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Another Post on Food, Obesity, and the Big Liberal Privilege Blindspot

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Hey guess what time it is?

It’s time for Pepper to do her semi monthly post about food inequality, obesity, and the big liberal privilege blindspot.

This was prompted by seeing  this linked on my facebook, and some of the comments on that link.

Here’s the score– obesity is a structural, rather than individual problem when you are making sweeping statements about all of America.

I have written before about how food has no moral component, but it has many ethical dimensions. Fat people are not bad, lazy, ugly, weak, horrible or any of the other worse epithets they hear daily.

So I’m writing again, because when I read this stuff, it makes me cringe and sigh. And speaking out is what I can do at this moment, so I’ll do it.

Right wingers smugly demand to know why the poor in America are fat, implying that despite the gutting of state assistance programs the poor are still eating cadillacs made of Lobster and Foie Gras. Liberals tsk and insist that if we could just get people eating local, eating fresh, cooking at home, eating organic and free range and so forth. Fat advocates tell them both to fuck the ever loving fuck right off because niether group knows a god damn thing about what they are talking about.

I side with the Fat advocates, even though I have plenty of thin privilege going for me.  Because my own experiences with ill health have taught me that you just do not know what is going on in someone’s life or someone’s body by looking casually at them. You can’t look at me and see that I have cervical cancer, or if you do know, you can’t look at me and tell what caused it.

Obesity may be caused by a myriad of factors, such as medications, hidden disabilities or disease, genetics, and so on. You don’t actually know how someone eats or how much the exercise from looking at their body. Thin =/= healthy. I could be hollywood thin if I bought black market adderall and smoked like a chimney, but no-one in their right mind would call me healthy.

Furthermore, I side with the Fat advocates that my (or their) body(ies)=/= your business, and that means that irrational hatred of fat people for being fat, is, well, irrational.

The argument that the obese are putting a strain on our healthcare system is also kind of silly, given that the biggest costs of healthcare are coming from the aging boomer population, not the obese. I’m too tired to round up links and stats but there are many many handy posts at, and Forever in Hell detailing these issues.

I have said before and will keep saying until I am fucking blue in the face– obesity is a structural issue. It is an issue  of food distribution in this country, and access to health care.  If you are poor and you have 5 dollars to feed you that day, you can eat a full meal at McD’s with a drink or you can go to your grocery store and get rice and beans which you may well not have the implements or time to cook correctly, or the seasonings to make palatable. If you only have 5 bucks, that matters, there is no margin of error for cooking fuckups, because you need to eat. I’ve been there. And guess what? I ate fast food.

There is a sort nostalgic quasi mythic sentiment amongst nice white middle class liberals that what we need is to grow and preserve our own food, that we need to be keeping chickens and victory gardens, that we need to be back in the kitchen, making it all organic and beautiful and farm kitcheny and healthy.

I admire very much anyone who can do this, and spit on anyone who thinks that poor people in shitty urban or even rural housing can possibly be expected to do this. First of all, let’s say you raise chickens or rabbits or pigeons, you learn how to slaughter and dress and cook them, so you have a supply of lean protein that is tasty and economical. Then what?

No seriously. What do you do if you don’t have a large freezer? Because you need one. Most people do not know how to safely preserve meat, and again, there is no margin of error here. You can die if you don’t get it right. If you don’t have a large freezer you may end up feeding your livestock more than what they save you by only slaughtering them say 1x a week. If your neighbors don’t turn you in for animal cruelty and you don’t get evicted. If you can even learn how to rear, keep, slaughter, dress and cook live animals.

Ok, so you go the vegetarian route. Plenty of protein in…legumes. And soybeans. And whey. Holy shit is it hard to raise edible soy and legumes in places where it is winter 9-10 months of the year. Say you manage this trick, again, how do you preserve your harvest? I don’t actually know how to dehydrate and preserve legumes or soybeans. And I am among the super privileged in terms of education,  and race.

