Sunday, June 10, 2012

How We Talk About Health

I was listening to Wait Wait yesterday morning as I usually do on Saturdays and I usually enjoy it. They do make fat jokes from time to time. I suppose, to be (cough) fair, they make jokes about a variety of physical things and are often at the brunt of their own jokes. And they aren't always scathingly cruel jokes. Which is actually almost worse for me. If you're going to make a joke at my expense go on and let your meanness show. The jokes were being made because the White House chef was on to play Not My Job and for the most part it was fun. The fat jokes were weak by any standard.
For example, Mo Rocca asks if the chef wouldn't rather cook for Chris Christie because then he could cook anything, like "Zebra." Huh? So I guess fat people will eat anything? And then Peter Sagal says, "an entire one." Because fat people eat anything and lots of it? Weak. When Chef Kass talked about the First Lady's healthy food initiative he used words like heath and well being. All right. And then Rocca says, "They should make chubby kids mow the White House lawn. To get in shape"
More fat jokes once they started playing.
I was remembering a time when I took a friend's son to a movie on a day when he was off school and she had to work. When we bought our tickets they gave us a coupon for the snack bar. He got a soda and some fries. He grabbed a handful of ketchup packets and slathered each fry. Half way through the basket he went back for more ketchup. His mouth was ringed with red, his fingers were coated. He went through a stack of napkins. There was something so charming about it. He took such pleasure in the eating.
As I remember the coupon was for the largest soda, which was shockingly large but when he told me they were refillable, for free, I'm sure my reaction was bad. I know I was kind of freaked out by the idea. I just don't find myself in Big Gulp world very often. I didn't want to embarrass him and I wanted him to have uninhibited fun but I was genuinely shocked. I don't really remember how it went but I think I remember him getting water. I think he would have been considered fat. It's hard for me to tell anymore but he was round and so sweet, crowned with curls that would have inspired Botticelli. I remember him as an active kid. Always in motion.
This morning I caught the end of Chris Hayes. He was talking about "big food" and Bloomberg's (stupid) soda edict and ohlordygawd the number of time the word obesity got tossed around was itself epidemic. Chris made one barely formed attempt to note that the link between soda and obesity wasn't clear but the link between soda and blood sugar problems was clear. It got swept away like so much dross.
There was a really great guy with a great project on the show. He said something about a school in Harlem (I think) where they have a This Is A Sugar Free Zone sign. So. No apples? No carrots? There is sugar in both.
The intersection of race and obesity blather is crazy making for me. I love the idea that this guy is helping farmers and communities of color and bringing great food into areas where there isn't much available. I LOVE it. But the anti sugar, anti fat people thing makes me wanna holler. Can we please have some balance? Can we talk about fruit and vegetables and not also have to throw out cupcakes?
There's sugar in ketchup. And, unless it's home made or made by a hippie company it's the worst kind of sugar.  Sugar in that huge glass of soda. I get it. There's a problem. But there's also pleasure. Pleasure matters.
There was some report this week about exercise being "less effective" for African American women in terms of preventing obesity. Studies like this always seem dubious to me but it does support something I hammer on. Eat less/exercise more is not a one size all solution for people who want to be thin. I think eating healthy food and exercising might be effective in terms of general heath and well being. But it's not really about heath and well being. It's about hate.
I think it's almost never good to talk about a kid's weight. I say almost because there may be times when a sudden change in weight might signal something going wrong but how often? We don't know?  We don't know because we only talk about fat people. We talk about the badness of corporate food as if the ill effects are nothing to thin people.
I was listening to the part of Chris I'd missed on the computer in the afternoon while I shelled peas. If you know me you know how I feel about peas. And peaches. And watercress. All of which Debbie brought me from the farmer's market yesterday. And kale, cherries, spring onions, raspberries. I'm in foodie paradise. When the section on the food thing came up I tried to listen again but it was too annoying. It makes me sad because I really do love the farm project. And I really am put off by huge cups of soda. I'm also put off by politicians who try to make a name for themselves with meaningless gestures.
I listen to people who I think are smart. I listen to learn. I listen to people who know that language matters. Who know how hate is constructed. And then they participate in the national contempt for the size of my ass in the guise of health.
Eat this.           


