Capitalism and obesity

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Jan 12 06:58:28 MST 2003

NY Times Book Review, Jan. 12, 2003

'Fat Land': Supersizing America

Add another to the string of superlatives wreathing the world's greatest
power: Americans are now the fattest people on earth. (Actually a handful
of South Sea Islanders still outweigh us, but we're gaining.) Six out of
every 10 of us -- and fully a quarter of our children -- are now
overweight. Just since 1970 the proportion of American children who are
overweight has doubled, a rate of increase that suggests the fattening of
America has a specific history as well as a biology. ''Fat Land,'' a skinny
book about this big subject, is the journalist Greg Critser's highly
readable attempt to reconstruct that history.

At least from a business perspective, the fattening of America may well
have been a necessity. Food companies grow by selling us more of their
products. The challenge they face is that the American population is
growing much more slowly than the American food supply -- a prescription
for falling rates of profit. Agribusiness now produces 3,800 calories of
food a day for every American, 500 calories more than it produced 30 years
ago. (And by the government's lights, at least a thousand more calories
than most people need.) So what's a food company to do? The answer couldn't
be simpler or more imperative: get each of us to eat more. A lot more.

Critser doesn't put it quite this way, but his subject is the nutritional
contradictions of capitalism. There's only so much food one person can
consume (unlike shoes or CD's), or so you would think. But Big Food has
been nothing short of ingenious in devising ways to transform its
overproduction into our overconsumption -- and body fat. The best parts of
this book show how, in the space of two decades, Americans learned to eat,
on average, an additional 200 calories a day. In the words of James O.
Hill, a physiologist Critser interviewed, getting fat today is less an
aberration than ''a normal response to the American environment.''


chapter one:

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