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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Obesity won’t end until food sucks more

This summer I’ve been spending time by pools, kayaking and tubing down rivers and tossing Frisbees around parks where the young folk sun themselves. One thing that I’ve noticed is the shocking lack of decent hard bodies on the men and women out in their swim suits.

These aren’t middle-aged people who’ve succumbed to office jobs and microwave lunches, but folks in their twenties, kids who should be in the prime of their lives already carrying around muffin-tops, man-boobs, double chins and flabby arms. Women with bellies that spill over bikinis that probably looked good in high school. Young men with the kind of formless skinny-fat torsos that look like skin holding together a semi-viscous gelatinous substance. They’re not yet at the point where some good choices in clothing can at least give the illusion of a masculine or feminine shape, but it’s clear that they’ll never experience the pride in having an aesthetically pleasing physique to look back on in their older age. These pudgy bodies are as good as it will ever be for them.

And there’s delusion about how bad it is. I’m of the opinion that most people would look better if they dropped 30 to 40 lbs. Yes that much. Just because they’re not waddling around and shopping for extra-large t-shirts doesn’t mean the pizza and snack food aren’t catching up.

If you think you’re just 10 lbs overweight, you’ve probably got 25 lbs to drop. If you think you’re 20 lbs overweight, you’re probably 50 lbs overweight. You’d be surprised how light you are when you achieve some degree of leanness. You can say that running back X is technically overweight but that guy is a) a freak of nature b) probably on anabolic steroids. A man who’s 5’9”, weighs more than 210 lbs and can run fast possess an extremely rare combination of athletic traits. If the NFL hasn’t drafted you, you’re probably just a chubster who loves wing night at the sports bar.

The same goes for ‘curvy’ women. You don’t have curves in all the right places, you have an addiction to frappuccino and a bad habit of rewarding yourself with dessert food for milestones that nobody else cares about.

The change is shockingly recent. I remember the streets in major cities 20 years ago being filled with throngs of thin people and gangly teenagers, not yet filled out. Now those same city centers have way more food options and way more patrons whose bodies look like they’ve been poured into the clothing to look like so much unconsolidated pudding.

As a heterosexual male, it’s dispiriting to walk around a major city during the heat of summer and find so little eye candy among even young people in the nation. Look back at pictures from Woodstock and you’ll see fashionably thin young boomers as far as the eye can see. Young twiggy hippie chicks, and wiry young men in torn blue jeans. Go back another generation and you see healthy looking men and women who’d be considered borderline anorexic today, strong jawlines and narrow waists on all of them. What happened?

The carb heavy food pyramid?

I’m skeptical of any explanation that needs a coordinate conspiracy to make work. That would assume that people were eating a Paleo diet at some point in settled history rather than a diet consisting of lots of carbs with some fat for flavor and some meat when you could afford it. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the middle-class son of a police Captain in Austria, ate meat once a week as a child. My own parents ate plenty of bread, pasta, mashed potatoes, sugared cereals and the like, without deleterious effect.

Vegetable oil, margarine and other ‘frankenfoods’?

While I use butter and bacon fat for cooking over vegetable oil, I don’t see how vegetable oil would make a large impact, unless they constitute a major portion of your caloric intake. Pre WWII diets consisted of lots of preserved foods with high salt and sugar content, lots of past expiration date produce and meats and other chemical additives and Americans were still thin.

The decline in manual labor?

All the manual laborers that I’ve encountered on the job are bigger than the office workers I know. They’re blue collar guys have the kinds of back and forearm musculature that you rarely see on any computer jockey, but they have overhanging bellies to match. Power tools and equipment do what strong backs used to do, but construction and repair work is still physically taxing in a way that makes that leaves you sore and worn out at the end of the day.

So what then?

I’m just old enough to remember when gas stations had nothing but potato chips and old candy sitting on the shelves. I remember when pizza places seemed to cater exclusively to potheads and poor people. When sandwich shops were working class mom and pop affairs, and certain restaurants catered only to the high school crowd because no-one with better taste would eat there. I remember when super markets didn’t market organic ingredients and packaged food was bad enough that you’d just wait for dinner. Now that you can get gourmet prepacked foods, gourmet snack foods, food truck items, extra-large sodas at all times of the day anywhere and everywhere, we forget that most of America used to be a food dessert compared today.