Daniel said...

At risk of being ridiculed for stating the obvious, obesity is a very complicated issue.

It's also a bit like the weather: Nearly everyone has weight issues to some degree and so personal experience justifies strong opinions.

I've been reading Fatshadow for many years and have come to know you as an 'acceptance' advocate. That's one way of looking at it, and maybe, over all, the more wholesome view for the chronically obese.

But I also read about your suffering and complaints about bad knees, sore hips, loss of mobility, trouble sleeping, unemployment, depression, social isolation, etc.

These are conditions typically associated with obesity. In my own case, I have suffered thus, and then some.

When public discussions, at least those in main stream media, focus on obesity it annoys me that quick fixes, like super-sized sweet drinks, and fast food/ junk food get all the attention.

What I've got is more closely aligned with addiction. Times in my life it's been controlled, never easily, but for short periods my eating has been restrained. But it always comes back.

When searching for answers, obesity researchers never seem to look seriously about the psychological (addiction) element, but only for quick solutions—yellow fat v. brown fat, sugar, carbohydrate, exercise, what ever.

For a month, I've taken myself off food altogether except for a protein, vitamin & mineral concoction. I don't recommend it to anyone but myself. But, within about 3 days I started to feel better, sleep better, move without pain, feel more optimistic, my blood sugars are running normal without insulin and, although I don't weigh myself, I am losing weight.

But, I know I can't keep this up forever and I know I am an addict. Food addict. That will never change. So I must. Somehow. And there's no obesity expert, or health journalist, or TV chef I know of who can tell me how.

Can you?

Tish said...

Food addiction is very serious. I didn't always believe in it but I've met more than a few people with heart breaking stories. I don't think there are easy answers for any addiction but food addiction is particularly intractable because we have to eat.
Obesity is also complicated and I think I've written about that as well. I don't think you should be ridiculed for saying something that is true. I do think you seem to be articulating a perspective that seems to conflate fatness and wrongness. Maybe that's too simple a way to say what I mean.
I used to blog more and participate in the size acceptance community more. I've withdrawn from most of that in part because of an aspect of your comment. If I talk about my personal issues with employment or aspects of health someone is sure to say that I wouldn't have the issues if I weren't fat. I've been fat for most of my life. Really all of my life but I didn't always have the problems I have now. And most of my issues are often true for people who aren't fat.
I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling because, as you note, what you're doing now isn't sustainable. I wish I did have answers.
I don't hold being fat as a problem to solve. And maybe more importantly I think the things people do to lose weight are often not too good for them.

Daniel said...

Tnx for yr thoughtful reply.

re: Fatness=wrongness --a clever way to put it, and, yes I think you're right, I do see it that way. I've been obese since childhood was bullied for it through school, within my family and carry shame and self-loathing with me always.

Isn't the wrongness of being fat implied in all the news and public discourse about 'the obesity epidemic'?

I can intellectually separate the two, but deep emotional scars remain and on a visceral level I think being fat is not only my own fault but also a sign of my moral depravity.

I wish I could adopt your attitude of not holding fat as a problem to solve, life would be so much easier.

Thanks for the forum to express my thinking and experience.

Tish said...

I think it's really hard to not internalize the message that fat is wrong. I was also bullied as a child and rejected in many ways throughout my life because of my weight. But here's the thing. We would not be fat if we didn't have the genetics. You wouldn't see other things (eye color, height) as a moral failing. And even the genetics aren't simple. Some people can skip desert and take a walk and lose weight. Other people have to live on an extremely restrictive diet and work out like an athlete to lose weight. If you look at some famous fat people you see the struggle. I'm not sure you can have a healthy relationship with food if eating a cupcake is a moral failure. I do think if you eat twenty cupcakes in a row you might not feel that well and that does suggest a problem. I think it's really important to sort the true from the nattering and in this culture it isn't easy.
Take good care of yourself. Inside and out.