by: _refugee_

comment by
kleinbl00
badged comment

    How does obesity happen?

Pearl Harbor. Walk with me.

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There are well-known and less-well-known consequences of American involvement in WWII. It's common knowledge that the eventual nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki set up the Cold War which was the ultimate battleground between capitalism and communism. Less well-known is the fact that the United States didn't ultimately win the war because of the atom bomb but because of our powers of industrial and agricultural production.

Marc Reisner argued that the Army Corps of Engineers won WWII with Grand Coulee Dam. It produced an impossible surplus of power when it was brought online; it had no customers. Then the war broke out and Americans were able to refine aluminum (an electrically-intensive process; the Intalco plant in Blaine, WA uses more electricity than Los Angeles) at a fraction of the price of anyone else in the world.

But in addition to aluminum, the impossible edge in oil refining really took off in WWII. Germany ground to a halt when we took their oil fields in North Africa. Meanwhile our fields in California and Texas turned out gasoline in quantities unmatched anywhere else in the world. And when you make gas, you can also make fertilizer. And when you've converted the Great American Desert to "the Heartland" you make food. You make food that travels. You make corn, potatoes and rice. And you feed that corn and rice to chickens, cows and pigs. And you drop food on the Russians, you drop food on the Chinese, you ship food to England and Australia, and while Germany and Japan are wracked with famine you share your American bounty around.

An interesting side note: because it was a Japanese attack, the safe thing to do, obviously, is lock up all the Japanese. Especially as they're sitting on a bunch of plum farmland on the West coast. You know, the one closest to the Japanese Empire. The one full of refugees from the Dust Bowl. Itinerant farmers from the South and the Midwest who came to California and starved because there are only so may people to pick oranges and strawberries. The ones who will thank you and vote for you and keep growing oranges and strawberries and everything else on formerly-Japanese farms they bought for pennies on the dollar when their original owners get shipped off to Manzanar.

So now Europe is in ruins and the Marshall Plan is going to make everything better. Ship that food out. Soft power! But it's got to travel. Hedgerow to Hedgerow we'll even push the Soviets around by selling it when they behave and withholding it when they don't. But it's got to travel. So corn, rice, soy and potatoes are food. We'll do anything we can to grow more food so that we can influence the behavior of the world with food. We'll subsidize the shit out of food so that everyone is growing food. Meanwhile those now-rich farmers on the West Coast who are growing carrots and olives and lettuce and spinach and oranges and apples? Yeah, they don't need any competition. They don't grow food because then those uppity black folx might go into competition with them for the high-value stuff. So they grow specialty crops. And it's assigned a fair market value.

A market value that goes up because you don't need to eat "specialty crops," not really. After all, the Irish subsisted off of potatoes and potatoes are food. And corn can be made into anything, man. It can be made into sugar - sugar that's way cheaper than cane sugar! It can be fed to cows - way cheaper than grass! It can be fed to chickens! Pigs are less likely to eat it, so pig farming largely goes away (it's come back with a vengeance because the Chinese have a preference for pork but as a foodstuff it's consumption by Americans has plummeted). But Americans eat corn, and things that eat corn, and there's so much excess corn and rice and soy when we're not shipping it all over the world to cajole our foreign policy needs through soft power that there are entire divisions of the USDA trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff.

And you know capitalism. Make more money. Finished products make more money than raw ingredients; you'll get so much more for a box of macaroni and cheese than you will for wheat and milk. Process the shit out of it and it'll keep forever. Process the shit out of it and it'll travel far. Process the shit out of it and you can turn it into whatever flavor you want it to be. Process the shit out of it and you can sell it to anyone, anywhere forever.

Somewhere around here we've got an article that argues the dominant species on earth isn't humans, it's corn. After all, we've basically given over our food production to it. A Wendy's meal, if I recall correctly, was ultimately about 80% corn (including the French fries). And against that we've got "specialty crops" that we have to refrigerate to get them across country and there are vast swaths of the US where "specialty crops" aren't even sold because it's so easy and cheap to get food. A box of Little Debbie snack cakes costs less than a head of lettuce. And a box of Little Debbie snack cakes will keep you alive if you're starving. And a box of Little Debbie snack cakes will sit on the shelf for nine months or more and nobody will be the wiser. The power goes out on that head of lettuce and it's garbage before morning.

And it's fuckin' lettuce.

Meanwhile we're all working harder for less, working longer for less, driving farther for less. The calories are easy and the nutrition is hard and that's before you recognize that we've arranged our entire food economy around food not "specialty crops." Reuters pointed out yesterday that one in three workers also has some form of job in the gig economy; even if we're working 40 hours a week (we're not, we're working 47) we're also filling our spare time with TaskRabbit, with Uber, with Mechanical Turk. And as humans, we're biologically programmed to pack on pounds when we're stressed because stress means starvation. I think it was Richard Wrangham who pointed out that there have only been about 125,000 generations since homo habilus split off from Australopithecus. Homo Sapiens is only 7500 generations. Go to Mile High Stadium, start "The Wave" and by the time it makes its way back round to you, the person next to you is a Neanderthal.

So here we are. Impossibly cheap calories, impossibly sedentary lifestyles, impossible stressors. Fight or flight doesn't care if it's a mastodon or an impending bankruptcy they'll both keep you up at night. At least if it's a mastodon you can run. We can't. So we get fat. And because we're Americans, and we've got a nice Protestant work ethic, and because we're rugged individualists, if you're fat it's a personal failing. Society hasn't let you down, the system hasn't failed you, you're a glutton and you should feel bad.

    Is there any solution?

Well, I'd start with

1) Take it the fuck easier on the poor and lower middle class.

2) Prioritize nutrition over calories. Know who used to be in charge of school nutrition? The goddamn Department of Defense. Then Nixon kicked 'em out and Reagan categorized ketchup as a fruit.

3) Make healthcare a nonprofit industry again. Know what's stupid cheap? Diet, exercise and sleep. Know what's crazy expensive? The time of medical professionals. Know where you can't make any money? Diet, exercise and sleep. Know where your profit centers are? Prescription drugs.

Weight Watchers costs around $700 a month - including food. They get an extra $13 a week to tell you "atta boy! You're doing good!" Insulin costs around $500 a month. No food. Insurance pays for insulin, usually. It rarely pays for Weight Watchers. Can you imagine what our society looked like if we had, you know, nutrition?

The fundamental basis of this article is "we know how to make people healthier, but we don't give a shit." I think it's more than that. It's more than tradition. It's that in order to solve the problem, we have to break capitalism.

And nobody wants to break capitalism.