Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Re: Obesity

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for writing. I am afraid I didn't think enough about how I might come across insensitively. The truth is, obesity in America is a sensitive subject. And I am drawn like a moth to the flame when it comes to controversial but important subjects. I need to be told if I am too blunt. I do that sometimes. This may be a subject that is one of those times.

I hope you can accept my apology. Thank you for being open about what must be a source of endless concern to you and a situation I know could happen to me one day. I didn’t realize that my post would be guilt-inducing. I didn’t want that.

But I didn't bring it up to suggest a causal relationship between overweight people and the starving people in India. That would almost be like the stereotypical mother-child relationship at dinner except in reverse: image

"Eat your food, there's starving people in China."

"But Mom, how will they get my dinner?"


“Stop eating your food, there’s starving people in India.”

“But Kalli, how will the people in India get my fast food?”

I have a lot of sympathy for overweight people. In fact really food is something we all battle. Food in America is a modern wonder. I doubt that anywhere in the world exists grocery stores like America’s. Restaurants and fast food and cafeterias abound. The variety, the price, the convenience. Food is a joy and ultimately an irresistible temptation for us. And then our work lifestyles lead us to be sedentary. Of COURSE we struggle with our weight. I have struggled with my weight in the past. It is on every American woman's mind. It is a source of embarrassment, sorrow, pain, and exasperation for most of us. Any country who had the riches we do and the resources that we do would struggle with self control when it comes to food. Any Indian who saw the contents of our refrigerators and pantries would be shocked because there is no grocery store here that large.

I love food. I love to eat. I spend much more on food for myself than I donate to the hungry. I will continue to do so. I don't want to be hypocritical so let's make that clear.

I only wanted to point out that obesity in America is inequality in our world embodied. But even those of us who do not struggle with weight, struggle with eating more than is necessary. Obesity is just a symptom of a disease we all take part in as Americans. 20% of the world uses 80% of the world's resources.

I wanted to suggest that actually there is something that could be done about this problem of one country with so much they're literally dying of being fat while the rest of the world is dying from lack of food.

That something is taxes and regulation.

This idea, however, is so unpopular that I don't know that it could ever go over with the public.

People want to think, "I have the RIGHT to eat however much and whenever I want!" But while that may be true, what about this…

1. Do people who are poor have the right to live?

2. Do Americans have the responsibility to provide for other countries?

Am I wrong for thinking the answer to those two questions I have written above is yes? (That question isn’t hypothetical—I’m serious. What do my readers think?) I ask these questions because I think this is what it comes down to. And I don’t know that we Americans are united in the idea that we DO need to help poor countries. We do seem to be united in the idea that we need to enforce our military power around the world. But that could change if the American people wanted it. A focus on poverty instead of military might would cost much less—and do so much more.

Are we, as Americans, ready to accept a tax on our extremely cheap yet unhealthy fast food in order to provide for the hunger problems of other countries? Could we add a 1% tax to the fast food industry and use the money raised to research solutions to world hunger? Are we ready to stop subsidizing the cost of beef so that the true cost would have to be paid? Are we ready to pay farmers from other countries fair wages and enforce laws that would raise the price of food in America but ensure agricultural communities in undeveloped countries a decent revenue? Are we willing to admit that simply purchasing goods from other countries is not enough when the uneducated people who create those goods are exploited at the mercy of large corporations and powerful governments? That we have a responsibility to spread education and proper agricultural methods and fair business practices?

Does that sound unattainable? To me, nothing makes more sense.

This is the point of my post. Yes, there is something we can do with our excess. That is, convert it into money and use it responsibly for charitable causes via taxation and regulation.

Please, I’m open to ideas on this subject. People may feel that it will do no good to talk about these things because the problem is so huge. I like to think that thinking about them, discussing them and then taking Action on them could actually make a difference.

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