Sunday, December 07, 2014

Fat Class Warfare

There was a time when fat was in and thin was out. Obesity was the privilege of wealth and being thin meant being poor. In simpler societies, before slumming became a romantic pose, there was nothing attractive about not having enough to eat.

To be fat was to be part of the leisure class. Thin meant you were on the road to the poorhouse or to consumption, which meant your body was being consumed, not that you were the one doing the consuming.

Then agriculture was revolutionized and the values flipped. No one in the West was starving to death and the poorest man could still grow fat. By the time the social programs kicked in, weight no longer meant leisure.

With packaged foods widely available and jobs shifting from the factory to the desk, it was entirely possible to work hard and get fat.

On the other side of the aisle, exercise meant leisure time. The standard was set by movie stars who struggled to meet unrealistic standards because they had the time and disposable income to do it.

Fat no longer meant upper class gentry. Instead it meant lower class peasant. As with art, the widespread availability turned minimalism, and eventually the worthless and overpriced, into class signifiers. Conspicuous consumption of that which was widely available was lower class. 

The overflowing table made way for micro portions and exotic but barely edible foods. Thin was in on the plate and the waistline.
In many Third World countries where feudalism never ended, the values never flipped. Instead of anorexia, teenage girls suffer from being force fed to make them more marriageable. The wealthy are fat and the feasts at the top never end.

In the West, weight stands in for class, at a time when explicit classism has become politically incorrect. When Europeans sneer at how fat Americans are, and American coastal elites sneer at the rest of the country for being fat, it's a class putdown.

And no one traffics in class putdowns like the left.

Liberalism has become an engine of class repression, with the super-rich pushing down the rich and the rich liberal undermining the middle class. Its regulatory regime limits social mobility and locks in class privileges even while spewing rhetoric about these and income inequality.

Obesity is a classic moral crusade whose real purpose is to inflate the sense of moral superiority of a particular elite. With the moral codes of sex and drugs having been dismantled by that same elite, obesity is one of the few remaining class signifiers, aside from cigarettes, that it's safe to hold a moral crusade about.

The War on Fat echoes the same old obsessions of Prohibitionism, a paranoid concern about the inability of the lower classes to care for themselves that verges on bigotry, an imaginary crisis blown out of all proportion in order to justify abuses of power and the self-congratulatory superiority lurking behind the curtain.

Their obesity concern trolling is a combination of classism and nanny statism that brings to mind the days when their ideological forebears thought that the way to deal with the poor was to sterilize those who seemed less capable than the rest to improve the breed. The breed being culled while the elites try to teach their less evolved cousins to survive by eating their arugula.

Finding moral failings in a manufactured underclass justifies endless abuses of power by demonstrating the inferiority and unfitness of those below. Obesity fits into that same template.

The solutions never work. Michelle Obama's botched school lunch program and ObamaCare lawsuits over fitness rewards once again show that the technocratic nanny state can never achieve the goals of the moral crusade. But slimming down isn't really the goal. Bloomberg's soda ban wasn't a serious solution. It was an expression of disdain and most of those on the receiving end understood that.

Barack and Michelle Obama lecture on food while gorging themselves at banquets. The lecture is the point. Cutting calories isn't. It's easier to oppress those who are manifestly inferior. Every elite needs these hypocritical justifications of their own superiority. The nanny state is not an act of concern.

It's an act of contempt.

The nanny state is built on a technocratic confidence in the ability to create one size fits all solutions, overlaying that on a map of the current medical wisdom leads to the creation of single standards, which often have less to do with health than they do with the status symbols of the leisure class. 19th century popularized medicine created so many of these fads that some of them are still around today. The 20th century created even more of them. And the 21st century is only getting started.

Death though is not only inevitable, but it cannot be dodged with a one size fits all standard. Fitness guru Jim Fixx who helped kickstart the running craze died in his early fifties of a heart attack. Fixx had quit smoking and lost weight, and still died at an early age. Jackie Gleason who spent his life looking like a walking health attack, smoking and drinking, outlived him by nearly twenty years.

Medicine is individual and the collectivization of medicine is a technocratic solution that leads to broad stroke solutions, like adding calories to menus and other rats in a maze tactics designed to modify human behavior on a national level. The targeting of fast food restaurants, public school meals and food stamps reeks of the same elitist arrogance that drives the nanny state.

