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I Am the Elephant in the Room

17 September 2009

For days now I’ve been trying to string together a cogent response to Michael Pollan’s fat-baiting New York Times op-ed piece. You know, the one where he writes:

One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care.

I’ve started about eight letters in response, but have been too furious to finish them. That’s furious as in “wake up in the middle of the night and sit at the computer in an angry fog trying to come up with a statement that encapsulates my rage and disappointment.”

There was the calmly reasonable version in which I tried to rebut his mistaken statistics about the monetary cost of obesity and to point out how puzzling I found it that someone who’s otherwise so astute about unraveling the hidden connections between the food industry, the government, and “food science” can’t see that the obesity-industrial complex is part of that same unholy collaboration.

After a few more abortive drafts, I was leaning toward something short and sweet like:

To: pollan {@}, inquiries {@}
Subject: WTF??!!

Dear Fatphobic Blowhard:

Kiss my fat ass!

The Pickyeater

I even considered attaching a picture of my butt for good measure.

Finally after another 4:00 am session of tossing, turning, and fuming, I hit on the following message, which I just emailed to Pollan with the included picture:

To: pollan {@}, inquiries {@}
CC: oped {@}
Subject: food justice should not require fat-baiting

Dear Mr. Pollan,

Re: your September 10, 2009 New York Times op-ed piece

If you can’t foment your revolution without scapegoating and stigmatizing fat people, then I don’t want to be part of it.

Your former fan,

The Pickyeater

elephant 001a

I wish I looked more stern, but the best I could manage was smirky. I was a little too giddy, since several of my co-workers were waiting just out of frame to have their own pictures taken so they could join in my impromptu protest.

If you’d like to join in our mini-action, you can download a PDF version of my sign or make your own. Take your photo and email it off to Pollan to express your frustration with his ZOMG!!!OBESITY!!11! hysteria.

Fellow elephants are, of course, welcome to past copies of your own missives in the comments here. Or, if you post your email on your own blog / Facebook / Twitter / whatever, please leave a link in the comments here, so your co-conspirators can bask in the glory of rad  fattie anger.

Oh, and just in case it needs to be said, I’m thrilled for elephants of all sizes to join in.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Ellison permalink
    17 September 2009 11:21


    I love the smirk. It looks like you’re not amused by this man or his hate. Neither am I. You are brilliant to have come up with this sign project and I’m so excited to have joined in with you. Thanks for getting this out there. Up with the elephants!! Down with the haters!


  2. 17 September 2009 13:07

    I love your sign. I’m going to print it out and hang it over my desk.

  3. 17 September 2009 13:39

    What a perfect response. Thank you for sharing it and the sign!

  4. 17 September 2009 13:40

    I’m fat (5′ 5″, 175 lbs.) and passionate about ethical /local / organic food and sometimes I don’t know how to make both these things work!

    Have you seen Food, Inc.?

  5. 18 September 2009 01:26

    Hi, all.

    So glad you enjoyed the sign. It was incredibly satisfying to email it off to Mr. Pollan.

    Kelly, I haven’t seen Food, Inc. — mostly because I’ve had issues with Michael Pollan for a while, and I’ve been trying to confine myself to reading/listening to other localvore-type activists who don’t jump on the “obesity is evil” bandwagon.

    If you haven’t checked out Lisa Jervis’s book Cook-Food, I recommend it. She’s a great example of a localvore who I think gets it right on both food and fat.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. 18 September 2009 01:29

    Thank you for the book recommendation! I will check that out.

  7. 18 September 2009 14:46

    I love you and I want to do your taxes.

    Also, I started thinking of “The Baby Elephant Walk”.

    • 18 September 2009 18:32

      I’m honored, Flewelleyn. No one’s ever offered to do my taxes without money changing hands. 😉

  8. 19 September 2009 00:12

    AWESOME! I’m also going to look into Jervis’ book. Before this op-ed, I thought Pollan was an opportunist, but had some good points. Now, I’ve really lost all respect.

  9. 19 September 2009 11:17

    Great post!

