1,000 calories a day: Officially not torture

Via Rachel at The-F-Word, the HuffPo is reporting that calorie restriction was a Bush-administration-approved torture technique, and the justification for its legality was that people do it voluntarily. We just call it “dieting” instead of “torture.”

In a footnote to a May 10, 2005, memorandum from the Office of Legal Council, the Bush attorney general’s office argued that restricting the caloric intake of terrorist suspects to 1000 calories a day was medically safe because people in the United States were dieting along those lines voluntarily.

“While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustain periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision,” read the footnote. “While we do not equate commercial weight loss programs and this interrogation technique, the fact that these calorie levels are used in the weight-loss programs, in our view, is instructive in evaluating the medical safety of the interrogation technique.”

This is like saying that because people voluntarily engage in e-stim, it’s totally safe to zap detainees’ genitals. I’m going to set aside for a moment my extreme revulsion at the bureaucratic justification of torture — because I really cannot string together words strong enough to express how horrified I am by my own government in this matter — and focus on the whole, you know, dieting is torture thing.

This is what people who say “just put down the baby donuts, fatty” want you to undergo: something so mind-destroying that the Bush administration thought it would make you confess to terrorist acts. “Without requiring medical supervision,” my ass. The first thing I thought of when I read that was zombie z’s comment from this post:

zombie z: You want to know what makes me fucking CRAZY?!

As a thin anorexic, I was told over and over again that 500, 800, 1000, sometimes even 1200, calories a day wasn’t enough to even keep someone alive. I was told I should be eating 1800-2500 calories a day.

As a normal-sized anorexic, I was told (by a doctor) that I could “eat 800 calories a day and exercise and still lose some weight.”

Doctors are not immune from fat prejudice, as zombie z’s comment so distressingly demonstrates. The reason people don’t have medical supervision while doing Jenny Craig or WW is not because those diets are so clearly safe; it’s because they’re so clearly normalized as part of the (female) American experience. Feeling fat? Go on Weight Watchers! Everybody does it! If it doesn’t work it’s because you cheated and had some cough drops or carrots or something, not because it’s designed to fail so that you’ll have to pony up your money again next year.

We are firmly through the looking glass on this one. Diets feel torturous,* but doctors say fatties should go on them because duh, you’re fat — but if you’re thin, watch out! That’s not enough to live on, you’ll starve! The professional torture apologists say that diets are perfect because they feel like torture, but they must not be because look at all those fatties on them — they’re not being tortured, right? It’s voluntary and no one would volunteer for torture, which is why we only approve things that feel like torture but aren’t torture. If you object that there is no moral or physical difference between something that feels like torture and something that is torture — that the definition of torture is about how it feels — well, you’re just a liberal pantywaist. And you could probably stand to drop a few pounds.

*Now would be a good time to refresh your memory on the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, in which subjects went mad on 1600 calories a day.

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.

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.