The politicization of food by the elites of the left always comes down to class, no matter how it may be disguised in liberal colors. From exotic to locally grown, the trajectory of food politics follows the upselling of food prices  The only difference is that the dominance of the left has wrapped the added cost with no added value in their own politics. The more affordable food becomes, the more the left finds ways to add cost to food, without adding value.

But the politicization of food goes beyond the fair trade and locally grown fetishes of the politically correct elites, the more politics ends up on your plate, the more the elites are driven to involve everyone else in their food fights. What begins as a way of raising prices while diminishing value to assert wealth and privilege becomes imposed on everyone in the name of their political morality.

Once everyone else is paying more and getting less, then the classist left demands new ways to set its superior moral eating habits apart. Instead of everyone ending up with more food, everyone ends up with less.

Lefty culture practices conspicuous consumption, but the consumption has to be disguised with conspicuous political pieties. The food may cost twice as much, but it's locally grown on a farm run by handicapped union workers who visit Cuba to receive free health care or by the indigenous peoples of Tuba-Tuba with the proceeds going to a complete sonic library of their chants and ceremonies. It's a meaningfully meaningless hairshirt that disguises the consumption underneath.

Conspicuous consumption is now for the poor while conspicuous political consumption is for liberal elites. Al Gore may live in a mansion but he still has the carbon footprint of a mouse. The problem is the truck driver whose vehicular emissions are killing the planet. Whole Foods is just fine, but we need to do something about White Castle. 

In a moment of horrifying tone deafness that makes Marie Antoinette seem enlightened, the left is cheering that fewer Americans are eating meat, without seeming to understand that it's because fewer Americans are able to afford it because of the left's economic policies.

What the left's food police can't accomplish with nudges and shaming, they can finish off with policies and regulations that raise the price of food or make it too difficult to sell. When the left fails to sell the public on conspicuous political consumption as a status symbol, it brings in the heavy bureaucratic artillery.

It isn't unusual for elites to use the legal system to enforce their own values on the general public, though it was the kind of thing that the universal franchise was supposed to put a leash on, but there is something grim about their growing preoccupation with the habits and mortality of the population. It's the kind of concern that has a habit of ending in eugenics and the more medicine is universalized, the easier it is to start cutting off access to medical treatment for those who haven't been nudged far enough in the right direction.

Social medicine politicizes food consumption and a globalized economy politicizes food production. And the politicized American plate has less on it and at a higher price. While the left obsessively pursues its mission of destroying fast food in the name of lowering socialized medicine costs, they are taking affordable and filling food off the shelves, as they have done with countless other products that they have targeted.

By the time the left was done with Russia, it had gone from a wheat producer to a wheat importer and many basic food staples were hard to come by even in a country filled with collective farms. Finding modern day examples of that isn't hard. We only have to look as far south as Venezuela to see empty store shelves under the weight of government food policies.

But one day that may be the local grocery store if the left gets its way.


mindRider said...

Why has this "food"war on the common man by the liberal progressive elite been limited to the US? In much longer suffering from both the strong remnants of a class separated society and over the last 50 years from "progressive"social-democrat rule, in Europe, American size obesity due to overeating, has never become a problem for it's "lower" classes and therefore defied the need for regulations, while God knows how fond European governments are of those.

Elise Ronan said...

Nanny state, technocrats, the overbearing self-righteous Left. However, Americans are overweight and it is dangerously unhealthy. The resulting diseases costs society billions and it will only get worse. Simply because you don't like the politics of the Left doesn't mean Americans shouldn't eat better and get the heck off the couch and take a walk.

Now if you really want to get into the policies that cause high food costs and what is behind the cultural shift in the US, that is fine. But the reality is that in the US food is cheaper and more plentiful than at anytime in history and anywhere else on Earth. And the Left wasn't the first group to lecture society on what to eat. The food pyramid was part and parcel of the American upbringing since World War Two and our own obsession with health and exercise feeds a worldwide industry.

gizmo54 said...

Daniel, this delicious article, along with the posted photo, the plate of shrimp, fries and salad, are forcing me to make a run for the fridge for some 2-day-old mac and cheese to satisfy my yen.

Fisk Ellington Rutledge III said...

Right on the money sir. Of course the most horribly destructive "one size fits all" Leftist tool for tyranny is that of race. The Left imports millions of third-world savages into the U.S. These parasitic savages commit crimes at a rate that almost matches our domestic Black crime rate.

These savages are a large part of the "obesity epidemic" as well. Since one of the more evil tendencies of the Left is to have a look at the lowest common denominators in the population and attempt to level everybody to that dismal condition, the body of law is distorted and the Leftist state treats EVERYONE as if they are a Black, Mexican or Asian gangbanger.

The tendency is to project the characteristics of third-world savages, domestic and foreign, onto Whites; the very Whites who built the modern world. Without Whites the modern world and the State will cease to exist.

Our ruling elites are like an immune system that turns on its own body while failing to attack the third-world parasites that are destroying it. The mainstream norm celebrates deviance, immorality, cowardice, treason and irrational emotion. This social pathology is not only unsustainable, but, like the Soviet state, will soon unravel into the sort of chaos that much of Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, St. Louis, etc. is already experiencing.

Anonymous said...

I learned, when I worked at the UN, that throughput (delivery to the starving people) of food aid in sub-Saharan Africa is 5%.

Five. Percent.

And the UN people, and the donor nations (all white, all Western) know it. The Internationale Leftists have set up that situation as well.

Anonymous said...

America's so-called racial problems and food policing both have the same anti-democratic strategy underneath. By saying the person that the law is aimed at is unable to manage their eating habits or prejudices it is then easy to say that the law can not be debated or amended by the voter. It must be done by an enlightened elite. An elite that is free to talk or eat behind closed doors any way it pleases.

Of course once you established that the voting population is flawed you can shove any law down their throat.

fizziks said...

Ok, let's try this comment again...

I'm not buying this analysis. Obesity and bad food choices are a personal failing for which the health and behavioral costs are socialized and borne by the rest of society. Why should we encourage people to pursue stable family structures and not the wholesome food choices that go along with those structures? Why should a parent who feeds their children nothing but hot pockets, soda, and McNuggets not be discouraged from and mocked for doing so? If rightfully caring about my own and other peoples' food choices makes me an elitist, then I am a proud elitist.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

The socialized part is the problem. It's why socialized medicine is so pernicious. It becomes a justification for controlling every aspect of a person's life.

Anonymous said...

Contrasting Jim Fixx and Jackie Gleason is a pernicious use of outliers. (Jim Fixx had a genetic predisposition to heart failure at a young age--his Dad passed away of a heart attack at age 43 and Jim himself had other health risks including an enlarged heart. When he passed away in 1984, I recall that his doctor stated that had Jim not made the life-style changes that he did, he would have probably died at a younger age.) Certainly the best scientific/medical evidence out there clearly points out that eating healthfully and exercising regularly increases longevity and the quality of life. I agree that the socialization of food is a problem, but the message to eat well and exercise is, plain and simple, correct. In that instance, the left is right. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

King Western Man

meema said...

Fizziks you use “Left Logic” to justify your perspective. You feign righteousness by accepting the elitist label for the sake of ‘caring’ about the plight of poor children who are forced to eat unhealthy food even as you reveal your true agenda, i.e., ultimate cost to you.

Allow me to use Left Logic to make my point.


I think Daniel Greenfield’s blog should be required reading, there needs to be a law, because he always digs out the truth of a matter and the truth is healthy for brains. Unhealthy brains pose a threat to society. I think all brains need to be healthy and therefore think like I think. If that makes me elitist I stand guilty as charged!

See how that works?

Leah said...

Spot on, as usual, Daniel. You did not disappoint me with the "Tsk, tsk. Now, now"pic of that woman and her school lunch garbage take over program...

Anonymous said...

Since we live in a society which has abandoned common sense and where more and more people turn to the government bureaucrats and their well paid "experts" to "educate" us rather than understanding that the complex human body needs proper nourishment to function in the manner in which God designed it, and we now believe that license equals liberty, the results of this three-fold terrorism against the mind and body ensures a greater and greater entrenchment by government into our choices because we really know that license doesn't always lead to choices that benefit the individual or the general welfare of the whole. If one's body simply belongs to oneself and license is liberty, (and there is no God and no afterlife which makes this one all that matters) one can justify abusing it and expecting others to be responsible to "fix" it if the choices one makes result in damages to it.


Anonymous said...

