It seems unlikely that
we'll be able to blend in any time soon. Our collective
philosophy for the last fifty years has been, “supersize
everything,” (the fries, the drink, and the
ass). Now, we have nothing but the occasional eating
disorder to steer us away from our collective goal
of literally compounding into forty-eight states of
pure, solid American jiggle. And, when I say eating
disorder, I mean the kind universally acknowledged
as bad, not the kinds universally ignored because
they're either marketed as diets or accepted as the
daily sustenance of the average.
Indeed, more than half of all American adults are
overweight, and 40% of those qualify as obese. But,
don’t listen to those doctors telling you that
obesity is linked to strokes, heart disease, gallbladder
disease, osteoarthritis, many cancers, diabetes, hypertension,
sleep apnea, respiratory problems… Where was
I? Oh, yes. Forget about all that, because according
to a new ad campaign, the last century of medical
research linking obesity to an astonishing array of
health problems was nothing but a bunch of hype.
A recent Center for Disease Control report has contradicted
every other CDC report to date by moving obesity down
a few notches on the list of most common causes of
death, thereby leaving an opening restaurant chains
just couldn’t miss: a chance to tell their customers
that their ever-expanding waistlines may be less likely
to kill them than previously thought. In fact, using
this data, obesity would fall below even smoking when
ranking causes of early demise.
Although leadership at the CDC has yet to approve
the findings, a $600,000 ad campaign, armed with this
cheery bit of information, is soon to be launched.
Ads will appear in every major newspaper in the country,
in Newsweek, on billboards, and yes—on public
transportation, all aiming to convince Americans to
stop counting those calories and start enjoying the
menu’s newest bacon-laden monstrosity.
Hot damn, Betty, fire up the deep-fry, ‘cause
fat’s less likely to kill you than smoking!
Never mind the fact that smoking is linked to many
of the same diseases, and cigarette-pushers have been
arguing for years that smokers who die of those diseases—obese
or not—usually find smoking listed as their
cause of death. And, just for the record, fatty meals
are also less likely to be lethal than snorting arsenic
or jumping off of a tall building.
I would love to name the companies responsible for
this charming little piece of Americana, but none
of them will ‘fess up. When asked who paid for
the ads, the group responsible declined to comment,
acknowledging only that the restaurant industry was
a substantial source of funds. When questioned, the
parent company of casual dining giants Red Lobster
and Olive Garden refused to confirm or deny having
cut a check. Applebee’s, Inc., (a company that
believes bacon, eggs and cheese are essential ingredients
of a garden salad,) was equally silent on the subject.
That’s right: we’ve finally reached
a point in this society when even non-political ad
campaigns are so dishonest and potentially damaging
that the parties responsible won’t admit to
having paid for them. Was that in Orwell, Vonnegut
or Huxley? I forget which one. Really, an effective
public relations representative would have confirmed
and made their case, rather than undermine a campaign
they just doled out over half a million big ones for.
Luckily, these guys don’t seem to have it very
together. If they were more organized, they
might just be evil enough to decide the next President.
Not that competence would bring them any moral authority.
These companies could defend themselves better, but
the fact remains that a large portion of the American
food industry are little better than a gang of street
pushers. They offer the instant gratification of a
poison to the most vulnerable segment of society they
can (the poor seem the easiest target). In some documented
cases fast food restaurants, for instance, they have
actually attempted to induce addiction through chemistry.
Luckily for us, there’s also a pharmaceutical
industry with poisons of their own, equally eager
to push drugs to combat the effects of our dietary
disaster—with some side effects and a heavy
price tag, of course. But, then, these connections
are nothing new. That’s why the two industries
invest heavily in the Food and Drug Administration,
the agency charged with protecting the American people
from poison pushers.
Back in the dark ages known as the twentieth century,
our government used sticks, stones and a lot of beef
and dairy council money, to develop an easy guide
to keep Americans chronically obese: the food pyramid.
It was a ridiculously simplistic model that, when
taught in school, turned eating into a chore. In addition
to two to three servings of meat each and every day,
the pyramid called for a whopping six to eleven servings
of grains. Six to eleven servings? That’s not
a day of healthy eating; it’s a trip to the
lunch truck for the entire cast of Fat Actress.
Just so we’re clear: I’m not bashing
Kirstie Alley’s weight. I would say
that she’s representative of most Americans,
but for a 53 year old woman, even heavy, "Divine
/ Wynonna Judd eyebrows" Alley makes her Midwestern
contemporaries look like a bunch of sad, ugly little
moo-cows. Her having to create a show based on the
novelty of what she’s become just to get work
is indicative of not one but two things wrong with
our society: our horrendous diets and the sanitized
way we want to see ourselves represented in fiction.
(If I were to bash her for anything, it would be the
show's wild inconsistency. The three great, three
bad and one nearly unwatchable episode comprising
the first season do not give me great confidence in
its potential longevity.)
But, back to the food pyramid, which today is most
valuable as a bit of kitsch—the midnight movie
of health science. The ideas that one would see iceberg
lettuce and fresh spinach as having the same nutritional
value, and white bread as a source of vital nutrients,
are so absurd that the naïveté required
to buy into it is downright cute. It’s like
Washington and the Cherry Tree, or nuke-proof desks.
Only a government bureaucrat could have turned the
chemical process’ that fuel the human body into
“Leaded, Unleaded, and Super,” and be
so bereft of decency as to turn that disinformation
on our children.
Half a century later, Americans are fatter than
ever. So, the federal government has seen the error
of its ways and turned the food pyramid on its side.
Literally. This, of course, gives us another pyramid
(in fact, twelve new pyramids). Actually, in what
could be read as an acknowledgment of the fact that
many human beings have lived long and healthy lives
without meat ever having touched their lips, the hierarchical
nature of the classic pyramid has been replaced by
a series of obelisks representing each food group,
joined together at the top.
There’s also a handy-dandy website that, when
given your age, sex and length of daily exercise,
will tell you how many Calories you should ingest
on any given day. Other factors, height and weight
for instance, don’t fit into the new and improved
model. And for all you Happy Days fans out there,
the new pyramid still has every fundamental flaw that
made the old one so charming. It still doesn't emphasize
exercise, which most believe to be an even more important
factor in determining human health than diet and amount
body fat. And it still places questionable industry
assertions about nutritional value over well-documented
disadvantages of several foods.
I have, in the past, called for Democrats to make
dismantling and replacing the FDA a top priority.
Each move the organization makes reaffirms my belief.
We live with a government that likes to pick our poisons
for us, and so far has allowed this agency to do a
spectacularly poor job of sorting out the good from
the bad. Now, we can't run an advertisement for cigarettes
unless it is accompanied by a warning twice as large
blaring, "You will die if you touch these!"
but obesity can be promoted on the side of any bus.
One food pyramid was acknowledged as a failure, so
twelve clones have been offered as a replacement.
Either the decision-making machine, or the very process
itself, has got to go.
And, quickly, please. Do you know how hard it is
to find pants with an inseam six inches longer than
the waist? For some reason, I thought not.
Avery Walker is a weekly contributor and Deputy
Managing Editor for Raw Story. His blog may be found
and he can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].