27 January 2013
A World Without Obesity -- Wait, What?
I want to extend my sincerest apologies for being absent from the blogosphere for the past week. Things have been hectic. I've only recently gotten back from England, and have just moved into a brand new apartment in Brooklyn with two wonderful friends who, luckily, share my love of food and Star Trek. Though my move to Brooklyn is making me overjoyed (an emotion I don't often feel unless presented with stuffed French toast), I do feel a bit like the cliche established in HBO's Girls. Girl moves to New York for school or work, can't afford Manhattan, finds place in Brooklyn, commutes and wishes she was in Manhattan...etc. etc. Except I don't really wish I was in Manhattan because this apartment is three times the size and three times less rent!
I mention my holiday and my new house mates not because I enjoy ranting and rambling about my life 24/7...though that is somewhat paradoxical, I know, considering I run a personal blog. But because two of the recent events of my life, being in the U.K. and having roommates who actually appreciate food (we had an AMAZING Italian meal last night -- lobster ravioli for me...mmm mmm mmm) have gotten me thinking about the new law that the English Labour party (the main left-wing party in the U.K.) wants to pass. The gist of it is as follows: the party's health secretary, Andy Burnham, wants to call for a ban on sugary cereal and high fat foods, particularly those marketed toward children. He'd like to limit the legal amount of sugar, salt and fat allowed into foods. The primary reason for this action, he says, is to carry on waging the "war on child obesity." Obviously the U.K. isn't the only place trying to combat child obesity. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" organization has been trying to "raise a healthier generation of kids" for years now. But when I think of these campaigns, these battles against "obesity" or "food" or "sugar," I can't help but feel it's all the first step toward something else -- something bad.
There are so many aspects to this I find absolutely terrifying. You look at it logically, and at a quick glance, and at first you may think, "This isn't so bad, it's great that these nations want kids to be healthy." But then you remember being a kid, and if you were the heavy kid in school, you remember how horrible your peers made you feel for it. And then you remember wishing someone would just tell you that it was ok -- that there was nothing wrong with your body, that there was nothing wrong with enjoying snack food, that there was nothing wrong with you. I for one am thankful these wars on child obesity weren't really around when I was a kid. Life and school were difficult enough without having the government shove all these ideologies down my throat. I would've probably wet the bed if I had the image of some large, intimidating politician looking down at me and saying there was something very wrong with what I looked like -- no doubt, this would have been everlastingly traumatic. I'm not saying it should be encouraged for kids to eat whatever they want when they want. Obviously children are growing, and need a balance of everything on the food pyramid to enable that growth. But changing the foods children love -- and to be honest, that most people in general love, seems to be just another method of imposed control upon our lives -- of taking away the basic right we have of eating what we choose.
As that train of thought carries, one can only wonder, where does this end? First we get legal limitations on the sugar, fat and salt in our foods -- cutbacks meant to make people lose weight. This concept of creating laws intended at making people slimmer feels wrong in and of itself. It's as though all the hype about "thin is good, fat is bad," is now going to have big, governmental spokespeople on it, which will only encourage the huge chunk of society already thinking it to stick to their discriminating attitudes. Reducing the sugar, salt and fat seems to me to be the first step in either cutting back so much that the majority of what we are eating is bland and tasteless and simply unpleasant, or ultimately getting rid of these ingredients down the line. Burnham kept referring to children's cereals, as though they were the primary culprit of child obesity. (Side note: why is it referred to as kid's cereal in the first place? I don't know a single adult who doesn't enjoy a bowl of Coco Pops every once in a while.) But taking the sugar out of Coco Krispies or Lucky Charms will lead to more Bran Flakes -- what child would possibly look forward to that on route to a long day of school? Honestly, I wouldn't be able to start my day with any kind of positive mentality if not for my "let's pep-up-and-wake-up breakfast cereal."
The main issue I take heed with in regards to these laws Labour wants to see in motion are that with the growth of technology -- things like CCTV and our addictions to social media and our constant connectivity to everyone we know and probably a ton of people we don't know and will never know, our privacy and our right to choice are slowly being torn away. The U.S. may not have CCTV yet, but it's only a matter of time really, and personally, I find that having cameras follow you around at all times of the day is about the same as just putting us into a fish bowl for people to gawk at and analyze. But we've almost accepted these things as an inevitability of a changing world. They're justifiable because we are the ones who choose to put our lives onto the internet. And as for CCTV, you can sort of almost see the benefits, to an extent. But when it comes to food...one of the primary causes of joy for so many people...it's hard to justify legal alterations to our meals.
Just thinking about what a world without obesity actually means should be enough to make you realize that it isn't the type of world most people would want to live in. It'd be a type of world where individuality is sacrificed, shoved under a status quo boulder never to see the light of day again. It'd be a world where little by little everyone ended up looking just about the same -- no diversity, no sense of uniqueness, no cause for inspiration or even amusement. Food wouldn't be the same. That snack in your cupboard that you look forward to all day wouldn't taste the same. That guilty pleasure you can't help but gravitate toward when looking for an upper would be bland. Excitement as it pertains to food would see its demise. Eating would be something we have to do to stay alive, and nothing more. And children...well, children would have yet another thing forced upon them by grown ups saying they know what's best. Children wouldn't have Coco Pops or Lucky Charms. They'd become Bran Flakes people.
This all comes back to that six letter H-word: HEALTH. Who defines it? Who is almighty and powerful enough to say, "this is what you need to do to be healthy. This is what you need to do to live longer,"? No one. No one knows how long someone will live. But we've all known that person who spent their life eating anything they wanted, never exercised, never cared about sugar or fat or salt content -- but who simply lived, and lived long. And we all know that young person who did everything they were "supposed" to do but didn't get to see middle age. The problem goes so far beyond children's cereal. It lies in perceptions -- perceptions that people have without any kind of fact or evidence or scientific proof to back them up. Perceptions that are only hightened and solidified when someone in a high position says these perceptions are justifiable, even if they mean lumping anyone who is overweight into this special needs category -- dehumanizing them, making them examples of unhealthiness, trying to make laws that'll force them to change physically. And those three things -- the dehumanization, the "unhealthy" brand, the pressure imposed to create aesthetic change in larger people-- those things are the war we should be fighting. And it isn't a war that'll be won by limiting sugar, salt or fat -- it's far more difficult.