Everyone knows or thinks they know what healthy food is and conversely what unhealthy food is. The problem is no one agrees and experts can't even agree. Are "hot pockets, soda, and McNuggets" bad for you? Probably not no evidence exists that anyone died from eating hot pockets. What you have is simply personal bias. Someone has decided that because hotpockets are made by "big food" therefore it equals "bad food". Are "whole foods" good for you? Again there is no evidence that buying food from Whole Foods will make you live longer or healthier it is all personal bias. People who believe in "natural foods" have a religious like belief system not based on facts. Either they are "good" for you and you provably live longer and healthier or you do not. A simple question and yet there is zero evidence to prove it. There is no one diet that has been "proven" to make you live longer or be healthier. It is all pure BS and personal bias.

fizziks said...

@ Daniel: You can't escape the socialized costs of bad food choices just by not having socialized medicine. For example, kids who come to school just having been fed Cocoa Puffs and soda can't learn, can't pay attention, and ruin the learning environment for other kids, with all of the ensuing problems.

@ meema: I don't understand your analogy, since I was not advocating for anything to be "required", but rather for the right (or perhaps duty) for us to encourage good food choices and mock bad ones.

I am surprised that some people are all of a sudden moral and cultural relativists when it comes to this one issue. The food choices that lead to a healthy mind and body versus those that are highly correlated with the decay of both are quite straight forward. Yet you seem to have adopted a postmoderninst, relativist, 'who are we to criticize' position on this and this only. Strange.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...


That's their choice and that of their parents. Trying to control what kids eat is a job for parents. Not for the state.

The issue isn't relativism. It's authoritarianism. Simply because one food is better than another does not mean that you should be forced to eat it. It doesn't mean that one food isn't better than another. It means the state isn't better than you.

meema said...

Historically speaking, manipulated social conscience often results in regulations and requirements. Hence, hate speech is now a crime punishable by imprisonment. Next step? Hate thoughts. So, while I advocate for anyone to be able to eat as they choose, I find it unconscionable to hold that one’s definition of healthy is license to mock someone else, in essence to shame another, perhaps a child, into eating or not eating a certain way. Why is that not hate speech? Oh, I forgot. It’s liberal interpretation of what is and isn’t okay.

Lassez-faire - French for - none ya.

And btw, I’m pretty sure there are kids whose parents have now dropped off the unemployment stats because they gave up trying to find a job, who would really really appreciate a Hot Pocket.

Johnny said...

I believe that way over half our GNP goes towards things that are status enhancers and appearance oriented. When the middle classes can afford it, then it is no longer good enough for the more pretentious members of the upper class.

Anonymous said...

"Obesity is a classic moral crusade whose real purpose is to inflate the sense of moral superiority of a particular elite. "

This is a profound statement and explains so much. Actually you can insert many words in place of obesity for a greater understanding of what the lonely individual is up against each and every day; i.e. climate change, violence in sports, transgenderism, animal rescue. Anyone who has ever tried to obtain a dog from a rescue organization will know what I mean.


fizziks said...

@Daniel: But your article devotes a lot more space to criticizing supposed liberals for their attitude toward other peoples' food choices, and very little space to their actual legal regulation of other peoples' food choices. Probably because there is not mich regulation of other peoples' food choices actually happening.

So what we have is mostly you (and these commenters) criticizing people for their audacity to criticize others for their destructive choices. You have taken the cultural relativist position.

Anonymous said...

The modern leftist obsession with food and exercise is an extension of their denial of mortality. The baby boomers are the generation that never grew up. Hence we get old rockers like the Stones and old folkies like James Taylor going on the road tours and making big money off the old boomers who want to relive their youth. Neil Young even comes back to Canada to protest the oil sands like a good activist. Bob Lefsetz still goes to concerts and writes about the music scene. They are still hip and living in blue jeans. They never left the 60's.


Anonymous said...

Fizziks, he gave two clear examples. NYC's soda ban and Michelle's meddling with school lunches have both turned into laughingstocks. Those are/were rules from on high, not just suggestions. They only affect millions of people.

He's criticizing those who make the laws, who are audacious in their tyranny. Its clear in his writing.

No sense in trying to debate the finer points of what is simply an example of encroachment on our freedom to choose what is best for ourselves and individually accept the consequences. Think always of the big picture.

Teri said...

Actually, everyone DOESN'T know what healthy food is. Is it the high carb Food Pyramid? Is it Trans fat seed oils? Is it gluten free? Can we continue to pretend that eating less means you will lose weight? (Hint-our bodies are designed to conserve fat during times of starvation). And what about recent discoveries that the quality of our immune system is tied to the microbes in our guts?

