Do you ever get the impression that a lot of people who have opinions on a given subject are totally talking out their asses?
I ask because I've been reading up on nutrition, and the results are a little depressing. It seems that a lot of people out there -- people with influence -- think that there's this horrible horrible obesity epidemic, and that it exists because those poor pitiable fat people lack either the willpower to eat "correctly," or the knowledge of what eating "correctly" is. Therefore, all you have to do is teach those people that fat is bad, that knowledge of proper nutrition is good, and we'll all be lean and svelte and pretty and live to be two hundred.
It's a nice idea. Warm and comforting, like a hot bath with lots of bubbles. Imagine, if you will, me standing over that bathtub unbuttoning my pants after having had a dozen beers. (I don't normally drink beer, except for metaphors like this. I don't like the flavor, and if I want to get drunk, there are much more efficient ways to achieve that.)
There's a lot wrong with this idea, in that it ignores the role of genetics, the fact that "willpower" is not exactly a useful concept when it comes to avoiding food that's explicitly designed to appeal to millions of years of instincts, the greater expense of healthy food as we currently know it, the greater time and energy investment of preparing healthy food, the presence of large areas where there's no shortage of convenience stores and McShitholes but no grocery stores, and many other things that would make this run-on sentence even more ridiculous than it already is if I tried to name them all. Seriously, I want to stop and catch my breath just reading that.
But let's ignore all that. Let's pretend that this is purely a problem of education, and that by teaching people how to eat, we can solve this problem.
Let's start small. White bread or whole wheat? Easy one, ain't it? Well... not really
. The powers that be have flip-flopped on this one a bit, and notice how whichever kind of bread is worse, it's always those other people
who are making it or eating it. You should eat
whole wheat bread. You don't want to be like them,
High Fructose Corn Syrup? Awful, awful stuff. But it's no worse than table sugar, is it? Just as the corn lobby... or any political figure who owes the corn lobby favors.
Fast food will kill you, right? Of course it will -- you've seen Super Size Me
, haven't you? Well, you might want to watch Fat Head
, too -- there are problems with Spurlock's little experiment. There are problems with both movies, actually. Super Size Me is clearly a hatchet job against the fast food industry, and its motivations are probably social issues, some of them having little to do with health. (Not that social issues aren't worthy in and of themselves -- they are
-- but not all social issues are health-related.) Fat Head is clearly resentful of people claiming to know what's best for us, and insists that "free will" is a useful concept when we're all surrounded by billions of dollars in marketing. (Seriously, do you think McShitholes would spend so much money on advertising if it didn't work?)
Is it more important to cut calories altogether, cut carbs, or cut fats? You'll find "experts" who make each of these claims. Butter or margarine? Saturated or unsaturated? We've flip-flopped on that, too. The four food groups, then the food pyramid, and now the current model
? There were certainly good reasons to ditch the pyramid (the proportions on it were remarkably like the proportions used by farmers to fatten livestock), but for those of us who remember the way things were, this is easy to mistake for yet more flip-flopping. And let's keep in mind that all of these guides for healthy eating come from the government, which means that there are political factors influencing them. (The dairy lobby would have fought against the exclusion of milk in that new model. Meanwhile, vegetarians objected to its inclusion. Again, social issues as distinct from health issues.)
The BMI? Sure, it's useless (I've been "overweight" for a few years now, and I had to get my doctor to tell my insurance company I don't need to lose twenty pounds), but there are lots of people in medicine who take it seriously, and some who swear it need to be adjusted downward.
I like that idea -- it'll mean that I'm four points overweight instead of just two.
Some of these changes are due to the fact that our knowledge of nutrition was never really complete, and as our body of knowledge grows, we need to update our education materials. Still, the fact that it changes allows doubt to creep in, and the fact that it's still
not complete and will therefore continue to be changed every now and then doesn't help.
Changing the subject for a bit... when I was in school, I learned that drugs were bad. If you so much as smoked one joint, you'd end up on a rollercoaster to Hell that would end with you homeless in a gutter sucking tar heroin off a dead man's unmentionables, with ten horribly deformed children you can't afford to feed, and they'll all suffer, and you'll suffer, and it'll be all your fault because you smoked a joint. Don't smoke joints. When I discovered that this was all bullshit, I tried pot. Then PCP. Then, years later, meth. It's possible that I would have tried drugs anyway if I'd been surrounded by actual education instead of propaganda, but the propaganda didn't help -- I was in fact emboldened by the knowledge that the propaganda was bullshit. And let's not forget that alcohol and tobacco are both in on the War on (Some) Drugs.
Surrounded by a bunch of information, some of it bullshit, and nearly all of it produced with motives that go beyond simple nutrition, we're all in that same position. We're all surrounded by noise. And if you're fat, you hear more noise than if you're not. And even if you try to get good information out there, it's still going to contribute to the overall impression of being surrounded by noise.
My solution is a simple one in theory -- get all the people who don't know what they're talking about, or who do know and are still spouting bullshit, to shut the fuck up. In related news, who wants to put the bell on that cat?