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Food and Identity Part 2!

2014 June 19

Much attention has been drawn to the increasing obesity rate in the United States. We currently have one of the highest obesity rates in the world, with 68% of adults and 32% of children qualifying as either overweight or obese. Realizing how large of a problem this is, society as a whole is beginning to stick together and enforce new and healthier ways of life. For example, the Body Mass Index (BMI) Text was established to give people an understanding of exactly how relatively healthy or unhealthy their weight is and can serve as a source of motivation to become more fit. Increasingly so over the past several years, the attention of the media, economy, biological, and cultural spectrums have all shifted towards establishing a healthier, skinnier, and more fit average American. Although happiness and attractiveness are the ultimate goals that society is attempting to create for everyone, scientifically it must be remembered that this is not possible. As Greenhalgh points out in her argument, many people’s genetics are composed of obesity traits that are inherited from relatives. Unfortunately, there is no cure for obesity and ‘fatness.’

Demonstration of obsession with weight and food consumption.

Demonstration of obsession with weight and food consumption.

The ‘war on obesity,’ as Greenhalgh calls it, has begun to take a dramatic shift in the public spectrum. Instead of focusing purely on scientific and medical facts concerning weight and obesity, many are beginning to take matters into their own hands. Many are self-identifying as fat, overweight, or obese individuals when in reality they fall under the normal category. Low self-esteem resulting from ridiculously unrealistic advertisements, superficial expectations of society, convenient unhealthy food, high prices of healthy food, and the societal focus of ‘becoming skinny’ are all responsible for causing misdiagnoses of obesity. Greenhalgh also depicts how obesity and heaviness are not regarded as genetic issues, but more as a disease that people must resist as a prerequisite to ‘creating’ the ‘perfect and ideal body’ through exercise and dieting. Unfortunately, dieting and exercise alone are ineffective to those who inherit the obesity genes from earlier generations, complicating America’s largest problem.



Frail model who sparked debates over eating disorders.

Another terrifying result from the war on obesity is the increasing rate of eating disorders. Having witnessed people suffering from eating disorders firsthand, I have a personal hatred and resentment towards society for pressuring people to starve or purge themselves. Since fatness has been depicted as an unwanted disease or condition, many have become fearful of becoming large and have an intense workout and dietary regimen. However, when individuals are insecure, unstable, mentally abused, etc., they begin to starve or purge themselves as a way to seek control over their lives, body, mind, and weight that had not previously existed. The media is playing an increasing role in contributing to eating disorders through the use of emaciated models in their advertisements who are barely clothed.

On a positive note, with the spread of negative impacts such as eating disorders and wrong self-diagnoses of obesity, the issue of something called ‘fat talk’ and fat shaming is being brought to light. Greenhalgh describes fat talk as, “a pervasive speech performance in which teen girls verbalize the inadequacies of their body shapes.” Essentially, individuals begin to talk poorly of themselves aloud so often that they begin to believe their thoughts are reality when a lot of the time it is a misconstruction of what they actually look like. Fat talk can result in high-intensity diets and workout routines that put a person at risk for lifelong health issues. Fat shaming is essentially calling someone out or talking about how large someone is: essentially this is mental abuse concerning an individual’s weight. As discussed in Carolyn’s discussion of Food and Identity, food is something that is very important and cherished by us all. So when something so personal and intimate is made fun of repeatedly, it makes a person feel vulnerable and weak. This then leads to them yearning for gaining control in their life, causing the health to spiral downwards from picking up unhealthy habits.  Such serious issues that have begun to be discussed and dealt with have spread a practice known as positive body image. Around the country, more men and women are increasing their self-esteem by going to various support groups and therapy sessions, as well as reading the increasing number of articles concerning positive body image and self-esteem and their undeniably positive effect on self-image. Increasing self-image then is able to decrease the number of incorrect self-diagnoses of obesity and fatness that occur every year.

Food and obesity is a topic close to my heart. I watched one of my best friends suffer from an eating disorder in high school because she thought she was fat when she actually wasn’t. Throughout this entire reading, from the depictions of confused and misinformed individuals to the ethnographic examples about four college students Greenhalgh worked it, it made me realize how large of a problem our society is faced with. Reading about people who wrongly interpret their weight and appearance as obesity because of a picture they see in a magazine is absurd and should not even happen. Unrealistic standards have been set, and I say it is about time that someone turn the tables and fight back against obesity. There are so many different factors playing into the war on obesity and they must all be stopped for the sake of future generations.

With this, I leave you all with several questions. What do you think is the single largest contributor to obesity? Why do you think obesity in America is one of the largest in the world? What do you think can be done to stop obesity? Do you believe that the war on obesity is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation or just something you read about in magazines and blogs that feed into the hype?

