The Thinking 

Fat and Defiant

October 9, 2009



Some readers of my article Obesity in America gently accused me of insensitivity toward the overweight. I am not complaining about these comments and I recognize there are people who suffer from metabolic conditions and cannot hope to be thin unless they set about starving themselves.  But, I do think these commenters have missed the phenomenon I am describing. There is a defiant, in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it fatness in America that is relatively new.

Rather than the fit showing insensitivy toward the fat, it actually works the other way. Fat people are demonstrating  insensitivity toward the fit.

Many obese people, despite publicized warnings, continue to publicly consume vast quantities of edible junk. [See Katherine S.’s description below of diners at the Golden Corral restaurant in South Carolina.] The problem is, orgies shouldn’t be public. Those who are committing slow suicide by way of gluttony should at least be discreet. After all, their eating habits are going to cost us all. We will see astronomically increased expenditures for the conditions that result from obesity, particulaly diabetes and heart disorders. If someone is going to flagrantly court disease and an early death, I say he should do it in the privacy of his own home.

Secondly, the obese show little sensitivity to the almost universal human aversion to naked, unclothed fat. They dress in midriffs and unbuttoned shirts, tight shorts and clingy nylon skirts, halter tops and low-cut jeans even when they weigh 350 or 400 pounds. Arguably, many of these people cannot afford nice clothes and obviously it is difficult to find clothes when you are large. I can understand that.  But,  Good Will and Salvation Army outlets are filled with dirt-cheap clothes and the fabric stores are filled with reams of cheap fabrics. There are alternatives.  The unemployed and underemployed often have time on their hands and could sew. Besides, if people can’t afford decent clothes, how is it so many can afford cable TV, electronic games and movies?

By the way, Jamie Oliver, the famous TV chef, is also convinced many people are fat today because they are disconnected from food and don’t cook. He doesn’t make the point, as I have, that this represents a misguided search for ease and a spiritual malaise, but Oliver essentially agrees that it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat. Oliver has set about teaching the overweight to cook.

Here is an article that appeared in the New York Times this week about Oliver’s campaign in the Huntington-Ashland metropolitan area of West Virginia, where nearly half of the adults are obese. Oliver conducted a similar project in Rotherham, England,  teaching the locals how to make simple meals. “They thought that cooking a meal and feeding it to your family was for posh people,” he said. Some participants didn’t own kitchen tables and ate take-out food on their floors.

Katherine S. writes:

Your observations regarding the obesity epidemic are right on target.  I think we are heading toward a cataclysm. There’s much more to the obesity crisis, of course — I do think it’s a symptom of our dehumanized, lonely, empty materialistic culture where the bottom line is the measure of everything.  People are basically commodities, human peripherals in this economy, and how do you cope with that?  I admit to feeling very, very sad and depressed at times, and I want to turn to a chocolate bar and grande latte for comfort.
I recommend the website and books of Dr. Joel Fuhrman.  His website is and his basic book is Eat to Live. His approach is very simple:  Eat plant-based, whole foods to insure nutritional excellence.  That means a diet consisting of:  vegetables, fruits, legumes, some nuts and seeds, and perhaps oatmeal.  He emphasizes the importance of cruciferous vegetables such as kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy. His rules:  Eat only when you are truly hungry (ie, no snacks), and eat only until you are satisfied (never to the point of feeling stuffed).  Most Americans have never felt true hunger.
What he says you can’t eat:  no sodas, no refined sugar products, very little or no dairy (his reasons are impeccable, unless you are in the dairy business), no processed food, little or no animal protein of any sort and especially no red meat. Dr. Fuhrman says that Americans are digging their graves with their knives and forks.  And anyone who eats the Standard American Diet (SAD) will get the standard American diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.).
Just one last personal observation:  my husband and I are “retired” and living on Social Security and what part-time work we can find (no pension primarily because I stayed home as a full-time homemaker and mother).  Once a week we eat at Golden Corral Restaurant — a popular buffet, all-you-can-eat place common in South Carolina.  A senior citizen can buy the lunch buffet for about $6.00.  A good deal!  The restaurant is always filled, with younger customers as well as seniors. I get steamed broccoli, steamed cauliflower,  green beans,  turnip greens, a baked sweet potato (no butter), and fresh fruit for dessert (strawberries or melon).  A healthful, nutritious meal for six bucks.
Most people I watch have their plates piled high with macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, french fries, maybe some fried okra, a huge piece of fried chicken and a slab of roast beef, topped off with a slice of pizza.  In addition, they will get a “salad” covered over with a blanket of Thousand Island dressing.  Then they will hit the dessert bar — typically the plate will have a piece of cake, a piece of pie, 3 or 4 cookies, with some of that extruded ice cream stuff on the side.  And of course they are drinking super-sized sodas or sweet iced tea.
I have real problems with people who freely choose to eat such dreadful crap when nutritious food is equally available — then they complain because they are obese (and are they ever obese in the Golden Corral), have numerous medical conditions, and still want cheap medical insurance.
Thanks again for your interesting and helpful website — I find that it’s a source of comfort with no calories.
Laura writes:
I had never thought of it that way. The calorie content of this website is zero.
Katherine suggests people are seeking psychological comfort in food as life becomes more soulless. Perhaps when life is stripped of the sacred, food is more pleasurable.   This confirms my point that the obesity crisis is partly a spiritual problem.


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