Hello all! Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences. Fun right?! Check out previous installations here. I'd love it if you'd read along and join in! And now, without further ado...
The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18: What Should We Eat?... sort of.
Well friends, it's finally happened. Here in the very last chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, I am *spitting* mad at you.
Let's talk about why, shall we? My anger stems from a one-page section within the chapter What Should We Eat? entitled "The Ethics of Obesity." In it, you state that people "choose to overeat and develop obesity-related health problems that require medical care," and that "[c]hoosing an unhealthy diet may seem like a personal choice, but it's not fair to the people who ultimately have to pay for it." You do concede - in a supremely, classically fat-shaming way, that "[s]ome have eating disorders or metabolic problems that are difficult to control." And immediately follow that with, "others just eat too much and should show more restraint." You argue here that people who are overweight are overwhelmingly unethical and lack self-control.
AND MY MIND IS BLOWN. Yikes! Way to completely and utterly miss a major issue in food justice. Could two such highly educated men as yourselves, who have spent so much of your lives studying the food industry, be so motherf*$#ing ignorant? Apparently so! You clearly require some educating. Pay attention.
- There is a multi-billion dollar food advertising business that is positively hell bent on convincing every United States resident to overeat. Promotion of overeating is literally why this industry exists. We are bombarded with messages to overeat, and specifically to overeat the least healthy foods available, from all possible media sources in every possible venue, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, from the moment we're born. (And our mothers were subject to them during our time in utero.) Telling people they can be immune to this ubiquitous and powerful messaging, and that failing to be immune to it is amoral, is delusional and ugly.
- Food that is lacking in nutrients and high in "empty calories" is cheaper and easier by many factors than food that is healthy. You can preach eating beans and rice all you want, and you're right, that's healthier and better in every way. It may even be cheaper. Except that it takes hours to prepare beans and rice starting with dry beans and dry rice. And it requires gas or electricity, a stove, a pot (or several), and the physical ability to go to a store to procure these foods and to stand in front of a stove - things that not everyone has. So essentially what I'm saying here is check your f*$#ing privilege.
- Tens of millions of people in the US are food insecure, and many of them are children. Are fat children unethical, in your view? Many parents live in food deserts, relying on corner stores that only offer calorie-dense, nutritionally devoid "food" for their family's food needs. Would you prefer that these parents not feed their children at all, rather than feeding them the obesogenic foods available to them?
- As a highly privileged, solidly-middle-class, college educated white person who has a car, shops exclusively at Whole Foods and farmers markets, and has been researching food and nutrition for 15 years, I still have trouble figuring out what I should be eating and finding the time and energy to make it happen. We live in an incredibly complex food environment that has been designed to force us all to eat poorly. The less privileged a person is, the less time and resources that person has to navigate the labyrinth. So once again, check your f*$#ing privilege.
- THERE IS MORE THAN ONE REASON THAT PEOPLE BECOME OVERWEIGHT. It has been so completely assumed that overeating - taking in more calories than a person expends - is the sole reason for overweight that no one has ever bothered to generate numbers on other possible causes of obesity. We assume that if someone is overweight it is because they are eating more food than they need, period. This is a function of healthism with no scientific basis. If by chance we manage to pull our collective heads from our collective assess and put down this neoliberal, personal-responsibility view of overweight for long enough to actually study the causes of overweight beyond overconsumption, I believe wholeheartedly that we will discover that overeating is not only not the only cause, but isn't even the primary cause, of overweight.
And so, Peter, Jim, I implore you: put down this neoliberal healthist Reagan-loving classist asshat bullsh*t. Immediately. Check your f*$#ing privilege one more time, just for good measure.
You are absolutely correct in that there is an ethical problem with overconsumption in this country. But the transgression lies with the food industry that would literally physically cram its terrible disease-causing food down our throats if it could, not with the individual consumers who are at its mercy.
We'll talk about the rest of this chapter tomorrow. I'm too disappointed by your behavior to talk to you any more right now.