Monday, September 1, 2014


When you think about it, food culture is not so different from culture in general. In the culture of the United States, the individual is where it's at, and that one little idea permeates everything we do, say, and, of course, eat. The dominant American story is that all success and failure rides on what an individual does or doesn't do. If you are wealthy and happy (or thin), it's due to hard work and personal accountability. And so it follows that if you are poor and miserable, (or fat), then the opposite must be true, you must be a lazy, irresponsible loser. The rise out of such a deplorable state can only be accomplished by getting responsibility religion and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps (or in my case, sneakerstraps). If you need external support, you run the risk of being labelled a moocher, a slacker, a taker (as opposed to a maker), in the parlance of our last presidential election.

This idea persists, I believe, because it is so clearcut and simple. Some people are industrious and some are not. Work always rewards the person who toils. Anyone can make it if they are willing to put in the long hours and hard labor necessary to overcome the obstacles. No messy real life situations need apply, just right and wrong, black and white, responsible and irresponsible. Easy peasy, as they say.

Now, I am all for working towards a goal. Anyone who's ever struggled to achieve anything knows how much sweeter an accomplishment is when you've worked your butt off for it. I have no beef with personal grit leading to riches and applaud anyone who's made it after a long, hard climb in which there was much shedding of blood, sweat, and tears. Of course, the climb is higher for some and there is a glass ceiling at the top for others, two realities often given short shrift in the usual telling of the "American Dream." But to complain about the inequality of opportunity is to be a whiner. The only thing worse than being a whiner is being a whiner who expects the rest of us to help them.

Why is that? Why is asking for help incompatible with taking personal responsibility? After all, who in the 21st century truly "makes it" completely and entirely on their own? In my estimation, the last truly "self-made" American lived in the western United States in the mid-1800s -- perhaps the last time that an American had to literally make everything he or she needed from the forest or the plain or the desert. If you "made it" in a time when you could buy food in a store, mail a letter through a post office, or call the fire department when you smell smoke, then you've had some help from the rest of us. And that fact it doesn't diminish your triumphs in any way.

The same could be said of food. Yes, you, the individual, has the ultimate say on what you put in your mouth. The fact that everyone around you is enjoying gooey, crispy, sugar-coated delights does not mean you have to fall in line. And just because you choose not to eat something doesn't mean everyone else has to stop eating it. Because the perennial partner of personal responsibility is personal freedom, another sacred American idea. So, while I may choose to not eat a cookie, I'm not the boss of you.

But let's look at a telling statistic. Of people who lose a lot of weight, only about 3% keep it off long term. Why is that? Are we all slackers? Degenerate and irresponsible food junkies always on the verge of slipping back into addiction, hands shaking as we desperately try to score one more potato chip or scoop of Chunky Monkey? Could there be even a remote possibility that the food environment discourages, even actively opposes, long-term weight loss? Could I be so crazy as to state that personal responsibility and asking for support from others are not mutually exclusive ideas and could actually coexist? Peacefully?

Just wondering. What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment