Bad Fatty, Indeed

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

Wonder why all this Good Fatty/Bad Fatty talk of late actually means something other than nonstop self-referential wankery? I direct you to my personal AAAAAAAAAAAAAA! of the day, a New York Times story about food writers who, after a life of what could only be called nonstop bingeing, have had second thoughts about their Bad Fatty lifestyles and are now on diets.

From the opening stock shot of a headless AND armless fat guy, you know this is not going to be a fat-friendly story, and by god the lip-licking glee here, the “they thought they could get away with eating whatever they wanted, as much as they wanted, and not caring what they weighed, mwahahahaha!”, is so thick you could slap it on a barbecue. One writer, eGullet cofounder Jason Perlow, is described as having collapsed after weighing ZOMG 400 POUNDS (at 5 foot 11) and being diagnosed with THE DIABEETUS, along with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (Perlow’s age is not given but he looks to be somewhere around 40 from a photo on his current Web site, Off the Broiler.) So now Perlow is on a diet and exercise regime and has lost about 50 pounds since last November, and now preaches about enjoying good food “in moderation,” and throwing in some veggies. “I can’t believe I just blogged about tofu!” he gushes.

Yeah. No fat person ever thought of tofu before.

For a contrasting point of view, there are the words of Steven Shaw, eGullet’s other cofounder and a writer you might recall from the early days of Salon, when he did some amusing columns as “The Fat Guy,” waxing poetically about the joys of donut-snarfing and the stupidity of antifat prejudice. But Shaw here is painted as a tinfoil-hat crackpot, a guy who — although he weighs some 130 pounds less than Perlow did at his peak, and has not “moderated” his own intake — is hopelessly wedded to the idea that fatness is genetic and that conventional so-called wisdom about fat and health cannot be trusted.

Mr. Shaw said he believes the genetic component of weight and health matter more than moderation and exercise. Although his father died from heart disease, he thinks that the state of medical knowledge on the relationship of diet to health changes so frequently that it can’t be trusted.

Some of his views about diet and health border on the extreme. “I think the whole diabetes thing is a major hoax,” he said. “They are overdiagnosing it.”

Oh yeah, because any notion that Big Pharma is pressuring doctors to ratchet down diabetes standards to sell more pills is just CUH-RAAAAZY, not even worth exploring, especially coming from a fatass who just wants any possible excuse to keep stuffing himself with pork butt. “He’s gonna get HIS one day,” you can just hear the writer (Kim Severson) thinking.

Actually, when looking at Jason Perlow’s self-descriptions of his weight loss regime on Off the Broiler, it sounds like he’s not exactly starving himself. He’s following a diabetic diet, yes, in that he’s specifically avoiding high-glycemic carbs like white bread and white rice, but he’s eating 8 to 10 ounces of lean protein at every meal and he’s adamantly NOT giving up all carbs or sugars, counting calories or posting any kind of goal weight at all. And he’s exercising for perhaps the first time in his life. According to this article, after losing 50 pounds, his blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol “have all improved.”

Do you smell what I smell? This man is still very much “obese,” and yet he has made substantial improvements in his health parameters without starving himself or making himself nuts with dieting. I smell HAES!

Oh, but that is NOT the message the Colorized Lady had in mind for us, nonono. This article is all about how easy it is to shed 50 or more pounds just by ceasing to eat yourself silly every day. Genetics, schmenetics! You don’t even have to give up all your favorite foods, just knock off the binges — which we know you HAVE to be indulging in because you’re faaaaat — and the weight will just fly off! What are you waiting for?

Marlena Spieler, the author of dozens of cookbooks and a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has lost more than 90 pounds in the past year. She found that if she stopped eating food she didn’t love, swam regularly and walked more, she could still indulge in her beloved cheese, sausage and pastries.

Well, I’m glad it was so easy for her and for Jason Perlow and all the rest of them, although we’ll see how they’re all doing five years hence. But kids, this is what we’re up against. It’s one thing to tell random douchebags and even nice people who are just plain misguided that it’s none of their business what we eat or how much of it or whether we exercise, that we’re people, as good as anyone else, who deserve rights. That absolutely MUST be a huge tenet of fat acceptance, one we must never let go of. Yes yes yes.

BUT. There are people in positions of power, those who decide whether or not we get hired, whether or not we get health care, whether or not we can adopt children or emigrate to other countries. It’s not just that they look at us and see aesthetically unappealing, it’s that they look at us and see their money flying out the window. And they read stories like this and inexorably link that flying money to what and how much they think we chew and swallow. With those people, an “I have a right to my donuts and soda, fuck you” argument is NOT going to cut it. The fatness-to-unusual-gluttony mental link MUST be broken. That water needs lots of mud in it. The meme needs to be shot full of holes and holes and holes until it cannot walk any more. The message of “we’re not all the same and you don’t know anything about me if all you know is my weight” has to be reinforced again and again and again. We can’t stop there, but at the same time we have to START there. That’s my fistful of loose change on the matter.

Meanwhile, Steven Shaw has a new book coming out next month in July, The Fat Guy’s Manifatso: Celebrating Men of Substance. I can hardly fucking WAIT.

