Wednesday, September 29, 2004

we love to see you smile

[Someone on my blogroll had a post up the other day briefly touching on a issue that I've been mulling over for a month or too now. For the life of me I can't remember whose post it was, nor where I found it, so linkage will be scarce here.]

Worries about the obesity crisis are all the rage in America right now, much of the blame being laid on fast food and our over-the-top consumerism in books like Fast Food Nation and films like Supersize Me. We are a nation of people who cannot give up our car keys. We eat too much, too often, and too processed. Diet fads are our quick-fix solutions to weight problems, and our obsession with celebrity thin and plastic surgery is far from healthy.

And while I generally agree with all this, and try my best to avoid the worst bits of our celebrity worship and carb-counting society, I think there's more here at stake. No, strike that, there is more here at stake.

I had about an hour between lessons this morning and I stopped in a McDonalds to use the bathroom (It was by far the poshest McDonalds I'd ever seen- fancy black furniture and decorative wall hangings- I thought for a second I'd accidentally fallen into a Charles Dickens novel). I've been curious about the salads they've added to their menu- curious, that is, beyond the annoyance the commercials geared at women and our "weight insecurities." Sure enough, I still can't eat at MickeyD's- all three salads have chicken on them. No matter, I'm not a fan of the salad anyway.

The claim of "Supersize Me" (and correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't seen it yet) is that McDonalds and other fast food restaurants carry a large portion of the blame for America's status as a land of the obese. While I can't imagine anyone in real, non documentary life would eat burgers everyday, the claim is valid, I feel. In other countries, regulation of meat and other products has been stepped up to limit the use of hormones and additives- Natalie, returning from France, mentioned to me that even though she ate a good deal of "unhealthy" foods such as burgers, cheese, desserts, breads, etc., she still lost weight. This information became a part of my theory that eating processed materials in bulk as we do in the US is a major piece of the obesity puzzle. I don't have much issue with eating meat in principle, but I will not do so in this country where hormonal injections are standard practice. Not only is it animal cruelty- but it is cruel to the consumer as well. Who knows what kind of preservatives and additives you are injesting along with an McDonalds hamburger? What tricks do they play on our body to prevent it from processing food normally?

Do I digress? At any rate, the answer seems simple. "Eat healthy, get out and exercise." But what does eating healthy really cost? I try my best to be organic, but as a music teacher I'm not pulling in the kind of money to go totally green. Organic vegetables are more expensive, organic soups and prepared meals cost a pretty penny, and don't even get me started on eggs. All this, and you'll still can't even be sure that they are certifiably organic or even cruelty-free. Still, much of my organic diet has enabled me to cut some corners- bulk cereal is my own personal Jesus, and cooking a meal often leaves leftovers for the next evening's dinner. Going out to eat can be a challenge, even for a shoddy vegetarian such as I am (I still love my fish, and orange chicken tempts me from a Chinese food place every so often), especially in Texas. Sometimes my menu options are limited to a salad, and I still have to ask them to take the meat off.

Now, vegetarianism is only one healthy option, and it's easy enough to keep meat in your diet and still be fit. Unfortunately, all these healthy options require something more than a minimun wage paycheck, and this is where I feel the issue is. In the article I liked above about the weight crisis, it showed a statistic that African-Americans and Latinos are more prone to obesity. My first thought is that these are for the most part, the people in our society who, unfortunately, make up the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Eating at McDonalds for the lower classes then is a paycheck saver, a financially sound investment- until it comes to the long term health effects. Sure there are salads there now, and I'm personally glad it's an option- but a salad is not the only healthy food, and it's certainly not going to last you for energy very long.

And what's the cost of a health spa these days? Sure, you could go for a walk outside, but if you live in a rough neighborhood, do you want to? In an overpopulated, polluted city?

The disdain our culture has developed for the overweight underlies yet another form of racial and class bias. By not properly regulating our food standards we create an economy that rewards those who cut corners and punishes those who run their food businesses ethically (organically- and environmentally-speaking), therefore, the cheapest food is the worst for you.

If we could give more options to the lower classes and take a less self-hating view of our own bodies (pick up any women's magazine for the latest tips on how to get those perfect summer thighs), would obesity-hatred die out at all? I'd hope so. I'm sympathetic (empathetic?) to all the BBWs of the world striving for body diversity and size acceptance- because most of us have a choice, to like who we are and the choices we make for ourselves or to fall prey to the carrot on the stick society has set up in front of us. However, I am concerned for the people I don't believe really have that choice. On the one hand we are responsible for our own actions, and care of our bodies is no one's duty but our own, but on the other, do we really have access to all the options we should?