Fat, Politics

The Obesity Challenge

You know, a big part of me doesn’t even want to know what’s going to come out of the conference in D.C. today called “The Obesity Challenge: What the Next President Should Do.” Bill Richardson’s already given us a taste, and I don’t much care for it. (Not fatty enough.)

“The next president must commit to fighting America’s obesity problem and possess the experience to win the fight,” Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico says, taking credit for waging the fight back home. “In New Mexico, I got junk food out of our schools and put physical education back in.”

I did, however, enjoy Sandy Szwarc’s remarks on what else Bill Richardson has done to fight the scourge of fatness in New Mexico:

According to the New Mexico State Center for Health Statistics, Bureau of Vital Records, it ranks 47th in the nation in per capita income and 25.9% of children live at or below the poverty level. But it leads the nation in food insecurity and hunger. One in six New Mexicans — 16.8% — suffer low or very low food security (the government’s new term for hunger). And the problem is growing.

The most recent Faces of Hunger in New Mexico report, released last year, said that since 2001, there’s been a 38% increase in residents seeking emergency food assistance — more than 238,000 a year, including 81,000 children and 21,000 seniors. The total population of this state is under 2 million. The numbers of seniors seeking emergency food aid has nearly doubled. Forty-one percent of those served by New Mexico’s food banks said they had to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities or heating fuel. And for 28%, it was a choice between food and medicine or medical care. “Over one-half of the increase we see are the most vulnerable of our community – children and seniors” said Melody Wattenbarger, Executive Director of Roadrunner Food Bank.

Emphasis mine.

Excellent work, Bill! Keep it up and your state will have NO FATTIES AT ALL!

Bet the other candidates can’t top that.

37 thoughts on “The Obesity Challenge”

  1. I’d love to float this as an article for work, but (and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this) I don’t want to be the fat chick pitching an article about how candidates are BSing about fat. Also I’m working on something else, but mostly that.

  2. For some reason, BFB thinks Richardson is running as a Republican. Um. No.

    Turns out anti-fat prejudice is bipartisan.

    That said, I think getting junk food out of schools is a good idea. Also, get junk information out of schools.

  3. I think junk out of schools is a good idea too, but it depends upon what the “junk” in question is. Pizza that the school caf. makes? Thats not junk. Pizza that ConAgra makes and they thaw and serve? JUNK.

    I also think PE is important, though i was entirely abhorrent to the whole program in my youth. I realize now that it wasn’t ALL about supreme physical fitness, but also about just plain running and horsing around for an hour on school time. I think that’s good for young’ins.

    But yes, i see your point about this man’s priorities for his state being a bit askew. Perhaps he thinks if “food security” is down, waistlines will slim and he’ll be the champion of the skinniest state.

  4. I really really like Richardson as a presidential candidate, so I am taken back by this unwelcome addition to his platform.

    Personally, I think his is just a case of jumping on the national health nightmare scare bandwagon than something the like of Huckabee’s self-appointed campaign against obesity.

    I wonder how many of the big pharma companies and others who have financial stakes in WLS are campaign donors and to whom they donate most.

  5. What a brain trust that Richardson is!

    I’m sure that as a country, we’d love to find ourselves “losing weight” from being in a state of low “food security.” Asshat.

    The same genius who thinks my gayness is choice. We can guess he’ll be culled out of the running (hopefully) in the first rounds…

  6. Perhaps he thinks if “food security” is down, waistlines will slim and he’ll be the champion of the skinniest state.

    If he believes that, he is an idiot. In order for that to happen, people with “food insecurity” would have to never be able to get their hands on sufficient food to fill themselves. They’d have to always be hungry. That’s how things used to be before there were food banks and cheap fast food and fortified cheap bread (which the yuppies turn their noses up at, but which is the only kind of bread most poor people can afford, and ain’t nobody gonna be baking their own when they have to be on their feet 60 hours a week working and standing on buses).

    Scurvy and rickets and beriberi (diseases of chronic vitamin deficiency which were nearly impossible to treat), not to mention protein malnutrition, were very common. And people who had to live that way didn’t live long at all. I’m stunned by how many people think that’s a happy just because the poor were thinner then.

  7. I really really like Richardson as a presidential candidate, so I am taken back by this unwelcome addition to his platform.

    Unfortunately, Rachel, it’s not a new addition. He’s been banging the obesity crisis drum as part of his healthcare plan all along. Obesity crisis justifies a focus on “preventative medicine,” which justifies blaming people who are already sick — and, of course, not paying for their treatment.

    Between that and the gay thing, you couldn’t pay me to vote for him.

  8. I didn’t know his views on the gays, either. I was attracted to some of his fiscal initiatives. I should probably get my head out of fat activism and eating disorder awareness and pay more attention to politics, no matter how much they disgust me.