So you also have lovely fresh veggies. Now you need to can them. Do you know how? Do you know anyone who knows how? What if your grandma is dead or you never knew her and no-one you know has a grandma who can teach them? What if you make a mistake and your canned veggies spoil and you get sick? You don’t have health insurance and every time you use medicaid they treat you like a defrauding piece of garbage, and they will not take kindly to your food poisoning bullshit in the ER. In fact, you might become a facebook meme about how fat people are poisoning themselves on fast food and twinkies, with their brand new cell phones and their clothes and shit. Acting like they are human! Ha!

What if you have kids? Do you know how much is enough food to feed all of you from your garden?

What if you don’t have a house as such, maybe you move from place to place, couch surfing or living in your car– the places you go don’t have grocery stores really, just gas stations, liquor stores, and fast food joints. You don’t have much money, you feel bad about being effectively homeless, but you have enough to feed yourself and maintain what little dignity you’ve got, even if the food is horrible and people hurl insults at you for being fat while in a fast food joint.

Maybe nobody ever taught you to cook, and cooking terms and tools are just out of the reach of your literacy or purse.

So you’re obese. And poor, and nice sincere well meaning middle class liberals (who are usually white, you are often a person of color) are standing there kindly telling you that you are sucking the nation dry with your fatness, and you just need some organic aragula and trader joe’s whole grain organic pita pockets, and to get your hands back in the (polluted) soil, and get yourself (this is for women, it’s not generally spoken but oh lord it is aimed squarely at women) back in the kitchen, especially if you really love your kids.

And then these same good hearted people will go onto their facebook and say things like rising grocery costs will fix the obesity problem! And– I see a return to victory gardens in our future! And they will feel justified and good about this.

And they will not stop and think about who will go hungry or just continue slogging to McD’s and getting spat on and mooed at and abused because now they really can’t afford an apple a day. They will not stop to consider who they think of when they think of the nice homey organic free range farm garden and house, and it is women, in the kitchen, kneading and boiling and plucking and slicing and sweating and working for free. Women of color especially, right back in the fucking kitchen where they belong, I mean, that seems right doesn’t it? That isn’t racist or sexist, it’s just natural. That’s what you do when your love your family and value their health!

They sure as shit won’t stop to consider that women worldwide produce about 60% of the food and own less than 1% of the land. Women of color, mostly.

They won’t think about how poor people cannot survive on one wage, none of us really can, those days only existed for about 30 years and they are long fucking gone, and not coming back. They won’t think about the hungry on the streets, or the fractured families who do not pass foodways and knowledge down, who do not have mothers and fathers and grandparents there to teach. They will not consider foster kids who have grown up in institutions, and are unceremoniously kicked out at 18 with a GED and a history of trauma so profound that it’s a wonder they can stand up under it. Or who went from a chaotic semi-homeless state straight into juvenile detention and from there into prison.

I don’t hate or loathe these liberals. But I want them to think about all of the people they aren’t thinking about when they blithely suggest that what the obese need is starvation, or gardens.

Finally, I want to see the myth of the self supporting individual die. Never, ever, ever, ever, EVER, in all of human history, in our entire evolution even, have we been able to feed ourselves as single units, certainly not nuclear family units. We have always been communal, because together we eat. I would argue that in America today, we have stratified and twisted and broken the basic human instinct toward community to a degree hitherto unknown, and it is write large on our bodies.

It is writ large in the bank accounts of ConAgra and Monsanto and all of the cheap and fast corn based, dairy fat based agribusiness stock holders.

Don’t ask people to fix structural inequalities through individual suffering and labor. Take their fucking hands and demand change. If you have skills in growing and preserving food, offer adult education classes for free. Hell, let’s start with literacy before asking people to cook. Return to the communal principle of food. Together we eat, divided we starve, and I do mean we, because the poor and the marginalized are not them to our privileged us. The greatest human folly is the fond belief that the water will never rise to our doorsteps.


About Pepper

Pepper Lee Hales is a twenty something, married, vicious feminist liberal. She likes dogs, cats, spiders, epistemics and cake.

