pisses me off like nothing has pissed me off in… I don’t know, at least 45 minutes or so. I cannot fucking believe that instead of writing the obvious story — i.e., “people who have this genetic variant would have to do a tremendous, totally unrealistic amount of daily exercise to be thin” — they went with “people who have this genetic variant can be thin if they just work in three to four hours of daily exercise — easy peasy!” Seriously, you guys! It’s not as bad as it sounds! Just break it down to 48 five-minute sessions throughout the day! 

There was one thing that amused me about this article, right at the end:

Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, a genetics and obesity researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, said people should not interpret the study to mean, “I don’t have this gene variant so I don’t need to be physically active.”

I love it. It’s the flipside of the inevitable, “People shouldn’t take this as a license to eat whatever they want!” that ends every fucking article suggesting that fatness is not a death sentence. What the hell is up with this assumption that everyone, fat or thin, reading articles about THE OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA is really just looking for permission to lie in bed all day or eat “forbidden” foods? Is that really the American dream? No movement at all and a steady diet of (baby-flavored) Krispy Kremes?

The thing that really pisses me off about this particular motif in TOCBBB articles is that it just reinforces the idea that exercise is onerous and eating veggies is gross, so the only reason any sane person would do either is to be thin. Which may have been how I felt when I was about 6 (not counting running around the backyard, tree-climbing, dance class, or swimming as exercise, of course, because those things were fun and even then I knew that Exercise Is Not Fun), but I eventually grew out of that mindset. I kinda think most people eventually do. And if they don’t, it’s probably because of the kabillion fucking articles propagating the notion that exercise and veggie-eating are miserable burdens one must undertake to avoid the dreaded sin of fatness. Way to promote “health” there, media.

Turn that douchehound upside down

We’ve got a fairly desperate concern troll in the mod queue today; he’s left comments on three different posts in the last hour AND sent an email to Kate about how we are ruining feminism, which is a crock of man-hating shit anyway. Needless to say, he’s banned (thanks for playing, Richard! Feel free to read the comments policy on your way out!), but something he said made my jaw drop so hard I think it bruised. Behold the cluelessness:

I still believe that women are their worst enemies. Seriously, how many times has a man said something cruel or sexist about your appearance compared to a woman?

Now, apart from the fact that the famed “cattiness” of women is of course a manifestation of internalized misogyny, and thus Douchehound Richard is a concern troll par excellence, this comment reminded me of the sad fact that many men simply do not believe women’s life experiences. They have no idea what many of us are subject to, because those things tend not to happen when there are men with us. Some men conclude that therefore shit must not really go down the way women says it does, because otherwise wouldn’t they see it with their big manly eyes?*

So in the spirit of a recent post at The F Word (UK) that turned into a mass documentation of street harassment, I’d like to open this thread up to the perhaps traumatic, perhaps triggering, hopefully cathartic task of proving Richard wrong. Not because he’s so important — he’s just your standard issue antifeminist concern troll — but because it can sometimes be useful to state out loud the things we all take as given.

I’ll start, and this is necessarily an incomplete list, obviously, because so many cruel things have been said to me about my appearance by so many men that I can’t possibly remember them all. But here are some.

Boys in school called me a cow, gay, retarded, four eyes, and of course fat. They made fun of my hair, my glasses, my clothes, and my figure. A male “friend” of mine in high school called my high forehead “male pattern baldness” and suggested I tape infomercials for Rogaine. Boys in my HS Spanish class nicknamed me “Bigote” (“Mustache”). A friend’s boyfriend told me I’d have a dozen boyfriends if they only saw me from the neck down. The guy whose locker was next to mine in school would fake invite me to “cool kid” events and then tell me I could only come if I would stop being so fat and ugly. My brother would grab my thighs and talk about how fat they were, and he told me I had a hick haircut (a long time ago! he’s nicer now). My father has expressed happiness that a painful chronic medical condition made me skinnier. My grandfather bought me new clothes as a birthday present one year and told me “Now you just have to not get fat.” My photos on Flickr have been linked from fetish sites whose posts are locked, so I get to imagine what gets said there.

That’s just off the top of my head and doesn’t count the endless street harassment I’ve been subject to since I hit puberty. You think men don’t say fantastically cruel and sexist things to women all goddamn day long? You think every woman doesn’t have a running list of words she wishes had never passed her ears? You think that women are the problem in a sexist society? That’s not how it fucking works, asshole.

So. Hands up if a man has “said something cruel or sexist about your appearance.” Hands up if you’ve witnessed a man saying something cruel or sexist about another woman’s appearance. Hands up if you know a man like Richard who thinks he’s so bloody different from all those other men. Hands up if you’re goddamn sick and tired of being told that if you notice sexism, you’re the sexist. And hands up, male readers, if you have ever been or known that man.

