Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ranting and raving.

I uploaded photos to my computer last night, but ran out of steam before I wrote anything about them. The knitting can wait until later, however, as I have a rant.

This morning, I logged on to Facebook (a nasty habit, and one I really would give up, if it wasn't for Scrabble) and read a post by a colleague of mine. She's a fitness enthusiast, a fighter, actually, who is in enviable shape. As you might imagine, she is a regular attendee at the gym. Her post was about how she just laughs at the people who show up at the gym for 2 months before falling off the wagon and becoming fat and lazy, and how these people had no motivation.

On one hand, I understand her point. If you are a regular exerciser, it probably is very annoying to have more people at the gym, using the equipment you normally have all to yourself. However, I think it's really unfair to say these people don't have motivation. And frankly, it generates a hostile attitude at gyms, particularly for people who are making a genuine effort to try to get in shape. It's not easy to be on display, doing something that's hard, and nobody needs critical judgements when they are working out. (This is why I don't like the gym, and why I prefer running. When I'm on the street, and I pass another runner, I've never gotten anything other than a smile and a wave, regardless of how quickly or slowly I'm moving. Unfortunately, it's cold, and I need to run, and the treadmill is my only option, so I am waiting for my spanking new gym membership to activate.)

I don't necessarily agree with the idea of making grand New Year's resolutions - but at the same time, I think it's reasonable to take some time at even an arbitrary starting point to think about your life, figure out where you are, what you want, and how to get there. I think taking any steps to meet your goals is also a reasonable action.

There's another underlying point here, that I'm trying to get to. Last night I watched Michael Pollan's interview on The Daily Show. As a food enthusiast, I've been following the discussions about vegetarianism, sustainable agriculture and suchlike with a fair amount of interest. (A disclaimer here - I have not read Pollan's books, nor have I read Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book. I am also neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, and I am not, have never been, and will never be a member of any animal rights groups.) Again, I agree with some of the points that keep being made. We all should be eating more real food, less processed crap, and we should be engaging in much better animal husbandry and agricultural practices as evidenced by the increasingly more common outbreaks of food-borne illnesses (salmonella and E. coli O157 being obvious examples). BUT - and there's a big but here, we should also be aware that there is a class issue at play here.

Yup, I'm playing the elitist and classist card here.

Purchasing "organic" meats and produce (I'm sorry, my science background makes me hate the term) costs more money. Processed food costs less. We subsidize crap food, and it's cheaper to purchase and takes less time to prepare than real food. Pollan touched on this last night, and suggested we should stop the subsidies, without providing a real solution. I keep hearing people saying we should accept higher food costs, and try to live in a more sustainable way. Which is great - but a) we can't make enough affordable food for people that way, and b) there are a lot of people who are having financial troubles now as it is. What's the solution for people who aren't in the upper middle class or above? If you don't live in an urban area, it's not that easy to have access to the healthiest of foods. Plus, the urban folks I've met who suggest that Walmart is always an option have not lived in some of the rural areas I've been to. Walmart isn't always there, and a lot of them aren't like grocery stores. And finally, growing your own garden isn't realistic either - it's a matter of time, cost, and presumes you have access to land.

I think that we as a society have become increasingly more critical of the obese and overweight. It's always been an issue, but now greater negative commentary has become justified by health reasons and discussion of the "obesity epidemic." Time to exercise is not necessarily a given for all people - if you're working 2 jobs and taking care of children, it's unlikely you're going to have a lot of time to hit the gym, or even have the extra money to pay for a membership. My concern is that people are engaging in these discussions without considering the greater societal commentary they're making - it's not just about weight, or appearance, or what you're choosing to eat - it's part of a larger discussion about financial worth and societal status, and there are some much bigger issues that really need to be addressed.

I've been rambling here, and it's well past time for me to stop and get on with my day. Thanks for sticking with me.


kim said...

When I teach about stereotypes and prejudice in my social psych class, I tell my students that "overweight/obese" is one of the last acceptable categories for overt prejudice and discrimination. That's not to say that it is right or good, but most everyone recognizes in today's society that being outwardly prejudice toward minority groups or women is bad, so that prejudice is more covert. But, being prejudice against overweight individuals is seen as completely acceptable... so your colleague who says they are unmotivated fits that. And as you point out, thus misses the larger societal issue.

To your other point about local/sustainable foods and the like, I've read Pollan's second book. I liked it (finished it in about 2 days), but it is nothing earth shattering. His subtitle-eat food, not too much, mostly plants-sums it up nicely. And I agree totally with you, that's a nice goal to strive for, but not possible without a complete overhaul of the food system or being independently wealthy. At the grocery store, I look at the "organic" meat and I can either have chicken once for the month if I buy organic, or I can have several meals if I buy the "normal" chicken. If I spend all of my money on the local, organic, sustainable stuff, I'll blow my budget and be very hungry until the next month's paycheck.

And now I'm rambling too, but I hope you see my point (that I think you are completely right!!).

Cordelia said...

Yes yes yes. Yes to the intimidation, yes to the classism, yes to Kim's point about the overt prejudice, yes.

And I'm sorry you had to read it from a colleague! Hopefully she doesn't go to the same gym?

(My captcha is "troveni." It looks like a real word.)

Terby said...

Kim, you raise another point - aren't women and minorities more likely to fall into the "overweight/obese" category based on financial reasons? I'm going to avoid starting to rant about the role of media in all this, because I'll go on for ages, but I do have to mention that I think things are particularly bad for women, as the societally "acceptable" version of what we should look like is based on an ideal that only a few women can achieve, and is heavily race-biased.

Cordelia, she's not at my gym, or in the same state as I am. It really does bother me that more and more well-educated, otherwise rational people are buying into the food debate/weight issue without considering the greater implications.

Julie said...

There's another category - obese people who don't have a choice. I've got friends with chronic illnesses for whom getting off the couch is a victory. Yet they're sneered at for being fat when they make a huge effort to get out of the house. I've heard tales of people gaining sixty pounds in a couple months on steroids (that they needed to take to literally keep breathing), only to have the same damn doctor who prescribed the steroids tell them they need to loose weight.

For too many people, it's easier to sneer than to think. These days I try to at least keep my yap shut, because the bottom line is, I don't know the other person's story.