Marion Nestle of Food Politics did a fantastic job of highlighting Michelle Obama's speech to the Grocery Manufacturers on Tuesday. What Mrs. Obama said is essentially that these producers need to stop acting like they aren't part of the problem and start providing more healthful food to children as well as packaging and advertising their food differently. I think there is a ground swell of attention in the media on nutrition and fitness although that could be because it is something I pay attention to but we can't deny the fact that almost two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Even if you aren't so sure about the ground swell the proof is in the pudding (or on our thighs).
While I think Mrs. Obama should be commended for speaking to (pointing the finger at) part of the corporate problem, I think she has failed to highlight the root of the problem of obesity in America. Our country's problem with obesity is only partially what we choose to put in our mouth. The problem is also what comes out of our mouths (or what is in our media). The way Americans talk about obesity and health is not productive. We live in a society where the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic admits he discriminates against overweight people and doctors across the country avoid the topic entirely.
Our country is great at sensationalism. We live in a world where reality television reigns and cable news personalities are more than just journalists. Beyond just the way we package and consume information there is a whole new world of food blogs out there (I love them too, don't get me wrong) and every major news source has a restaurant list of some kind. You could say this points to the fact that we live in an information age where we can know exactly what we want to hear when we want to hear it. Replace 'information' with 'food' and 'know' and 'hear' with 'eat' in that last sentence and you've explained the true problem of obesity in America: a total lack of reality.
We live in a food age where we can eat exactly what we want to eat when we want to eat it.
The Washington Post commentary on weight gain during pregnancy is a great example of the lack of reality. Jennifer Larue Huget (a journalist, not a doctor or scientist) published an online article where an actual gynecologist said, "I realize that all of this information is super-depressing. I'm basically telling you that if you're already heavy, you're just going to get heavier when you're preggers, and then stay that way forever" in response to a new book on eating when pregnant.
The comments are even more telling. For instance, sigmagrrl wrote, "Jesus. We're never going to get a break, are we? WHAT DOES IT MATTER THAT SOMEONE IS FAT?!?! Criminy, stop JUDGING each other!!!" Lets look past the fact that sigmagrrl seems to have been blinded by rage and forgot to make a legitimate factual point and note that first of all, a physician used incredibly demeening language when discussing pregnant women. Preggers? This person is allowed to use a speculum. (At one point she refers to overweight women as, 'bigger gals'.) I'm guessing that this particular gynecologist did not take Bed Side Manner 101 or is one of the doctors discussed in the Times article on doctors who avoid the topic of weight with patients because its awkward.
Moving away from the medical community and its break from reality in terms of obesity - our schools are also giving our children a skewed view of reality when it comes to eating. Mrs. Obama is right that children get the impression that dessert is an everyday food and that we need to entirely change the way corporations advertise for food but we also need to start talking differently about the entire world of nutrition, obesity and even how we treat one another with regard to these issues.
Yes, people discriminate against the overweight but the answer is not to condition our society to stop this behavior but to think critically about ourselves and our habits. Leave everyone else to their own problems and start taking action in your own life to support healthy habits. I don't just mean eat salad from Subway instead of McDonald's cheeseburgers for lunch. I mean that we all have to think critically about what we buy at the grocery store and what grocery store (or farmer's market if you can). Think about the foods you buy when you go there. Don't just buy some meat because it is on sale. I wont even bother to say that I think Americans need to start fighting big-ag or that everyone should buy CAFOs free meat because honestly every consumer needs to go out and educate themselves on what they want to eat and how they want to live. It isn't because I feel bad for the piglets or the farmers but that we live in an age of information NOW and food NOW and it is killing us. Slowly but surely our kids are getting fatter and our life expectancy is getting shorter.
We like to pride ourselves on being a country that clings to our beliefs and we like to talk a big game about freedom. Want to be really free? Stop falling in line with the corporate BS and be free of what corn and beef subsidies are shoving down your throat and start thinking for yourselves.