Hold still while I judge you.
Leaving the conversation about gender, violence, and all that fun stuff aside for a second, I'm going to take a minute to talk about something even more close to home.
Now, I try to be a pretty conscious food shopper. I read the labels, trying to avoid sugar or sodium-laden products. Michael Pollan's advice about not buying anything my great-grandparents wouldn't recognize as food, sticking to the periphery of the grocery store and loading up on produce while limiting meat consumption is advice I try to follow as much as possible. But, hey, I'm not perfect. I shop organic and local when I can, and when I'm busy I go to the Price Chopper down the street for whatever cereal they have on sale. Since leaving college I've been better about cooking and trying to cut out as much processed food as I can, but I could definitely improve. What I eat is a deeply complicated thing to me that I negotiate almost constantly. Except for when I'm being lazy, which is why I make myself some nachos.
Which is why the issue of food politics is so damn tricky to talk about. Food is a deeply personal thing for many people, and for others it's just something to get them through the day. The minute somebody tries to tell somebody else what to do with their food, though, the issue becomes a whole other can of worms.
First Lady Michelle Obama has been discovering this. Her book about the garden in the White House, which incidentally was pretty amazing, actually gathered controversy. Everything from the existence of the garden itself being a conspiracy to the "Who's government to tell me what I can and can't eat?" crowd.
And that really sucks. Because over one-third of this country is obese, and the price of that is astronomical, both in human suffering and the technical financial toll. What other public health issue - that is literally about life and death - in this country is so pervasive? Who else is going to talk about this if the government does not? Sure, Disney said they won't advertise for junk food on their television and radio shows, as well as their website. This is better than nothing, but barely a drop in the bucket when you look at childhood obesity rates in this country. Other than other piecemeal attempts at changing, without changing too much, nothing really substantial seems to be changing.
So we as a country are already in a tizzy about how to talk about food in a healthy way without getting ridiculously politicized. That much is pretty obvious.
What happens when our food companies get in on that action in a completely unrelated way? Like, say, coming out against something like gay marriage?
Gloves = OFF.
Going beyond the actual issue, which was one guy saying something bigoted and ignorant while working for a company that donates thousands to anti-gay issues, at which point a bunch of people responded to it with indignation and some rage. ("I am SHOCKED, shocked, I say!" - Everyone Involved In These Conversations Ever). Some people tried to boycott, and way too many people went out to buy their food on purpose.
But some of the outrage against Chick-fil-A came from some pretty problematic places. Some, bordering on unconstitutional. Others were troubling for a very different reason. Lindy West, former writer at Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, current columnist for Jezebel, and basically my favorite internet columnist/movie reviewer of all time, talked about one of the ugliest kinds of responses to the whole thing. Fat shaming.
I'm going to quote her at length here, because it's worth repeating. Follow the story where she lays out just how many people think it's acceptable to use people's weights against them in a political discussion, as if that negates their entire point. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Now that you've seen fat shaming in action, Lindy West lays some truth down for us, The Internet.
"This whole Chick-Fil-A debacle, it seems, is all fat people's fault. This might be a great week to be a chicken, but it's the fucking worst week to be a fat gay guy.
In case it's not overwhelmingly apparent, FAT PEOPLE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS. There are fat conservatives, yes. But there are also fat liberals. There are fat gay people. There are
thin conservatives. There are thin fast food consumers. There are bigoted athletes. There are gay
You guys. Just be mad at the thing you're mad at.
Maybe you're telling yourself, "Well, they're not being civil, so why should I be civil?" Is that a real question? Because that's a staggeringly effective way to get nothing done.
Or maybe you're telling yourself, "Well, I just believe in personal responsibility, and people make choices in their lives, and if they make the wrong choices--unhealthy choices—then they deserve to face the consequences in the court of public opinion. That's my argument." Except no, wait. It's not. That's THEIR argument. That's the conservative bigot's argument about gay people.
I hate to sound like a broken record here, but people. PEOPLE. It is possible to be outraged about something without taking your rage out on something else. It is possible to protest the victimization of one vulnerable group without victimizing another vulnerable group. It is possible to be kind to everyone. Or, at least, it is possible to try."
So. Using obesity as a way to wield power over others in a political discussion is officially not cool. But this was just one part of the Food In My Politics discussion that's been happening lately.
It's not like liberals boycotting Chick-fil-A (if that's right? I honestly don't care anymore) are the only group trying to protest food. The group One Million Moms keeps attempting to boycott stores for standing for marriage equality. That might be easier said than done.
So unless you eat your food from just down the road, (which you really should do anyway for a whole lot of reasons, which I'm not really going to get into right now), chances are high these companies are getting your money. Nestle's trouble with child slavery and Coca Cola's alleged human rights abuses are just two examples of just how politically messy this food-web can be if you look too closely.
And isn't it beholden to us, as consumers, to do that looking? Or is it something that we shouldn't have to look that hard for? Tracing the web of ownership, researching every ingredient in every product and weighing the pros and cons of your potential purchasing options would take hours of research. For people who may not have the time but want to know where their money is going, what's the best way to keep track of it all? Is it even worth keeping track of? Or is this something that will always be so personal that, no matter how political our food gets, it's always going to be an inherently personal internal debate? I know I'm not sure that I have any answers, just endless questions. Maybe somebody out there has some knowledge they'd like to share.
But I have dishes to do, and some final papers to write.