  9. I should probably get my head out of fat activism and eating disorder awareness and pay more attention to politics, no matter how much they disgust me.

    Well, hey, sometimes they overlap!

  10. Rachel, the thing with Richardson is that he was asked point-blank whether being gay was a choice, and he said yes. I liked the guy too, what with his adorable gubernatorial ad, but between that and his constant lying about statistics, I’m not sorry he’s at 5 percent.

  11. You know, that ad IS adorable, but the fact that he leads with violent offenders in prison and meth labs shut down also doesn’t impress me. Paul calling him a Republican candidate might just have been a Freudian slip.

    That’s probably a conversation for another blog, though.

  12. And according to that article, obesity rates rose in NM over 3 years. So there’s more eeeeeeevil fatnesssss AND more “food insecurity”! Yes, that’ my idea of success.

    I never heard of this dude, but now that I have, let me tell you, I am thrilled about him! Thrilled. I’d totally vote for him.

  13. The situation in New Mexico is appalling. According to another part of Sandy’s article, fully 25% of high school students have admitted to contemplating or attempting suicide – and this asshat is worried about fat?

    Words fail me.

  14. In my evaluation of presidential candidates on my blog, I left out Bill Richardson because the only thing he talks about is being governor of New Mexico.

    He says it with pride, and I’m all like, dude, it’s not like you’re governor of Hawaii.

    Does he know what most people think of New Mexico????

  15. Imagine what could happen if western governments took on the poverty challenge with a quarter of the energy they do the “obesity challenge.”

    I was gonna end it there, but I need to rant now. I mean, for crying out loud, any time you talk about real poverty and hunger to 3/4 of politicians, their eyes glaze over. I’m totally speaking from experience. WTF are they DOING?? But of course, addressing poverty and food security would actually mean doing something real. Addressing “obesity” means they can just talk and get lots of press. Which seems to be what they prefer.


  16. “Addressing “obesity” means they can just talk and get lots of press. Which seems to be what they prefer.”

    Of course they prefer that! When it fails (and we all know it will), everybody will accept that the fatties let the campaign down. It is a well-known “fact” that fatties have no willpower.

  17. Meowser, i was being entirely facetious! i don’t think that food insecurity should be a goal of any state or nation as a means to promote a thinner end.
    I do think this raises an issue of the quality of food that food banks distribute, however. The diseases you mentioned, which can be prevented by adequate consumption of vitamins C, Thiamin and Niacin, should be all but history in this country if food banks are responsible with the quality of the food they distribute. And, i’m no food economist,,but i would imagine that a whole grain such as barley plus an orange is a cheaper lunch to prepare for the masses than campbell’s chicken salt. i mean soup.

    and Dorianne, you are always so right on. there is such a disconnect between policy makers/legislators and the general population of this country! None of these politicians, with their million dollar campaign budgets and their chauffers could ever grasp the reality of the poor and/or working poor in this country. And i agree that it’s a concept so foreign to them, that rather than learn something, it’s just easier to chase the obesity boogeyman.

  18. And, i’m no food economist,,but i would imagine that a whole grain such as barley plus an orange is a cheaper lunch to prepare for the masses than campbell’s chicken salt. i mean soup.

    Madge, I’m wary of these arguments, because they run into a sort of classism-healthism hybrid that makes me nervous. I mean, most people would choose chicken soup over barley and an orange, because — unless you get fancy with preparation — chicken soup just tastes better. Even Campbell’s. Also, protein.

    So I don’t like this idea that we should save poor people from themselves by only offering them the kinds of food most of us would turn down. (By us, I don’t mean the readers of this blog, I mean the average middle-class American.) It’s a little too noblesse oblige for me.

  19. “The next president must possess the experience to win the fight”.

    I’m so sorry I have to say this, but every picture I can find of the man (whom I so far had never heard of), he’s fat. So does he actually have the experience to win the “fight over obesity”, personally? I think you guys should all vote for him (I’m Dutch, so can’t), to have a real role model in the White House. Cause, you know, four years should be enough to finally show that dieting doesn’t work.
    Maybe then the American government (and all the other governments in the world, of course including mine) would lay off this “personal responsibility” crap and have some serious scientific research done as to why so many people can’t “keep it off” – which would by then include the American President!
    And when that study finally and definitely shows what *we* already know, that it’s not about obesity at all and that we need to focus on other things (like eradicating poverty and encouraging people to move/exercise to improve their health), then maybe, just maybe, the future would become less grim for everyone – especially for us fatties.
    Vote for Richardson!

    Sorry. Got carried away by a train of thought of a future full of rainbows.