Thank you all for reading! I know this was a long post, but I felt pretty strongly about this topic. Happy Summer and happy almost Friday everyone! J


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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Maggie Roth permalink
    June 19, 2014

    Charlotte poses the questions: “What do you think is the largest contributor to obesity?” and “Why do you think obesity in America is one of the largest in the world?”

    Although the answer to these questions are not black and white, I think a lot of the blame can be placed on our culture a a whole… But please, let me explain.

    Since I just returned home from being abroad- I have an entirely new outlook on life- and how Americans live versus how Europeans live. I know so many of us in this class have traveled so I am interested to see if you have had a similar experience to me.

    Before even touching on the subject of food, I I think our fast paced life style is partially at fault for the obesity epidemic (and why America is the second most obese nation in the world behind Mexico). We were built on the principle of: “If you work hard, you will rise to the top” and I think this mentality, while correct in moderation, has been taken to the extreme. Americans in general are busy, work-obsessed people. Not only are adults affected by this, but I think teenagers are too- in high school it was the norm to be part of 5 clubs, and play for 3 different sports team, barely leaving anytime in your day to relax. And this lack of time consequently results in people eating fast food, ready-made-meals, or just forgetting to eat in general.

    Our fast food industry is the biggest in the world because I think it “fits” our lifestyle the best. Fast, tasty, and cheap. While there are fast food restaurants located in Europe (you can find a McDonalds ANYWHERE I swear) the fast food industry is much less influential and prominent than ours is. And I think this is because Europeans in general have a different life-style than us. Instead of food being something they need to quickly grab on the way to work, or a practice, they take the time to make it part of their day. In doing so, they are able to cook healthy, balanced meals; rather than eating a granola bar on the go.

    Besides their attitude towards food, I think their slower paced life style dramatically impacts their health in a positive manner. In America, a typically work week is 40 hours- with about 2 weeks annual vacation. In France, a typical work week is about 35 hours-with 8 weeks of annual vacation. This lifestyle allows them more time to practice healthy habits such as taking time to eat, exercising during the week, and having a “life” outside of work. While you might think, what does vacation have to do with obesity? It does- a balance life impacts your weight because it allows you to have balanced priorities.

    (In case you don’t believe the vacation thing, here’s the link:

    I also think America’s attitude towards food differs immensely than the rest of the world. My first night back in the states, I went to a Mexican restaurant with my sister and best friend and we ordered margaritas and tacos- when our food came out I was shocked at how huge the serving sizes were. There was no way I could eat or drink as much as I was given (and honestly no one should be able to). The serving sizes in Europe, particularly in England are normal… enough to be full but not enough that you feel like you have a food baby afterwards. Our culture embraces “bigger is better” and the “more the merrier” but only in regards to food and not bodies… Ironic since this attitude is at fault for making our bodies bigger!

    • Brooklyn Steele permalink
      June 19, 2014


      You bring up such an interesting point about how different our culture is from others. I have not been out of the country before, even though one day I would love to one day. It is very true that the typical American schedule is so hectic and always busy. Not many people go home every evening and cook a home-cooked healthy meal. I also think that family’s aren’t sitting down and eating together as much as they should either. Me and my family try to eat together, but usually one person or another is running around or busy with something.

      I think our culture has a huge impact on the obesity problem that America has. People are too busy running around and working and don’t take the time to eat healthy and eat a lot of fast food junk or quick things on the go.

      The point you bring up about how in America everything is “the bigger, the better”, besides your body type. That is supposed to stay extremely thin. It is really ironic how we are supposed to work 40 hours a week or more, be involved in activities, eat healthy, stay active, and also relax. There is no way possible I could fit all of those things in one day. I think our culture of food is kind of contradicting.

  2. Frank Saunders III permalink
    June 19, 2014

    The numbers regarding obesity are entirely too high in my opinion, and it makes me sick to my stomach to know that I live in a country with that kind of dynamic. Greenhalgh goes into detail about the fat epidemic and how it is viewed as a ‘disease.’ He also highlights the fact that long-term weight loss is virtually impossible and diets and exercise don’t really lead to weight loss either. The fat discourse is something that is now in the hands of physicians, and they are responsible for one’s weight. They are responsible for a cure that’s almost impossible to find. One’s genetic make-up plays a major factor in one’s ability to gain, lose, or maintain body weight and image. It seems we have put ourselves in a bit of a hole.