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4 Responses to “Bad Fatty, Indeed”

  1. Zilly Says:

    It’s amazing that they could lose so much weight by simply following HAES. I mean, they must have been high above their natural setpoints before. How is getting there even possible without being uncomfortable?! Now I’m slightly confused, applying logic to people does not seem to be one of my strengths. I don’t think I entirely understand the whole setpoint thing yet, anyway. If everyone has a set weight range, why do some only get fat later in life? Shouldn’t that be impossible? But now I’m going off topic. That aside, I absolutely agree with you. I’m especially concerned about the poor teenagers being led to believe that just because they’re fat, they must be overeating.

  2. Meowser Says:

    Zilly, I think there’s probably a great deal of variability as to how far it’s possible to eat yourself over your setpoint, although I don’t think most people have quite the capacity for doing so that these folks did. It’s possible that some people can go way over with the kind of daily bingeing described here if they actually have the physical capacity to eat that much all the time. (And these were binges on the kind of fine, ultra-rich food that most of us could not afford in such huge quantities, also.)

    But bear in mind that Jason Perlow is still quite fat, and nobody knows yet exactly where he will settle in. And since everyone else described in the story is newly slimmed down also, we also don’t know how many of them will actually keep it off.

  3. bigmovesbabe Says:

    Foodies, especially professional ones, have always been in a weird position vis a vis their consumption habits and public notions of respectable eating. My most up-close observation of this group was when I was a part of it, at least on the fringe, in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 90s, up through 2002.

    I wrote about food for alt-weeklies and did a regular feature for the North Bay edition of the SF Chronicle. For my assignments, I regularly interviewed chefs, farmers, food producers, etc. I also went to a bunch of foodie gatherings and conferences. And let me tell you, those people are juggling food obsessions all the damn time. Fortunately for me, I had already found fat acceptance by that time, so was able to ignore any looks directed at me, like, “God, she must be eating EVERY SINGLE DAMN PIECE OF FOOD she writes about.” But I remember most people I talked to either being super-defensive about their food choices or taking refuge in local/organic/microbrewed food snobbery. That’s easy in the Bay Area, where there was, at least at one time, a place that sold micro-hive honey from hives on SF rooftops. But it certainly can overlap with orthorexia, on a really big budget.

    I read an article in the Boston Globe recently, about local chefs finding the gospel of “healthy eating”, and was frankly dismayed, in something of the same way that I was about Queen Latifah and her conversion to Jenny Craig. Here are people who made their living, and continue to make their living knowing about delicious food, and working with it on a daily basis, and selling it to people as something good. Their own lifestyles suck, for the most part, because they have A) no time to eat normally or eat what they want, being in their own restaurants all the time, and B) no time to get enjoyable exercise (and even though standing on your feet over a hot stove for 12 hours a day is hard work, it’s not aerobic). So then they get a scare about TEH die-yuh-BEETUS, and they change lifestyle habits and start working out, oh, and, STOP EATING SO MUCH SHMALTZ, or pork fat, or whatever, and incidentally lose a bit of weight, and suddenly it’s all about their food intake, and hell, what kind of publicity is that for your own restaurant, anyway?

    Actually. In this culture, it’s the perfect kind of publicity. Because people will still think that the chef is eating their own food, and hey, they’re getting thinner! I wonder if…?

    GAH!

  4. peggynature Says:

    It’s not just that they look at us and see aesthetically unappealing, it’s that they look at us and see their money flying out the window. And they read stories like this and inexorably link that flying money to what and how much they think we chew and swallow. With those people, an “I have a right to my donuts and soda, fuck you” argument is NOT going to cut it.

    You’re right, of course, Meowser. The general public is definitely not going to hear that argument, because, in my opinion, their level of understanding about health and bodies and science in general — not to mention about morality and compassion and personal autonomy — is ridiculously sub-par. But that could just be me being a big snob 🙂

    I want people to get the memo that stereotypes about any group of people are inherently WRONG. BECAUSE STEREOTYPES ARE NEVER ACCURATE. A list of individual traits can never be applied with 100% accuracy to a GROUP of people.

    And I wish people’s private habits and food choices didn’t have to be of public concern. The biggest message I’ve taken away from learning about physiology and health is that, of all the things that contribute to a person’s health (and therefore their expense to an insurer), most lifestyle choices are merely a tiny drop in a biiiig fuckin bucket. Yes, if you have a specific disease like diabetes, lifestyle factors could take on crucial importance in managing it. But most of us don’t have a disease, and there’s no proof that diabetes (or a whole host of other illnesses) is caused by lifestyle in the first place.

    I’m not sure if it’s American culture or what, but there seems to be this overriding belief in self-determinism when it comes to one’s health — and, frankly, I think it’s bullshit, and it’s one of the bigger forces at work behind fat discrimination, because it drives the whole notion of ‘choice.’ (Shades of homophobia here, as well.)

    And worse than the belief in this ‘choice’ is that health itself, and the lifestyle that supposedly determines it, has become a MORAL issue, and therefore inextricably bound up in how a society measures a person’s worth. (Am I hearing the homophobia horn again?) And, unfortunately, I don’t think stereotype-busting measures alone (though they are useful for the reasons you stated above) are going to address these bigger cultural problems.

    Sorry, I am rambling, mostly to myself. But you made some very good points, and it’s making my brain work extra-hard 🙂


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