Obesity epidemic

From: Dace (edace@earthlink.net)
Date: Sun 27 Jun 2004 - 19:44:59 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Obesity epidemic"

    According to the June 7 issue of Time magazine, the US is afflicted with an
    "obesity epidemic." Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and one-third are obese. In his article, "How We Grew So Big," Michael D. Lemonick explains the mechanics that have given rise to this crisis. In a nutshell, our bodies are habituated by millions of years of evolution to expect instabilities in the food supply. Thus we crave fats-- as well as sugars that can easily be converted into fat-- so as to survive the long winter we still anticipate in our guts. As a result of modern technology, not only do we have all the food we want year round, we don't have to exert ourselves much to obtain it. If we go on a crash diet, the body reacts by slowing down metabolism so as to restore fat levels. As the public becomes increasingly aware of the crisis, we're beginning to hear calls for an
    "anti-obesity campaign."

    I see four memes implicit in this analysis.

    First, the very notion of an "obesity epidemic" is memetic. Barring an actual virus that makes us fat, the "virus" is in our minds. Not everyone gets fat in these conditions, and those who do are mimicking others who seek out foods high in fat and sugar. These so-called comfort foods operate like a drug, providing momentary pleasure which is followed by a let-down that can only be alleviated by more comfort food. If your family and friends are hooked on the food drug, you're a lot more likely to get hooked as well.

    Second, fad diets are memes that exploit our desire to believe that a miracle cure can quickly eliminate the problem without the need for any longterm adjustment.

    Third, if fad diets are pathological memes, then the anti-obesity campaign is a logical meme. Aside from the recognition that individuals must make long-term adjustments in how they eat, we're seeing public movements toward better labeling of food, elimination of soda vending machines in schools along with improved cafeteria menus, and urban planning geared toward getting people out of their cars and onto their feet.

    Finally, a meme conspicuous only by its absence. Like any mainstream, US publication, Time magazine avoids mentioning capitalism as much as possible. Yet the problem is not simply industrial technology, as Lemonick maintains, but the use of technology for profit. Processed foods are in such abundance because they're cheaper to make and therefore carry a higher profit margin. These foods are consumed at such a high rate, in part, because they're so aggressively marketed, especially to kids. The only thing capitalism generates as efficiently as wealth is poverty, and it's the poor who find themselves unable to afford anything but the fattiest, most sugar-laden foods. The stresses that lead people to seek out comfort food are in large measure the result of the capitalist imperative to get ahead and its concommitant destruction of community. That we're not supposed to examine our economic system as a causal factor in our social problems is itself a meme.

    This leads to a general point about the relationship of memes to money. Just as memes are self-reproducing ideas, capital is self-reproducing money. In a capitalist society, the circulation of memes is often merely the shadow of the circulation of money. The obesity epidemic is no exception, and neither is our response to it. As Lemonick points out, "more and more foodmakers are beginning to see increased awareness of the obesity epidemic not as a threat but as a business opportunity." It seems that whether we're gaining pounds or shedding them, capital keeps getting fatter.

    Ted Dace

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