    Greenhalgh also brings to light ‘fat talk,’ which is “a pervasive speech performance in which teen girls verbalize the inadequacies of their body shapes.” The more these girls talk about themselves as fat, or verbalize the ‘problems’ with their bodies, the more it becomes a reality. They tend to go on aggressive diets and force a particular lifestyle to achieve the ideal body. So our country deals with those who are actually fat, and those who think they are. Both lead to social issues, and both are widely prevalent. We haven’t found a cure for the ‘disease’ our country struggles with, and often times the importance of one’s body image leads to major eating disorders.

    The largest contributor to obesity is ignorance and laziness. Parents are responsible for raising their kids and feeding them a well-balanced diet. Often times parents are poorly educated on nutrition and don’t enforce a proper diet in their children’s lives. So children will grow up eating junk and fast food, not enjoying fruits and vegetables and other appropriate foods, and by the time they realize what they have done to their body, they go to a doctor with the ‘disease’ of obesity.

  3. Robert Bamsey permalink
    June 19, 2014

    What do you think is the single largest contributor to obesity?

    I agree with Maggie that our fast-paced lifestyles in America, with an increasingly shorter attention span due to increasing technological speeds, has led Americans as a whole to demand things (such as food) to be at their consumption in an instant. I have seen people get upset for waiting in a McDonald’s drive-thru after 5 minutes, when in reality it should take longer for a healthy meal. We as a society in America want everything to be faster and food has fallen victim to that trend. Also, with increasing speeds in technology that leads to the ability to access and obtain information in an instant, our attention span for all other things have shortened, which means we want to eat poorly but be able to take a magical pill to burn fat while we do it. This instant gratification culture in America that we have fostered has come back to get revenge in the form of high number of obese Americans.

    • Alina Clark permalink
      June 20, 2014

      Robert, SUCH a great point on the instant gratification that consumes Americans. That was something I had not thought of but I completely agree.

      My parents observe Ramadan every year, not because they are religious, but because one of the central themes around Ramadan is not giving in to instant gratifications. My parents really enjoy the notion of learning to have more self control in a society where getting what you want when you want has been made to easy. They also observe this holiday because the fasting (not giving in to instant gratification) makes them lose weight [go figure].

      But yes I really must agree that technology combined with the innate impulsiveness of humans has made it too easy to consume what you want when you want.
      If anyone has seen the movie WALL-E, I think it’s a fairy accurate depiction of the direction we’re headed.

  4. Charlotte Harnad permalink
    June 19, 2014

    Frank, I agree largely with your opinion concerning lack of appropriate parental guidance concerning health and exercise. Many adults at this day in age just give their kids potato chips and some cookies in their children’s lunch because it is quick, cheap, and quite easy to pack in a lunch. However, this has unarguably contributed to the rising obesity rate in children that we see today. Many adults are not aware of how to make their children eat healthy, get enough exercise, or fall within an appropriate weight category because simply it has not been an issue before. With the increasing intensity of hours adults put in at work, the last thing they want to do when they get home is prepare a meal for the rest of their family. Feeling tired from work, many just throw together a quick dinner that is cheap, yet incredibly unhealthy for their family to eat to save time and energy.
    One thing I slightly disagree with is I believe the economy as well as parental laziness equally plays the largest role in the war on obesity. If you glance back at Barthes’s article, you learn about the incredibly low price of sugar. The food market has cut so many corners to produce cheap food quickly, using unhealthy ingredients to compensate for a low manufacturing price. Making food at such a low price causes companies to be able to sell their product for a lower price than their competitors are able to, giving them an edge in a society where the public looks for the lowest price. Many families cannot afford the healthier options, creating a never-ending cycle of buying cheap food, raising a family on cheap food, and then having their children grow up to purchase cheap food for families of their own. I do believe that parental ignorance and laziness as you put it is the largest component to obesity, but I think that the food market and cheap/unhealthy food distribution is just as large of an issue.

  5. Carolyn Girondo permalink
    June 19, 2014

    Nice post!

    I understand your passion for the subject. I’ve seen a lot of friends and family go through eating disorders. The pressure to have the perfect body/beauty makes so many beautiful people blind to their own perfections. It also makes us focus on the body as a representation for who we are but it is only one component of us, which makes me sad that people can’t see how awesome they truly are. Teaching yoga at UREC, I always tried to remind my class that they are waayyy more than just their body and the body really is just a container for their beautiful souls.

    America does have the strangest relationship with food. I agree that our bust lifestyle causes people to eat fast, processed, food. I also think America has a way of doing things in extremes, which is never the healthy way to do it. We have booming corporations of fast food chains but we also have a thousand fad diets to try. We are a culture addicted to instant gratification which only adds to the problem. I definitely agree with the other travelers that going somewhere else makes you see just how messed up our food industry is. The saddest part is the consumers are the ones that dictate the industry really. We want bigger, cheaper, more convenient, etc. and that is what they give to us. Businesses just want to make a profit so they will do what it takes to maximize profit. If people demanded higher quality, smaller portioned food for the same price then we would get it. It requires an entire cultural shift. Sometimes I feel like we need to start from scratch in order to rebuild this industry.