I have a diary from 1942, and the woman that wrote it made cake every week. I'll bet you she wasn't fat. Why is it that we can't eat the way our grandparents ate without gaining weight? It really is not that simple. Toss in the way food has been politicized and it's a mess.

allamerican1952 said...

Obesity is only the latest of moral crusades. But I find it interesting that these "Betters" never seem to focus on the cost of food increasing since the Green revolution mandated a move to corn-based ethanol for motor fuels to reduce oil imports.

And just as lacking is a serious look at the food, pharma, government and medical establishments who bless all kinds of food additives to give processed and packaged foods an acceptable appearance and flavor. A particular bug of mine is the nasty chemical monosodium glutamate, otherwise known as MSG. It is in most packaged foods under varying names and blessed by the US-FDA as a food additive Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).

Combine these additives with aspartame and others and you have what have been additives vehemently denied to be harmful to people, including causing obesity and other health related effects. Their defense ... there is no substantiated proof that these additives are bad for you. Well, no proof if you consider those doing the testing are all part of the same cartel and thriving off the same supply chain. And a long chain at that. One that stretches from the MSG or other additive supplier to food processor, to retailer, to doctor, to pharmacy, to mortuary, over a long period of time because this crap doesn't just kill you outright.

So the food industry, under the guise of meeting market demand for "fast food" makes this stuff from ingredients that are cheaper, add a few things to make them look better, and taste better, market them as being better for you because they have less sugar, less salt, etc. when they are laced with poisons that are probably worse than the original ingredient.

So, we have an obesity epidemic. And our betters are going to blame it on poor food choices? I think they should be taking a look at the food industry and just what it is they are putting into the food supply.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that he ignored the greater problem of smoking...


Anonymous said...

allamerican1952 , for some reason your comment reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer orders his Chinese food with extra MSG.


meema said...

@allamerican1952 - you are 100% correct. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. We are, as they say, rearranging the chairs on the deck as the Titanic sails to its end.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, everyone DOESN'T know what healthy food is." Then you go on to explain that only you know what healthy food is. That was my point! Everyone thinks they know what healthy food is and they all disagree. The vegans think that an egg, cheese or mik will kill you while the vegtarians know the real truth which is that eggs cheese and milk are OK but red meat or any meat will kill you. Then there are the paleo diet people who think it is the grains and vegetables that kill you and fats and meat are healthy. They are all wrong or right. Food is just food. Your body breaks it down into it's most basic components before it can pass between your small intestines and your blood stream. Your body cannot tell if the carbs you eat cam from good vegetables or white rice or cake, all carbs are turned into sugar period. Are sodas "good" for you? No! But they aren't "bad" for you either. All that matters is that you get all the MDRs your body needs and that you don't consume anything that your body is allergic to. Are transfats "bad" for you? If they were we would have had a mass die off in this country over the last 50 years but instead life expectancy went up every year. There is no evidence that any major food item or food group is universally bad for you. Zippo, zilch, nada. There is evidence that some people cannot tolerate dairy or sugar or peanuts or shell fish but that is all individual health problems that don't relate to the general population. There is no "good" food or "bad" food.

Anonymous said...

Food is one of life's great pleasures. It sustains us and brings us together. We use food to celebrate holidays and special events and show love to our families. The leftist obsession with what we should and shouldn't be eating is another avenue of attack against the family structure. For centuries bread was the 'staff of life' but not anymore because wheat. Ireland survived as a nation on potatoes but now potatoes are no good because they are white not orange. It's ludicrous.
The all pervasive food obsession on tv and in magazines is particularly destructive for children. They should be enjoying life, not worrying about what they are eating. Young teens becoming vegans to save the planet from climate change and young girls obsessing about their weight leads to serious eating disorders and mental illness.
The leftist obsession with food and the body is a distraction from the increasing spiritual emptiness of the culture. As our traditions and symbols continue to be eroded and our beliefs mocked, we lose our confidence and sense of purpose.

Anonymous said...

regulations do keep the power in control. It reduces access to entry and destroys competition.

In the hay day of market capitalism, 1830-1913, there was a saying; "rags to riches to rags in 3 generations." The dynamism of the market is a great equalizer.

great post

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