I noticed this news (PDF) last week, grumbled briefly, and then fixed myself a sandwich.
Well? What’d you expect me to do in light of such awfulness?
Americans are now pumping 938 million gallons of fuel more annually than they were in 1960 as a result of extra weight in vehicles. And when gas prices average $3 a gallon, the tab for overweight people in a vehicle amounts to $7.7 million a day, or $2.8 billion a year.
The numbers are added costs linked directly to the extra drain of body weight on fuel economy. In a paper to appear in the October-December issue of the journal The Engineering Economist, the scientists conclude that each extra pound of body weight in all of today’s vehicles results in the need for more than 39 million gallons of extra gasoline usage each year.
It’s not the results or the calculations I have my problems with; data don’t care if you hate them. For a terrific summary of what I do have problems with, and why, I have to point you to Gina Kolata’s article, with what might be my favorite title ever: “For a World of Woes, We Blame Cookie Monster.”
The article includes this dead-on observation from a woman at the CDC:
Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also wryly cautions against being quick to link cause and effect. “Yes, obesity is to blame for all the evils of modern life, except somehow, weirdly, it is not killing people enough,” she said. “In fact that’s why there are all these fat people around. They just won’t die.”
They won’t lose weight, they won’t die, they won’t do anything to spare us the sight of their fatty fatness! It’s horrible!
I had some jumbled-up thoughts about this I wanted to try to shake out here, but La Lubu’s already expressed them with her customary eloquence:
Frankly, I’d like to see every bone of contention in the feminism world start off with a blunt answering of the question: who holds the key to power here?, and then go from there. I got the impression from my brief look at the “appearance” threads that too many folks were answering that unspoken question, “the individual woman, as a consumer.” And that’s ludicrous.
Who holds the key to power? That’s the question, isn’t it? And if you answer “the fat person,” I think you, too, may be verging upon the ludicrous.
We all know the commonly prescribed remedy for obesity: Eat less, exercise more. And the corollaries: Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, eat fewer refined starches. Eat more lean protein, eat fewer saturated fats. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least 4-5 days a week.
I’m not saying these can’t be done; I’ve done them myself. I am saying that our society actively puts obstacles in the way of people trying to do them. Chicken breasts cost more than chicken legs. Lean steak costs more than ground beef. Fresh fish costs more than breaded fish sticks. Fresh produce, as has been mentioned here before, is not always available to the people who need it most, and exercise cannot always be conducted safely. Proper nutrition and exercise aren’t just health issues. They are also class and race issues.
And just from my own limited whitebread middle-class experience, here’s a typical set up: A woman with children works in an office at least an hour’s drive from her home in a city with poor public transit options. She wakes at 5:00 a.m., gets the children ready for day-care or school or both, gets herself out the door by 7:00 to be to the office by 8:00. She grabs something quick on the way, maybe a breakfast bar, or she just has coffee. Some thin person (it is always a thin person) brings in doughnuts or bagels to the office. Ooh, a couple of those would go good with coffee!
At 11:30 the “what’re you doing for lunch” conversations begin. Maybe she brought a salad from home, but it’s been one of those mornings and that doesn’t sound so good now. A couple of the girls are going out for pizza; would she like to come? Or maybe this is a work-through-lunch day. Could someone bring her something back to eat at her desk? Maybe a sandwich from the deli? Or, sure, a burger’s fine.
At 5-ish it’s time to race home and deal with the kids and throw together something for dinner. Maybe some Hamburger Helper? Or, wait: She can fix the kids hot dogs with macaroni and cheese while she fixes herself a bowl of cereal. A bowl of cereal’s not much, but it will alleviate the guilt over that cheeseburger she had for lunch.
Now it’s 10:00, the kids are finally in bed and, criminy, she’s starving. Is there any microwave popcorn in the house? Oh, SCORE.
That’s a fairly typical workday for the people who have it pretty good. I’m not even getting into the people who don’t have it good (but Barbara Ehrenreich’s got them covered), or the ones who have it even better, if “working 70-hour weeks” is in fact better.
In the U.S. we require, in order for you to get ahead, to secure even the right to a dream, two things minimum: That you drive a car, and that you put your health last. Then we wonder why everyone’s so fat. Then we get disgusted and blame fat people for everything we don’t like about this world we’ve made.
There has to be a better solution. It should start by answering La Lubu’s question: “Who holds the key to power here?”
- Guilty As Charged? by Aulelia October 27, 2007
- The Act of Bearing Witness by La Lubu October 22, 2006
- Transit cuts hurt car drivers too by amandaw August 19, 2010
- Just happy to be me, thanks. Pass the pie. by Alley Rat March 23, 2005
- “Obesity,” health, and the pro-food movement by Lisa Jervis September 4, 2009