    I get so frustrated when discussions of the dysfunctionality of the food supply come down to simple fat hatred. As if processed foods and HFCS and subsidies which distort the price of food and hormones/antibiotics routinely given to animals at factory farms because they need to be pushed out faster but are eating diets that arent’ natural for them because of subsidies making corn-based diets cheaper — not to mention the cuts in education funding that lead to greater reliance on advertising, vending machines and junk-food sales for fundraising as well as less time for physical activity, a culture which keeps kids indoors and treats parents as irresponsible if they let their kids walk to school (assuming there are sidewalks), and food programs (school lunch and low-income) that are meant as places for food producers to dump excess product rather than as means of delivering nutrition — are only bad things because they make some people gain weight.

    These are bad things in and of themselves, but by keeping the focus on weight, responsibility can be shifted to the individual rather than the system that keeps it all in place because somebody’s making money from the status quo. And the status quo can best be maintained if individuals don’t call attention to how shitty everything is by going and getting fat off their shitty food. Those fat people ruin EVERYTHING!

    And Pollan may have started out by looking at that system, but he’s showing signs of focusing on the individual for a solution.

  10. 19 September 2009 12:55

    Gee, I dunno. I just watched Food, Inc. and we are bringing it to our little town. It features in large part Schlosser, Pollan, and Joel from Polyface Farms. And these days I comb things for fat-hate because I don’t want any part of it.

    zuzu, you wrote, “As if processed foods and HFCS and subsidies which distort the price of food and hormones/antibiotics routinely given to animals at factory farms because they need to be pushed out faster but are eating diets that arent’ natural for them … [ snip ] … are only bad things because they make some people gain weight. ”

    The movie we’re showing focuses on ALL that stuff for the vast majority of the film. It focusses on systems and boy – is it hard to watch. As for fat-hatred, take a look at the 11 talking points of the film on the website: You can see only one point mentions obesity (along with diabetes) – and yes, they get it wrong IMO (lumping fatness as an evil in and of itself). But every single other concern there is explored very well in terms of systemic problems – not individuals.

    There is one ‘obese’ family featured in the film but the discussion is about their lack of resources and the food choices they get to make (in other words, they have a couple bucks and they can buy either a whole burger or a head of broccoli). The artificial low cost of “junk” food or what-have-you and how this has compromised choice. If anything this is NOT about their individuality, it’s about being in a difficult position. The family’s health is talked about but what I remember is diabetes – NOT weight – mentioned. I don’t like to see ethical food discussion end up talking down to the poor, or the fat. But I didn’t see that happening in the film. A family poor enough they are basically forced to eat at McDonalds – or choose a couple pounds of produce – do you think that is worth exploring how this has happened?

    Now, I am new to FA but I can tell you I really watch for the vilification of fatties and I just didn’t see it to the degree people are claiming here. However if anyone else sees the film I would love input because I want to be the best FA representative I can.

    By contrast, “Super-Size Me” had what I’d consider a lot of obesity / fat-baiting that I really didn’t like – although I found a lot of the rest of the material I saw pretty fascinating.

    And I’ll tell you another thing: this film Food, Inc. (& Pollan & co.) is so focussed on systemic problems – not individual “sins” of fatness or whatever – we are having trouble getting sponsors to show it. Which really hurts.

    Again – my mind is open to being further educated if I’m in the wrong.

    • 20 September 2009 09:37

      Hi, Kelly.

      Thanks for the assuaging some of my fears about Food, Inc. I’m glad to hear Pollan didn’t resort to the kind of fat-baiting he did in the NY Times.

      I’ve been afraid to see it mostly because of things Pollan’s said in other venues. I have a loosely-enforced rule that I try not to pay money to see movies that seem like they’ll piss me off. Based, on your summary, though, I think may have to give Food, Inc. a chance.


  11. 20 September 2009 13:17

    If you do see it I’d love to know what you think!

  12. 29 September 2009 09:42

    I love my Elephant in the Room! Good for you, Sister O Mine.


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