  6. Cassidy Clayton permalink
    June 20, 2014

    This is a great post Charlotte! While the “war on obesity” proves to be an insanely difficult battle to fight, I believe we are going about it in the wrong way. As Charlotte and Greenhalgh pointed out, the majority of obesity stems from genes. So no matter how much somebody diets and exercises, they may not be able to get stick thin because of their DNA make-up. This is completely fine, however the problem lies in the fact that most Americans do not know this, which leads to insane numbers of eating disorders, plastic surgery & liposuction, crash diets, supplements, etc. Every girl in America is chasing that one body type, but its so unreasonable to think that it is attainable for even half of us. Every body type is different, what is healthy for somebody isn’t for the next. As girls, we need to stop chasing a number on a scale but rather focus on being healthy. Being skinny, doesn’t mean being healthy. The same goes for guys as well. While eating disorders mostly focus on their effect on girls, the number of guys with eating disorders is high as well. The ideal body type for both men and women, the one we see endlessly on magazine covers and television ads isn’t even real. The media produces images that are literally false advertisements in making people believe that something is attainable. The body that is on the magazine cover doesn’t even look like that. Photo editing and air brushing has completely changed the perception of models recently and thus has affected how average people see themselves.

    It is saddening to realize that these unrealistic standards are leading people to think poorly of themselves. I am definitely one of those people, I have come home some days and thought negative thoughts about my body. It is unfair for me to think that though because my body is different than every body else’s and what looks healthy on me, isn’t the same for the next girl.

    I think the leading cause of obesity is the eating habits of average Americans. No matter how hard or frequently somebody works out, if their eating habits aren’t healthy, then they will not be healthy. I think this is our issue not because we are stubborn as a country, but rather because we simply do not know. I was grateful to have a nutritionist throughout college through my team and gained proper eating habits from that, but without the nutritionist, I would be so out of the loop. I think the more knowledgeable we are as a country about the importance of the food we put in our body, the lower the percentage of obesity will become.

  7. Alina Clark permalink
    June 20, 2014

    Great post Charlotte! So glad someone else with as much interest as I have on the subject was able to blog about it.

    You posed some great questions to which I would like to respond:
    In my opinion, Corporations are the single largest contributor to obesity. I say this because I stronly feel that from behind closed doors it is Corporations who decide WHAT we eat. Yes we can go back and forth and argue “you make your own decisions” but I do not agree in this situations. Lower middle class families with many mouths to feed do not have many options, let alone healthy ones as to what to eat. Corporations who set the prices of food do so KNOWING who will buy what. Why are hamburgers $1 and salads $5? Corporations. They don’t want you to eat salads because they don’t make as much money off of salads. And it’s a vicious cycle.

    As far as why obesity in the US is amoung the largest, I would argue that is has something to do with the fast food industry, and cheap food being so prevalent in the United States. When I was in Sweden (and this is the case in most of Europe), people cook at home. Restaurants and eating out is expensive (really, it is!) and it is cheaper for people to go to the grocery stores and buy ingredients to cook dinner themselves. The entire time I was in Europe (5 countries total) I only saw a total of FOUR fast food chains, and the food there wasn’t even that cheap. There are so many people who regularly eat cheap fast food simply because that is all they can afford to eat.

    How do we stop obesity? I have read in many places that fitness (and being healthy) is 30% working out and 70% nutrition. What we eat. We all no that the “you need to look like this” ads need to cease; but what I really think we need is more widely available quality food. Smaller, local farming. Educating people on growing food in their backyards.

    I think that only when people stop relying on corporations for their food will the obesity epidemic begin to decline.

    Thanks for asking such great questions!

  8. Paul Mabrey permalink*
    June 21, 2014

    Very thoughtful post connecting the themes from our readings and prior discussion. I like that you link it back to our everyday communicative practices, including our food relationships. Though I do think the questions you conclude with beg the question of Greenhalgh’s essay. Do you think prioritizing those kinds of questions about the rise of obesity and causes of obesity contribute to the very problems of fat talk and shaming? From the end of her essay, “the nationwide campaign to banish obesity and make people healthy seems to be producing anything but thinness, health and happiness.” The concern with with our own obesity and the obesity of others is so ingrained in our being that we take for granted how it contributes to our unhappiness and the unhappiness of others?

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