Friday, July 23, 2004

We will never stop killing ourselves

Walk into any Wal-Mart, Meijers, Target, or K-Mart. Survey the weight of the average person in those places, and you might think that the body shape of the average human being bears more resemblance to Jabba the Hut than to Luke Skywalker. Go to a playground and watch children playing, and you might think the average eight year-old is supposed to supplement baby fat rather than lose it. Pick up a newspaper or magazine, or turn on the network news, and of course, there are the hysterical reports about this epidemic expansion of the average waistline. And yet what does this hysteria get us? Low-carb diets, crustless pizzas, fat-free foods built with artificial sweeteners and synthetic fats, and those are just the food aberrations. What else does it get us? Larger automobiles, complaints about the size of seats in ballparks, larger portions to satisfy larger appetites, and stomach staples. In other words, in classic American fashion, our society's solution is not to look at the cause of the problem and solve it, but how to find marketable means for dealing with our gross tonnage and labor-saving devices to allow people to get even fatter.

But, apologists whine, some people just can't help the fact that they are overweight. There are myriad problems with that logic, however. First and foremost is the rhetorical issue: we're dealing with an explosion of obscene obesity, not simply the relatively small percentage of the population who are, in fact, genetically fat. The bigger problem with that logic is that it completely avoids even a cursory examination of why people are getting fatter and what to do about it.

No, such examinations would not survive the withering legal gaze of the food industry. It is, in fact, the predatory marketing tactics of the corporations constantly introducing new and larger "product," updating and expanding brands that are near the root of the problem (more about the question of personal responsibility later). Plenty of research has been done on the addictive qualities of high fat, high sugar, high salt foods, not to mention caffeine. In addition, the folks in lab coats at IFF do their best research on exactly what tastes and smells trigger a Pavlovian addictive response. And though these corporations purport to sell food, this manufacturing cycle is designed to sell addiction rather than nutrition.

Such facts are never publicized, however, because our corporate structure is based on the fundamental concept that business must always grow and bigger is better. Is it any wonder that our bodies are the ultimate victims?

More on processed food, home-cooking, and personal responsibility later.

For factual support, begin with Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Food Politics by Marion Nestle.