***Raises hand***

*Chris Clarke: If no woman in your life has ever talked to you about how she lives her life with an undercurrent of fear of men, consider the possibility that it may be because she sees you as one of those men she cannot really trust.

More Olympic Fever

And I mean the kind of fever that makes people act batshit crazy, because that’s the only excuse for the latest round of “It’s more important that female Olympians be jerkoff fodder than world-class athletes.” Are you sitting down? 

“Gymnast Alicia Sacramone an Internet ‘Hottie’ Despite Screwups.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me. Even for Fox News. First, WTF is up with saying twice that Sacramone “cost her team the gold,” when the scores were such that they couldn’t have beaten China even if she’d been near-perfect? And second… well, just read:

In the moments after the team’s heartbreaking loss to China on Aug. 12, Google searches for “Alicia Sacramone is hot” were at volcanic levels, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Olympicsviewers logged on to find photos of the 20-year-old Massachusetts native.

Oh, thank God someone thought to do that important research!

But hey, why the focus on Sacramone, as opposed to her teammates? 

A comment on one of her Facebook tribute pages could explain why: “SHE’S 20, so she’s not jailbait!” a post reportedly said.

That’s the last line of the article. As Astraea, who gets the hat tip, put it, “Yeah! We like to watch her because fucking her wouldn’t be RAPE. Now that’s a compliment!” 

You know, if the media wants to offer Alicia Sacramone a consolation prize after blaming her for everything from a medal loss she couldn’t have prevented to just not being Michael Phelps, how about something like this: “You are a stunningly talented and jaw-droppingly hard-working young woman who has already achieved more than about 99.99% of people in your sport — let alone the rest of us schlubs. You are a pleasure to watch because of your grace, skill, and effort, not your face. And as an ordinary American, let me say that my heart is not, in fact, broken over your losses. I know it sucks for you personally, and I wish for your sake that that weren’t so, but you did a fine fucking job of representing your country. Thank you.” 

Now, how difficult was that?

Quick Hit: Poor Menz!

Please check out this Alternet article that I just posted about over at Broadsheet. It tells the tragic tale of men who, after being bombarded by images of beautiful women, cannot find it within themselves to love ordinary ones. This is, of course, because of evolution. It’s scienterrific!

Money quote:

Our minds have not caught up. They haven’t evolved to correct for MTV. “Our research suggests that our brains don’t discount the women on the cover of Cosmo even when subjects know these women are models. Subjects judge an average attractive woman as less desirable as a date after just having seen models,” Kenrick says….

So the women men count as possibilities are not real possibilities for most of them. That leads to a lot of guys sitting at home alone with their fantasies of unobtainable supermodels, stuck in a secret, sorry state that makes them unable to access real love for real women.

Psst, Michael Levine, actresses and models are real women — they’re just real women who don’t want to date you. And that’s the tiniest tip of the fucking iceberg. Discuss.

I despair

This is just too fucking much. Via Shakesville: the piece of elitist trash commonly known as the Wall Street Journal runs an article suggesting that Americans won’t vote for Obama because we’re so fat and he’s so skinny. No, really. The level of fatuousness must be read to be believed. Is this really what passes for political analysis in the WSJ?

Food faux pas have plagued presidential candidates in the past. On a 1976 visit to Texas, Gerald Ford bit into a tamale with the corn husk still on. He lost the election to Jimmy Carter. In 2003, Mass. Sen. John Kerry was labeled effete when he ordered a Philly cheesesteak with Swiss instead of the usual Cheez Whiz topping.

Yes, John Kerry totally lost the 2004 election because he was too much of a pussy to eat Cheez Whiz.

I don’t really have anything to add to the posts at Shakesville and Sadly, No besides ears-steaming, head-exploding sputtering, but I do want to point out one little factual error in the article:

The last overweight president to be elected was 335-pound William Howard Taft in 1908.

Actually, you lazy never-heard-of-fact-checking assholes, according to your own disgustingly objectifying graphic, that’s not true at all.

At 5’11″ and 190 pounds — i.e., a BMI of 26.5 — the last overweight president to be elected is none other than George W. Bush.

ETA: Check out No More Mister Nice Blog for even more evidence of the astounding incompetence of the reporting here:

And now we get to see what separates the rest of us from Real Professional Journalists. Chozick writes:

“I won’t vote for any beanpole guy,” [a] Clinton supporter wrote last week on a Yahoo politics message board.

What Chozick doesn’t tell you is that this wasn’t a spontaneous online expression of anti-thinness contempt — a couple of weeks ago, Chozick herself started the thread in which that message appeared.

The rest of the article? McCain campaign talking points.

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!