Our Fat Land

Granted it's a few years old, but Michael Pollan's review of Greg Critser's book Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World is worthy of mention. Pollan an author and contributing writing for The New York Times details the book's investigation of America's super-sized obesity epidemic; which Critser believes was and is driven by capitalism.

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Susan - March 27, 2006 4:45 PM

Um, I'm already reluctant to read this guy's book. Blame obesity on capitalism? The production and distribution of goods and services to realize a profit? I cannot see how capitalism is to blame; I would argue that it is less evil than people speculating in the stock market or real estate market who want to get rich without actually having to produce anything. It is capitalism that also helped produce some of the farm equipment and machinery that allows us to enjoy the bounty of a farmer's harvest. It is capitalism that produced the airplanes that fly in produce from other parts of the world. It is capitalism that compels the farmer to bring his produce to the local farmer's market. It is capitalism that compels some people to manufacture exercise equipment and teach others how to exercise. What's wrong with that?

The authors of The Pleasure Trap point out that in our evolution mankind's main concern has been finding and getting enough to eat. When man was still wandering around in little tribes, an occasional bit of meat from a hunted animal was a rare treat and perhaps a lifesaving one during those times when there was simply not enough plant-based sources of food to be found. Perhaps those with a tendency to carry a few extra pounds had a survival advantage, because they could draw on some fat stores during a famine.

Over time, meat-eating and rich foods came to be viewed as luxuries enjoyed by the upper classes and the wealthy. It is what the commoners aspired to. Obesity and the diseases of kings have been with us for a long time, even before mercantilism developed. Rich animal-product based foods have been associated with power and prosperity for many many centuries, even millenia. When you can eat rich foods like a king, you have "arrived".

So now we are in a position where there is an overabundance of food here in the US, and much of the rest of the world still aspires to be like the US, including eating the rich SAD diet of Americans. In our evolution this is a very recent development, one that our bodies have not adapted to. I would not blame obesity on capitalism, I would argue that our evolution is working against us.

Under our system people have the absolute right to eat at McDonalds and to take drugs when they develop disease conditions. They also have the right to refuse drugs and to strive for nutritional excellence. Perhaps the obesity problem lies not so much that capitalists are producing a good or service and making a profit, the problem could be that there are capitalists with too much influence on government agencies that in turn hold way too much power over what we can and cannot swallow, and censor a lot of useful nutritional information.

So many people are truly ignorant when it comes to making excellent nutritional choices. People should have the right to freedom of information and to be fully informed of the dietary choices they have and the consequences they could suffer by making poor choices. They don't get that information from their doctors, who are probably more interested in prescribing something. With health care costs spiraling out of control, perhaps more people will seek out better sources of health information than what the USDA and FDA provide us. Even some doctors are frustrated because almost nothing they have been taught in medical school gets people well and healthy. Perhaps if we reach some economic crisis in health care, a solution to the obesity crisis will be born.

Now if only some capitalist could figure out a way to clone Dr. Fuhrman and put the clones in the faculties of every medical school on the planet!

Magnus - March 28, 2006 3:44 AM

I've lost 50kg and I'm now an almost vegan. I live in a capitalist society (Sweden). How is it possible?
We have an abundance of food of every sort and living a healthy lifestyle has never been easier. I eat mangoes, papaya, kiwis, pineapple, broccoli, beans, etc. every day. Living in Sweden pre capitalism would meen rotabagge, dairy, blood pudding and pork.

I believe DrFuhrman is in fact the bomb :) and I've read Eat to Live and I follow this blog. But blaming capitalism for your obesity is like blaming all women for being unhappily in love.

row - March 28, 2006 10:17 AM

I don't think it is fair for the two people above to make comments criticizing the book without reading it. I haven't read the book either but I have read reveiws and the author makes some very good points. You can't blame the fattening of america solely on personal responsibility. We have corporate america pushing junk food on the american public and the world anyway they can. Children are the biggest victims, establishing addictions that are very hard to break. Setting the foundation for overweight and sickness. We do this all over the world. I have seen little children in mexico with baby bottles filled with coca cola!!
The two commentators above are very lucky to have found "eat to live" and Dr joel fuhrman.
If you hadn't found "eat to live" where would you be right now. Eating and getting fat just like everyone else!!!
I do think blaming capitalism for there lies, for giving us such poor choices, is a big part of the obesity problem.

