Oh blahhhhh. Hating on Mark Bittman is such a regular hobby in my life that it might as well be part of my byline. But he makes it so damn easy. So, here we go again.
Bittman wrote a piece this week called 'How to Feed the World.' I'm already snoring. But since hate-reading is another of my favorite activities (let's consider hate-reading to be the umbrella hobby under which 'reading Mark Bittman' is situated), I read it. The piece was normal huff and puff about Big Ag and monocropping until this line (emphasis mine):
While a billion people are hungry, about three billion people are not eating well, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, if you count obese and overweight people alongside those with micronutrient deficiencies.
Can we just talk about this for a second? "...if you count obese and overweight people alongside those with micronutrient deficiencies." Bittman is equating the issues of hunger and obesity, as does again at the end of his piece (emphasis mine):
...if the standard American diet represents the low point of eating, a question is whether the developing world, as it hurtles toward that nutritional nadir — the polar opposite of hunger, but almost as deadly — can see its destructive nature and pull out of the dive before its diet crashes. Because “solving” hunger by driving people into cities to take low-paying jobs so they can buy burgers and fries is hardly a desirable outcome.
Here's the thing. It has definitely been demonstrated that both obesity and malnutrition can be deadly. But the assumptions Bittman makes in this piece about the diets of overweight and obese Americans are overtly offensive and backed with no data beyond vague jabs at the "Standard American Diet" (which I guess is mostly burgers and fries). Not to mention the fact that equating overweight and malnutrition masks an unimaginably enormous swath of political, structural, and environmental issues that perpetuate a starving underclass across the world. He does dig into these issues, but referring to living situations of the "peasants," "poor," and "working class" as one and the same is unsatisfying and uncritical - much like the majority of NYT reporting! (Zing!)
Of course Bittman wouldn't mention that there's ample research indicating that overweight folks can maintain perfectly healthy diets and lifestyles - in fact, I know several such people myself, and since my BMI is classified in the overweight category, I guess I AM one of those people. And those people can still live long lives (maybe even longer than you skinny folk!). Or that the way we measure obesity and overweight in this country is inherently flawed, negating much of the research that has been done on the health outcomes of overweight/obesity. OR that the more we perpetuate fat-shaming in our conception of health (thanks, doctors who hate fatties!), the more likely we are to have a society where children are bullied for being overweight, where 1 in 100 people suffer from body dysmorphia, and where the third most common chronic illness among adolescents is anorexia.
It's easy to brush aside these issues as unrelated to Bittman's championing of 'feeding the world.' Actually, that's what much of the food movement has done for a long time. But riding the wave of obesity-shaming just because it's media-friendly - and normalizing assumptive rhetoric around fat bodies - is lazy and regressive. Solutions to world hunger and poverty are politically and agriculturally complex, and in fact have little to do with the 'Standard American Diet.' Dumping blame and shame on fat folks is a tired narrative that represents the ultimate in stagnant, lazy journalism. Did I mention it's lazy?
Also, I can't sign off without mentioning this line (emphasis mine):
I have dozens of friends and colleagues who say things like, “I hate industrial ag, but how will we feed the poor?”
I AM LOL-ING. Tell me more about your friends, Mark! They sound really great, not at all condescending. I bet your last dinner party conversation was really deep, what with everyone's white furrowed brow mulling over how they could solve the problems of the peasants.
Le sigh. Do better, Mark. Must I keep reminding you?
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