Going out for coffee used to be something you tolerated to get your caffeine fix. Maybe you got a crappy bakery muffin while you were at it. Going out for lunch didn’t provide a lot of options besides some crappy deli or maybe a Chinese buffet of dubious quality. If you were on a long road trip, there weren’t many places to stop so you grabbed a bag of crackers some water and kept going.

Now there’s great food to be had everywhere. Gourmet coffee/milkshake drinks in the morning, delicious lunch options are all over the place even in small Podunk towns. Dive bars have a decent food menu, crappy quickie-marts now have gourmet coffee and a grand selection of packaged food options, food trucks are all over the city. Downtowns that used to be dominated by retail stores are now dominated by food and drink vendors. The stuff they sell is far more satisfying and tastes way better than the barely

I don’t think we were meant to never be even a bit hungry. Nor do I think we were meant to have a diet of food that always tastes good. Food that used to be brought out for special occasions is now available everywhere and anywhere. I believe that you appreciate great food when most of your food intake is just sustenance. It’s not supposed to taste exquisite, it’s not supposed to change provide epic sensual pleasure.

Based on stories from my father and other boomers, food was just far less palatable back in the day. You ate it because for sustenance but it wasn’t a celebration. Booze and cigarettes were the source of sensory and taste stimulation. Even gourmet food seemed to be subpar: roast beef and mashed potatoes at the Ritz, lobster and wine at a country club, maybe some decent Italian food at a mob connected restaurant. Decades ago, if you were in a major city and you wanted a snack on a hot summer day, your options were thin enough that you’d probably just suck up the hunger until dinner later that night.

We’ve forgotten how to be hungry. Not starving, a term which should be reserved for people suffering through a true famine, but the state of wanting to eat food, and not having any to eat at this particular moment. I figure most people used to spend part of their day somewhat hungry and eventually got used to it as humanity has since its’ beginnings. We used to eat smaller portions because the food sucked more but nobody cared because they hadn’t been to the future to taste the hyper-palatable food that mad scientists have concocted for the next food craze. They didn’t care because you can’t miss what you’ve never tasted.

Even I remember the days when I had to wait for dinner to be served to satiate my hunger. I also remember times when the available food options were so unappetizing that I just sucked it up and waited for lunch or dinner to satiate my hunger. I lived, I still grew to normal adult size, I don’t show any signs of childhood starvation.

Capitalism giveth and capitalism giveth some more. That’s why the obesity crisis will never end in a top down manner. We can’t nanny-state away 40 inch waist lines, because there’s no money in it. No-one will ever go on a corporate funded media channel to deliver the message to care less about food and stop eating snacks. No-one makes money telling you to eat, and thus purchase, less of something and get out of the habit of impulse buying something else. There’s billions of dollars in selling people instant sensual gratification, and there are more billions to be had in selling the illusion that dropping that excess pudge is effortless. There’s no money in encouraging the kinds of lifestyles and environments that prevent you from ever becoming a fat ass in the first place.

Intermittent fasting, paleo, the Mediterranean Diet, organic eating etc. all lead you to the same point. Learning that hunger isn’t an immediate emergency and not eating crappy snack food or going out to cheap restaurants all the time. They’re also about avoiding places that sell snack food and sucking it up until you get home that night if you’re a bit hungry.

I think first world people will reach some equilibrium point of obesity in the population when rates at least stop increasing. It’ll be a depressing world full of unattractive, pudding faced people who hate themselves and find solace in the next moronic foodie trend. The folks who resist the mainstream tendency to grow love handles in youth will be the same kinds of folks who were the saying the whole system was corrupt a generation ago. They’ll be the folks who by philosophy or innate temperament will tune out the advertising and cultural inertia that turns the next food trend into a full blown aspirational life style movement.

The fashionable thin people you meet in the future, especially the ones over the age of 30, will increasingly be the types of people who listen to the conventional wisdom with deep suspicion. They’ll be the people who don’t care that you’re giving them the evil eye when they don’t join for the plate of nachos. They’ll be the folks who rarely talk about food because they’ve got better things to occupy their mental energy.
Folks who question the reigning orthodoxy around food, physical activity and hunger, are the same people who’ll question other dogmas and oppose them in quiet silence. They’ll be the same people who let the passive aggressive messages from the chubsters who surround them to go in one ear and out the other. The future belongs to think jerks.

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