5 responses »

  1. Agreed.

    As a person of skinny privilege it was super duper tricky trying to wrap my head around the fact that obese people weren’t solely to blame for their weight issues.

    I eat unhealthy all the time but don’t suffer physical effects because of my genetics. Some friends however have the metabolism of a polar bear in hibernation. Can I fault ’em for not always reaching for the radish and arugula salad? I can’t blame others for choices I make as well, while enjoying the benefits of not gaining weight.

    Another easy link to obesity and food structure is the popularities of novelty foods and subsitutes for real nutrition such as soda. As cheap as bottled water and packing 120 calories per. Since we’ve become accustomed to both a higher calorie input and a more sedentary lifestyle it would only be natural that the obesity rate would increase. Durrrr.

  2. Okay, so I thought this over and seemed to draw some parallels with anti-smoking legislation (that just recently hit our state.)

    You said…
    “The argument that the obese are putting a strain on our healthcare system is also kind of silly, given that the biggest costs of healthcare are coming from the aging boomer population, not the obese.”

    Much of the reasoning that people are attempting to ban smoking is because of it’s “strain on the healthcare system.” They view smokers as people who will eventually need critical care at the cost of the taxpayer. They offer (smugly) that quitting smoking should be easy for people because smoking is pure personal choice. Do you think this resonates with the issue of obesity? I personally don’t smoke, but my relatives who had been brought up smoking have tried to quit numerous times and failed.

    It would seem that lawmakers are saying that both obesity and smoking are adverse health conditions. They are saying that obesity and smoking are purely lack of effort which can be fixed with altering “simple” choices. You offer that obesity has many factors that don’t often include a simple fix (“medications, hidden disabilities or disease, genetics, and so on”.) I offer that smoking often has many factors that don’t often include a simple fix (addictive behavior, physically addictive substance, upbringing.)

    Do you feel that smoking legislation against smokers is equally infringing or do you think smoking is pure choice and thus can be legislated against for the “greater good.”

  3. I think it is super problematic to compare smokers and fat people.

    Also, although smoking has many class, race, and gendered aspects, it is fundamentally different because everyone without exception needs food to live. You can put a smoker on an empty cigarettless island for years and as long as they have food and water, they will not die of nicotine withdrawl. They might feel like they are going to die, but that will pass. So I don’t think these two issues are the same at all.

    First of all, being around a fat person does not in any way increase my chances of health problems, or trigger my asthma. Also, the point I was hoping to get at is that all fat people do not in fact eat unhealthy food. Some do, many of them poor with few good choices, but plenty don’t, and so you just don’t know. The fat person sitting next to you may eat chickpeas, free range chicken and sprouts and never so much as look at unhealthy food, and still be fat. You cannot tell what the hell is going on in somebodies life by looking, most of the time. There are plenty of fantastically fit and successful cocaine addicts, but they are not healthy.

    I don’t really buy into any arguments about groups of people putting a strain on our shittastic health care system, because, as far as I am concerned this is Big Insurance and Big Pharma pitting us against each other, and also a racist dog whistle, because people of color have health outcomes that are so much worse than privileged white people.

    I should note that I am a democratic socialist all the way through and am in support of a single payer system where we all pay and we all benefit. Even ZOMG DEATH FATTIES. And samokers. And addicts. And poor people. And People of Color. And Immigrants. And fucking space aliens if that’s what they need. I am against stratification, full stop.

    Am I ok with smoking bans? It has been a thorny issue for me because I like to err on the side of personal freedom, but I also have asthma which is triggered by second hand smoke, and even if I choose for various reasons to poison myself, I don’t think I or anyone else has the right to go ahead and rope in total strangers.

  4. Yep. Smoking certainly doesn’t react to well to class/race/gender. I knew I was gettin’ into sticky territory with smoking, but I wanted to see how far you would extend your definitions of personal freedom with a more defined “bad” issue.

  5. My rule about rights and freedom is best summed up as: My rights end where yours begin.


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