I've been wondering a lot lately about the issue of "sizeism" - i.e. being prejudicial towards people for being too fat or skinny (and let's be honest, it's the former that is more often at issue). A few of my more activist friends are often bringing up the issue of "fatphobia" in relation to ad campaigns and the like. The most recent was in relation to a vegetarian activist group posting a cartoon with a bunch of obese individuals asking "where do you get your protein?" to a bunch of fit vegetarians. It kinda made me lose it. First off, healthy eating isn't about WHAT you eat (omnivore/vegetarian/vegan/zombie), it's about HOW you eat. Sure, that vegan quinoa casserole might not cast a shadow, so it's OK to eat, but if you eat half a pan in one serving, you're bound to notice it in your belly.
Now, I admit I am a recovering "sizeist". In fact, I broke up with an ex a few years back because of the issue of her weight. Well, I was more upset about her constantly talking about getting the "perfect body", but doing nothing about it and eating poorly. Still, I was a jerk about it.
I think I've gotten over it since I am head over heels in love with a woman that some would consider 'fat'. But that isn't the point of this post. The point is this: there is a measure of validity to evaluating a person's weight in relation to their health. Criticizing someone purely for being overweight in and of itself is wrong and needs to be fought, but in an age where the life expectancy is shrinking due to an ever more sedentary population, we need to be honest about how we look at the issue of weight. Obesity is a serious health issue and I'm sorry, if you're obese, it's difficult for folks to simply overlook it. Especially when their taxes are paying for your ill health. As a smoker, I am fully aware that I have earned the right to be shat on for my unhealthy, harmful and tax-draining habit. Shouldn't someone's McDonald's habit be subject to the same scrutiny?
It's an unfortunate reality that all fat people are tarred with the same brush. An overweight person is subject to constant scrutiny, bombarded by conflicting advertising ("Lose 50 pounds with Nutri-fit!" is followed by an ad for the Baconator) and possibly caught in the loop of depressed-due-to-being-overweight/overweight-due-to-being depressed. And I know a whole bunch of people who might look "overweight", but are in far better shape than most thin folks! So what is to be done?
Well, that's going to be the focus of my write-up to follow. But first I need to vent a little. Yes, it's totally wrong that overweight people are subject to mockery, prejudice and marginalization, but if you're over 300 pounds due to dietary choices, sorry, you can't use the excuse that you're a victim of "fat-shaming" to justify bad eating habits. You can't scarf back 5000 calories a day of crap and expect to be immune from criticism. Yes, there is a staggering number of negative influences that shape bad eating habits, but the medical facts bear out that you're still doing yourself a frightening amount of harm. Not to mention common sense!
Whatever the causes of poor eating habits are, it's your responsibility to overcome them and at least try to eat better. You shouldn't have to do it alone, no doubt about that. But in the end, it's YOUR responsibility to ensure your own health, if only from a social perspective. The socialized medical system won't be able to handle the pressure being exerted by an increasingly unhealthy and obese population.
And don't think I'm immune either, I KNOW I need to eat better and I have a few pounds to lose and I have no problem with anyone reminding me of that fact or criticizing me for "letting myself go". This is a contentious issue that hurts feelings in a heartbeat. But we need to look it in the eye and be brutally honest about it without feeling like a bad person.
Now, none of this means society shouldn't help a little.
September 30 2011
Proposed Measures for Improving Eating Habits among the Canadian Population
1) Nutrition, culinary and health awareness education in schools:
- All children should be taught to cook, with an emphasis on using healthy ingredients and cooking on a budget.
- Secondary schools and post-secondary institutions should provide facilities to allow students to make their own meals. Cafeterias can sell ingredients in addition to prepared foods.
- Cafeteria food would need to be re-evaluated and menus overhauled to include healthy choices.
- All annual check-ups in schools will include an evaluation from a nutritionist.
- Programs will be implemented to heighten awareness of self-esteem and bullying in order to curtail problems related to depression and overeating.
2) Support to parents:
- Affordable subsidized cooking lessons should be provided to adult populations. Possibilities include workshops in community centres, the workplace, religious institutions, etc.
- Healthier ingredients will be made cheaper.
3) Popular understanding of health effects of poor eating:
- A massive education campaign will be launched in the same vein as anti-smoking campaigns, using shocking imagery and direct language to emphasize the ill effects of bad eating habits as well as adding emphasis to the benefits of home-made meals over processed foods.
- Workplace campaigns for positive body image and good eating habits that focus on boosting persons' self-esteem.
4) Encouragement for an active population:
- Public facility gym memberships will be partially subsidized and gym classes will be made mandatory for at least 3 years of secondary school.
- Public workers will be provided with a "health break" to allow time to go for a walk/run/bike ride, etc.
- Private sector employers will be provided a tax benefit for providing similar "health breaks"
- An national Hide and Seek game will take place on October 2 annually
OK, so the last one is mostly a joke, but the point is that we need to foster a culture of positive health, body image and proper eating habits on a country-wide level. If we don't, just wait 30 years to see how bad things get. For point of reference, see Wall-E...
And now let the hate mail begin!