  20. Point taken, Kate. I was coming at it from a dollars and cents perspective, however, wherein oranges don’t require a marketing team and fancy jingle to sell, as campbell’s soup does. I would imagine, in my naivete, that buying bulk grain, without corporate logos or fancy packaging, is a more economical purchase, that can satisfy far more hungry tummies. Whether that food tastes better than cambells is subjective. I would have to disagree with you that the soup would taste better, but that’s only MY opinion. I realize that people’s palates have become accustomed to only hugely flavorful food thanks to additives and flavor enhancers, and you’re correct that barley would probably taste bland and weak (although it’s protein content beats that of cambell’s soup. soup is 3g, barley is 4g)

    I know this thread is not about food politics or soup kitchens, so i’ll shut up but i do want to know if you think i’m still being classist.

  21. Well, I never wanted him for president, anyway — I thought that whoever was president should put him up for Secretary of State. Then he won’t have anything to do with America’s supposed Obesity Crisis — he’ll get to do what he sucks less at, which is foreign policy. (Darfur and Korea, anyone?)

  22. Oh, Madge, I didn’t really think you were being classist in the first place! And I think your points are good and interesting. (Also, thanks for the tip on the protein content of barley.)

    It was more that I saw your reasoning as an early step on a continuum that moves toward, “If they can’t afford their own food, then we get to decide what they eat.” Which, practically speaking, is already true to some extent. But I guess I’m worried about it becoming a moral decision about what the very poor should be eating, if that makes sense. Moving from, “How do we feed all these people?” to “How do we save all these folks from the ignorant choices they’d make if good people like us didn’t intervene?” And meanwhile, a lot of us “good” people are still making the “ignorant” choices for ourselves and our own families.

    But I was definitely talking in the abstract, not accusing you of being classist. Sorry about that.

  23. I’m sorry if i sounded defensive! Occasionally, my arguments may smack of classism and such, i totally expect to be called on the carpet for it here. I appreciate it! I just wanted to be made aware if my argument was one such case in point. Thanks!
    By no means do i think soup kitchens should be making judgments on how poor people eat, hoping the ‘educate’ them out of ignorance regarding their food choices. Rather, i think that food services should offer up the most nutritive food that they can, in the most economic fashion (because that would facilitate them feeding even more people). Anytime you get a corporate product, with a brand name, a marketing campaign, a jingle, mascot, etc. involved, there’s money to be paid to said entity. As much as we both bristle at the idea of the poor being told what to eat, i shudder at them becoming unwilling corporate consumers (because they have no other choice). know what i mean?
    I personally stopped eating off of the industrial food chain a bit ago, for political reasons, so it’s an issue i’m sensitive to.

  24. I tend to donate the kind of stuff Madge is talking about to food banks (or maybe not the kinds of stuff she’s talking about, but I think we have similar goals)… if we’re having a food drive at work or church (sad to say I don’t always think of it other times) I’ll go spend 20 or 30 bucks at Kroger and buy a bunch of dried and canned beans, canned tomatoes and other vegetables, bags of brown and white rice, various kinds of juice-packed canned fruit, tuna, maybe canned chicken, etc. I will say that when I am doing this, it’s not so much like “they’ll eat plain beans and like it because it’s Good For Them” as me trying to figure out, OK, if I were on a stricter budget, what kinds of stuff would I make at home to try and get the most nutrition at the lowest price? And I usually arrive at conclusions like vegetarian chili, beans and rice, etc. with canned fruit for dessert. The beans, rice, and pre-seasoned canned tomatoes are probably the inexpensive staples that get used the most in my kitchen so that’s what I tend to focus on.

    I actually feel (and I’m not saying anyone here disagrees) like the more classist option is doing what a lot of people seem to do, and donating whatever crap they don’t want to the food bank. Like “Hmm, I never made that new ‘wacky caramel rainbow cake’ mix that I had a coupon for and then lost in the back of the cabinet for 6 months, and it actually looks kind of gross, but The Poor will probably be glad to get it and it’s technically ‘food’ so therefore I am a good person for donating it.” I sometimes wonder how people will make meals out of the weird stuff I see in our church food drive collection area. But I can see where this would vary a lot depending on the time of year, area, people donating, etc.

    Not that there is no in-between… I’m sure many would violently disagree but I think things like Hamburger Helper probably come in kind of handy when you are looking for something easy to make for dinner out of your food box for the month, assuming you can get hold of a pound of beef, which I realize is a big “if.” (The fact that I had HH for dinner the other night probably factors in here. :)) And canned soup tastes good and is easy, and some of it is decent for you. I feel like poorer people are not required to be nutritional saints any more than I am.

