As much as I want to, I can’t put my weight behind Food Day

I don’t know if you have heard, but there’s a movement to declare October 24, 2011 as “Food Day.”

I noticed Food Day, and I quickly forgot about it, because the sponsor of food day leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The main sponsor is the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose mission statement sounds great:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a consumer advocacy organization whose twin missions are to conduct innovative research and advocacy programs in health and nutrition, and to provide consumers with current, useful information about their health and well-being.

In general, CSPI’s three main goals are:

  • To provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers and to conduct research on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues related to science and technology;
  • To represent the citizen’s interests before regulatory, judicial and legislative bodies on food, alcohol, health, the environment, and other issues; and
  • To ensure that science and technology are used for the public good and to encourage scientists to engage in public-interest activities.

But whose tactics are not health promoting. In this way, CSPI’s commitment to “provide useful, objective information to the public and policymakers” is undermined by their “otherizing” of fat people, fat shaming and reinforcing fat hatred.

The Food Day 2011 web site has a rotating set of pictures of people with talk bubbles and here’s the lineup of all of the people featured on the site. Let’s play a little game, and see if we can identify what all of these people have in common:

What did you come up with? Did you notice that they are all not fat?

Which is interesting, because CSPI loves to say things like “Two-thirds (66%) of American adults are seriously overweight or obese.”

Or like “For far too long, the nation’s response to childhood obesity has been underwhelming, considering obesity’s massive impact on the nation’s physical and fiscal health.” and the wonderful speculation that “Because of the rising obesity rates, this may be the first generation of children who live shorter lives than their parents.”*

CSPI cynically cites some of “The Consequences of Childhood Obesity” as:

Emotional and Social Health

  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative body image
  • Depression
  • Stigma
  • Teasing and bullying
  • Negative stereotyping
  • Discrimination
  • Social marginalization

Gee, I would give that grouping of negative consequences a different title, not “The Consequences of Childhood Obesity” but “The Consequences of Fat Hatred.” Way to blame the victim, CSPI!

One of my biggest pet peeves with CSPI is the language they use in their “Nutrition Action Healthletter” that reinforces fat hate. Allow me to offer some examples:

Remember when a slice of cheesecake was a modest wedge about an inch-or-so high? The Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake has one of those wedges. In fact, it has two. They alternate with two wedges of red velvet cake, each of which probably contains a cupcake’s worth of cake.

So now you’re up to two slices of cheesecake plus two cupcakes…plus cream cheese frosting plus white chocolate shavings plus a small silo of whipped cream. Plus sizes are just a step away!

Because, well, Plus sizes! How horrible! Imagine having to wear a plus size!

Since when is a cookie the size of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patty? Since Americans started growing bigger buns.

Oh, ha ha. I see what you did there. Americans = big buns = quarter pounder hamburger, that you put on a bun. You’re telling me my ass looks fat, but in a funny way. Ha ha. Let’s make fun of the fat people so we don’t become them, just like on the elementary school playground. That’s so healthy!

People don’t expect light desserts at The Cheesecake Factory. (News flash: You can get a Goblet of Fresh Strawberries for just 110 it’s-almost-beach-season calories.)…“Layers and Layers of Fudge Cake with Chocolate Truffle Cream and Chocolate Mousse,” says the menu. Say hello to layers and layers of you.

Because, fat people on the beach, why that is soooooo groooooooss. And layers and layers of human fat is also gross. You can get cooties from fat, you know.

When describing a new chocolate-covered ice cream bar on the U.S. market, CSPI has this to say:

Unilever isn’t trying to steal customers away from Dove and Häagen-Dazs, the company told The Wall Street Journal. Magnum’s entry should “at least double the size of the market for super-premium ice cream novelties,” noted a company spokesperson.

If Magnum bars take off here, the market won’t be the only thing whose size you can expect to double.

That’s right, if these “killer” ice cream bars take off here, people will double in size. Wouldn’t that be hideous? And it might happen after eating Just. One. Ice. Cream. Bar.

When it comes to making fat people the other, CSPI really went all out when critiquing Outback Steakhouse:

Outback patrons are probably all about the food, too. Why else blow nearly 1,500 calories on a plate of pasta? And their food may be all about them…about their waist, their hips, their thighs, and their other assorted body parts.

