Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Diet Season

It’s early January, which means `tis the season to be starving, falalalala… Millions of women (and increasingly, men) have annually ushered in the post-holidays Diet Season since back in the day, when a coffee shop “diet plate” consisted of a bunless hamburger, a mound of cottage cheese and a few slices of tomato. But here in the hard-line, born-again Puritan new millennium, food has become very political and Diet Season is no longer just about weight loss, it’s about redefining yourself as a jolly green gourmand of politically-correct eating.

I find this infuriating and fascinating and, in a way, I sort of welcome it, because the battle line between size (fat!) acceptance and orthodox thinness is getting clearer. Thinness used to be about a strict standard of beauty and increasing one’s sense of worth by starving or purging to live up to that standard. Now, it’s all tossed together with the environmental and economic costs of long-distance food cultivation and the morality of the animal rights movement which, in its intensity, is starting to make the anti-abortion crowd look like Spring Break hedonists.

To wit: there was much hoopla in 2005 about a radical diet manifesto entitled Skinny Bitch, written by two self-proclaimed skinny bitches, Rory Freedman (a former modeling agent) and Kim Barnouin (a former model). Now this diet duo have published a cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, which provides recipes to support their militant vegan/health food/animal rights agenda. Their first book sold nearly a half-million copies and it’s expected that this companion will strut off the shelves, as well. Rory and Kim take no prisoners in their effort to separate the whole-grain wheat from the high-carb chaff. They call soda (sugar-laden and sugar-free) “liquid Satan,” so you can only imagine what they have to say about a cheeseburger deluxe.

Today’s increasingly-accepted strictures against consuming meat, dairy, sugar, processed grains and anything else resembling “good eats” have become so severe that fatness is regarded as smoking-gun evidence of personal greed, animal cruelty and callous disregard for the future of everyone’s grandchildren. Eating for pleasure, for some time seen as decadent, is now regarded as depraved and obesity is viewed as a wholly deliberate slap in the face of public health and social responsibility. Fat folks have been…lumped…with smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts and the overly-sexually active as the population that is the scourge of decent humanity. I’m amazed candy bars are still legal.

Unlike some of my comrades in the fat acceptance movement, I don’t have a problem with people who want to diet and lose weight. I reject the idea of don’t-fight-fat as much as I reject must-get-thin. I think people should eat what they want and all body sizes are acceptable. I see no reason for not eating meat and diary, but I also see no reason for abusing and torturing the animals that sustain us. I think eating what’s cultivated locally is a great idea, but I'm also okay with shipping food from coast to coast. Interstate commerce is one of the few things we haven’t outsourced to India.

Weight Watchers has launched their Diet Season with a clever new marketing campaign: Diets Don’t Work! Stop Dieting, Start Living! Personally, I think WW is the most rational, natural and sustainable program in the insidious $40 billion diet industry and I’m heartened that they’re even pretending to promote sensible eating as an alternative to frantic crash diets. That said, their use of the fat-acceptance battle cry reminds me of what we used to call in public relations “I wouldn’t hype you” hype, which is the publicity equivalent of the great George Burns’ definition of acting success: “The thing about acting is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

I think it’s time that we as a culture stopped trying to cut a deal with God (“please don’t create the end of the world and we’ll stop having fun of any kind”) and start accepting that we are indeed at the end of the world as we know it, whether we have another 20 years or another 200; in geological time it’s all a blip on the cosmic radar and we’re essentially on the way out. Which is why, even given my new efforts to eat better now that I have diabetes, I’ll continue to eat some things that make me close my eyes, moan with satisfaction, and feel that life’s worth living. But for those of you who’ve begun your diets: best of luck and season’s greetings.

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