    I typed out some other stuff but deleted it because I realized I have never worked at, volunteered at, or received food from a food bank, so I have no idea what the typical profile of foods that go out would look like. Kind of OT but I’m wondering if anyone who does this kind of work or receives food from a food bank has any observations? Do you usually see too many “healthy” staples or too many random convenience foods (which was my possibly wrong knee-jerk assumption)? I want to tailor my donations to what will be most useful.

    Then again perhaps it’s better to just give money.

  25. When I was drawing SSI, about 10 years ago, I used to go to the food bank all the time because my income just didn’t cover expenses AND groceries (and the $50 a month in food stamps helped, but didn’t cover everything). Most of what they handed out was canned veggies, cereal, dry beans, rice, bread (usually white, yuck), canned fruit, jello and pudding mixes, peanut butter, sugar, flour. If they had meat, they handed out a pound of ground beef for each person in the family, and if they had margarine, you got a pound of that. If you had kids, and they had candy or snacks, they handed those out too. Most of the food shelves I visited had a list of things to hand out and it looked like it tried to follow the food pyramid (the old one, not the new one).
    I was lucky, in that where I lived was close to a plant that canned veggies for Green Giant and they donated cases of veggies to the food shelf. That particular food shelf sometimes had a glut of those and would let you take a case of green beans or peas or corn (no carrots or beets, tho, darn it).
    Fresh fruits weren’t much of an option since they don’t keep well for any length of time. Most of what I got there I was able to use and make meals that were fairly nutritious and filling.
    Actually, giving money is a good idea, but you can always ask a food shelf what they need the most or what they would like to have donated. That’s what I did when I went back to work (I figured it was only right to give back some of the help I had gotten).

  26. I think it also varies from food bank to food bank, in terms of what they give out. In a community like mine, where hungry people make the rounds, the main food bank gives out breads and produce every week, and a “hamper” once a month with some basic staples – rice, pasta, oatmeal, tomato sauce, some canned beans or canned meat, and more of the “goodie” stuff to families with children. Any fresh meat or dried beans are reserved for families with children. Sugar, flour, yogurt, coffee, tea, milk, etc., depends on what’s available. The smaller (usually church-based) food banks then give out more of the dry good staples (pasta, rice), and always, more bread.

    Bread products and produce are always available (here), since they come in as “leftovers” from the local stores. Food banks also get lots of pasta and spaghetti sauce-type things donated. They seem to be most short on protein-based products of any kind, and also baby food and “fun” stuff for kids. Also, any long-lasting milk products, like those tetra boxes of milk, would go a long way.

    I always give money so the food bank can fill in the gaps as it see fit. Here in British Columbia, we have a donations program that allows you to donate cash to the local food bank, as part of your total grocery purchase, when you are at the check out. A few years ago, I also started doing cash food bank donations in lieu of Christmas presents to my family and friends….everyone is quite happy with me doing that instead of buying them things they don’t need, plus if you make it in the other person’s name, they get the tax receipt.

  27. Whew!! I just a got another weight bigot to crack under the pressure, and show his true colors. ^_^

    The sad thing is he says he’s in the business of helping others in his country. (SIGH)……

    Yea. I read Sandy’s bit on this, and I find it surprising that the New Mexico obesity rates have gone up after he made his changes. I’m impressed with the improvement in lowering the shortage of food with those emergency rations, but if I were in a press conference: I would so throw the statistics out on him to put on the pressure. It’s in the books: That would definitely put a hamper on him. :p

    Good insight on Mr. Richardson Kate. I haven’t decided who I’m voting for, but it’s likely to be a democrat, and it’s probably not going to be him. Obviously for more than just this reason (But as you said: He wants to base “Universal Health Care” around this concept, and that’s not flying well with me): He just loves jumping on the bandwagon, and not to judge him by his weight, but dude… what the fuck? Is this not another edition of pot and kettle? Seriously! :P

  28. Sooooo many comments, so little time.

    I live in NM – in Santa Fe. Not that I am super knowledgeable or anything. I just wanted to point that out.

    Richardson has been governor for 4 – almost 5 – years. BFD. No one would be able to affect the kind of change this state needs in a mere 4 years. He certainly hasn’t affected nearly as much positive change as he suggests. Our state legislature is in session for roughly 4 weeks. Yes, that’s right. 4 whole weeks to do all the bill-making and money-raising and ass-kissing that takes other states a year. Our state legislators do not make a salary.

    Also, our horrifically low food security fits in with our rankings for per capita income (48th or 49th) and with our terrible education system. Disheartening only begins to describe it.

    Bill is obese. And until he talks about that, the rest of his words are just BS. I also know someone on his staff who discussed his frequent crash dieting techniques, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to bring him around.

    Keep on keeping on.

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