Because people who read CSPI’s Nutrtion Action Healthletter would never eat at Outback. Now, I’m not a big fan of Outback, or it’s parent corporation, which exerts its influence through a PAC to support candidates and causes I find repulsive, like many other international corporations (its reported earnings for the first 6 months of this year were $298,240,000, up from $273,668,000 in the first six months of 2010, if I’m reading the financial statement to shareholders correctly). But why the fat hatred? Why the otherizing? Why the name calling, and dismantling of fat people’s body parts? Why, CSPI, if your mission is to “provide useful, objective information?” (Michael Jacobson, feel free to post a response in the comments section.)

What’s especially sad for me is that the stated goals of Food Day are right up my alley. I agree with all of them:

6 FOOD DAY PRINCIPLES

    1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
    2. Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
    3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
    4. Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
    5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
    6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Why, those are all great! And not even once is the “O” word in there. So, CSPI and other Food Day organizers, was it just too hard to find a member of the food justice, environmental justice, farm worker rights, or an organic farmer who is fat? Or would that have disrupted the “look & feel” of the Food Day marketing, and somehow sent the wrong message? Of the nearly 80 Food Day Advisory Board members, maybe 10% are in the “overweight and obese category” (including Kelly Brownell). Why, that’s just like the two-thirds statistic you keep quoting, CSPI. Oh well, at least some of the Food Day (least attractive) T-Shirts go up to a size 4X (and of course, not the tank tops, because, ewwww, plus sizes). That is probably what they would point to if they were asked about including fat people in their movement.

*If this generation of children live shorter lives than their parents, who would deign to suggest that it may be because of societal neglect, a broken health care system, corporatocracy, poverty, ridiculously high disparities in wealth and health between rich and poor, and health disparities experienced by people of color, people with disabilities, and people who are not heterosexual or cis-gendered?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “As much as I want to, I can’t put my weight behind Food Day

  1. k.sol

    CSPI lost me a long, long time ago. They seem to have a special hatred of movie popcorn. On the once or twice a month (max) I might go catch a movie, I’m having some stinkin’ popcorn… with the butter. 🙂

  2. G

    CSPI is, frankly, terrible.
    They need money, and telling the public “Your body is okay! Eat food that you like and makes you feel good! Here are some good choices!” isn’t going to bring in any funding dollars. They need an evil scourge to fight, and obese people are a convenient, visible one.

  3. Mulberry

    Why do the Magnum commercials feature thin fashion models? There’s one ad where the model appears to do anything to get to a Magnum truck and then nibbles a tiny, tiny bit off the end of a bar. What’s the point of having a bar if you’re only going to eat a cubic centimeter of it?
    I’ll stick with Haagen-Dazs; it comes in more flavors.

    By the way, the people above are in some position of power or modest fame. Do fat people attain positions like that? Sometimes, but not as often as our prevalence would suggest.

  4. Oh yeah, these are the “fettucine alfredo is a heart attack on a plate!” folks. The “coconut oil = death” folks. I remember them. They’ve been at this for a good 20 years now, trying to scare people into fat-free fruitarianism by promising them heart disease and painful demise by age 50 if they indulge in even a single bite of saturated fat. They’re as responsible as anyone for the fat-free diet craze that hosed the endocrine systems of millions of people who were already congenitally insulin-resistant. And they apparently think fat people who are hilariously underpaid, and becoming more so every year, actually have the money to eat at Outback and Cheesecake Factory every night, yeahright. I should believe anything they say why, exactly?

    BTW, I wanted to tell you, you look fierce in that bike helmet. I hope you’re having a great time with your new wheels!

  5. I totally agree with G and Meowser and you. The goals they list, I don’t object to. The language they use and the hatred they use to promote it, definitely not.

    It sounds to me like somebody with a significant eating disorder writes a lot of their copy. Or at least someone with a extremely virulent case of fat fright. And it just ends up poisoning the atmosphere towards fat people, not “fixing” them or “reforming” their habits, which is what they supposedly want. Feh.

    p.s. I’m lovin’ having you posting more often! I missed your voice.

  6. Amen, sister! I’m so glad you work in public health communications. Your voice is going to be the rock that shoots ripples through the whole pond. You have so deftly parsed what’s good and evil in this campaign. I dearly hope you get through to them.

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