Susan - March 28, 2006 12:30 PM

Um, it might be an interesting exercise but I don't have to read Mein Kempf to conclude that the ideas promoted in it were wrong.

I watched and loved every minute of Supersize Me like millions of others, and I certainly understand that that there are capitalist corporations pushing junk food 24 hours a day. And I did mention in my post that there are many capitalists in this country who hold incredible power over government agencies, and those agencies in turn censor important nutritional information, and that could be a big part of the problem.

But out of capitalism also came my exercise videos and my weights and my comfortable jogging shoes and the fresh produce I buy each week.

The decision to change ultimately boils down to an individual choice from within. Solid education can certainly help drive that decision. The country is filled with well-meaning parents who think they are doing right by their kids, but are totally clueless as to how to feed them properly.

Magnus - March 28, 2006 1:56 PM

I found eat to live 2 years after I started to lose weight, by that point I'd already lost 45kg. The book helped me fine-tune my diet as I was already on the right track.
Capitalism gives many choices. Non capitalism usually gives one. I choose to have choices and to choose the good choice :).

row - March 28, 2006 11:23 PM

I standby my first post, the author in his book "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World" made some very good points, read the reviews.

You both use extremes to make your point, Mein Kempf and "many choices to only one"

Something is wrong in the US today. US Capitalism is a race to the bottom. Moving jobs overseas has fast as it can. Exploiting workers world wide, destorying the enviorment where ever it goes. Doing business where rules and regulation don't apply.
Maybe at one time,for the most part, there was such a thing as good capitalism,today for the most part, it's down and dirty. This holds true for factory farms and big commercial growers!

In this country capitalism means massive consumerism. With all the choices out there how do you separate the few good from the many bad. There is very little protection for the consumer. As a population the US is the fattest nation on earth and probably one of the sickest. I feel the author is right saying capitalism is a big part of todays obesity.
We have a right to disagree. enjoy your running shoes!!

Susan - March 29, 2006 11:50 AM

Row, you are correct that I haven't read the book. I have read the review and while I think the reviewer makes a few errors, the reviewer does not even state that the author says capitalism is to blame. He says that capitalism has brought about "nutritional contradiction" which sounds accurate, since that is a reflection of choices we have in our socioeconomic system.

Now I am actually interested in reading the book!

I am sorry if my examples sounded extreme to you, but I think it is entirely possible that people with "radical" ideas just like Dr. Fuhrman have been sent to the gulag in another time and place, with the world deprived of their wisdom. Herbert Shelton, who was not an MD but nevertheless was a health professional from whom Dr. Fuhrman learned a great deal, spent much of his adult life in jail right here in the USA because the government wanted to protect us citizens from quacks like him. And that is the government of many many decades ago, not our government now.

I just thank God that our FDA, who in their jihad-like zeal to decide what's best for us, has not gone after Dr. Fuhrman and other doctors like him promoting such outlandish ideas that what we eat affects our health. The EU has considered banning vitamin supplements and I am almost positive the FDA has considered such a move here. It is up to us, collectively, to not allow our choices to be taken away from us.

row - March 29, 2006 2:07 PM

susan,
I am very familar with herbert shelton and the struggles he went through. I don't think you meant to say he spent most of his adult life in jail! He was arrested at least once that I know of when he lived he ny. He did strugle most of his life from the medical establishment. I believe a final law suit closed his health school in texas.
I do like freedom to choose ideas and have infomation like joel fuhrman's available.We agree completely on that.We probably agree more than we disagee on capitalism.I like choices just like you when buying things, fresh produce ,running shoes etc. I also bet you would agree that most of what is being sold as good capitalism is nothing but lies!!
final question the last letter in your last name does it start with a M. if it is we may have talk before.

Susan - March 29, 2006 5:18 PM

Row, according to his biography he was jailed a number of times throughout his career for practicing medicine without a license, and it caused a bit of hardship for his family. As he gained more wisdom he got more careful about he did things. And you are right, some patients died, though if I remember the book correctly it was not due to anything he did, it was more because the patients did not follow his advice. And yes, a lawsuit closed his health center for good.

Ironically, his very first arrest was before his health career and had nothing to do with health. It was during WWI, when he was asked to buy Liberty Bonds, and he replied something like, "Bonds we have enough of, liberty we have too little of."

First letter of last name is B. Last letter of last name is A. :)

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