Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Food, Fat and Personal Responsibility

Gluttony used to be a sin. Now it’s become what? A lifestyle choice? Or a politely ignored , very publicly displayed choice of suicide.

It used to be, if you went to a buffet restaurant in one of my local country towns the only people under 300 pounds were the staff. Not so any longer. I suspect the biggies, having gotten ever bigger, no longer can get out the door and into the car. What’s going on? Even Oprah wasn’t able to make an appreciable dent in the fat fashion.

A real estate agent I once worked with could no longer get out of his chair to show properties. Another had a stomach stapling and deflated to something like the shape of a normal human being, but his spirit seemed crushed.

But the example that 'takes the cake', in my experience, was shown me when I was working as an election day poll watcher in a nearby village. A woman was brought in a wheelchair, a very wide wheelchair but she generously overlapped it. There was no question of getting her into a voting booth.

We – three of us – rolled her over to a table where she could make out a ballot while we looked the other way. No good. Her hands, resting like flippers on her inflated girth, couldn’t reach the table. A clip board was held under her chin and she managed to paw her way through her assorted x’s. Of course her hands could reach her chin. Before she left us, a friend of hers bought a whole coconut cream layer cake – just for her.

Which makes the point that she didn’t get that way all by herself. Her condition required considerable maintenance. But she soon passed beyond amateur care and was moved to a nursing home – where she since has died. She was only in her forties.

At other times in other places public disapproval might work to curb some of this. But it isn’t doing much here in the United States. The exceedingly plump daughter of a friend of mine wrote a play in college and the play went on to some commercial success. It was an eloquent plea for tolerance equating gross obesity with race and sexual preference.
Really? one might ask. Race has of course nothing to do with behavioral choice, and sexual choice has ceased to be a major health issue with gays long since paying attention to the AIDS risk. But obesity is disabling and ultimately deadly. Some people, yes, are chunky by nature. No human is 400 pounds by nature. Such heft has taken determined work over a considerable period of time.
The sight of a woman in stretch pants with a pendulous stomach that hangs to her knees and swings as she waddles is shocking. Or of a man who has not been able to see his feet for years.

Corporate producers of food have made a battle-cry of "Fat Free", making up for the deficit by lacing everything with sugar. But even the most wholesome food is dangerous in excess.

In the past a large part, if not the majority, of the earth's human population hadn't as much to eat as they wanted, or even needed. With abundance available in much of the world now, we need to learn to recognize when we’ve had enough to sustain normal health and energy, and just stop eating.

It should be as simple as that.

We can't blame excessive flab on the food packagers and fast food purveyors. The dictum of business is "give the people what they want." It's the consumer's choice that determines what the food will be. Nobody becomes obese from a single burger once in a while. It’s the person who has a tray full of burgers all for himself, who's misusing food that, in its basic serving portion, would be reasonably nutritious for an active person burning off the calories.

That Freedom that we claim as so essential to happiness carries with it responsibility. And responsibility, even in this most basic form, seems sorely lacking.