A lot of my friends use ethical opposition to the fast food industry to cover up their underlying fatophobia, and it made me want to get a rant out… so here goes. Opposing big fast food businesses and combating thin privilege are not mutually exclusive.
So I guess my points are:
1. You can’t blame people for gaining weight from fast food when that’s all they can afford and all they’ve grown up with
2. You can’t blame people for gaining weight from fast food whenever because it’s their food choice and their body.
3. You can’t blame the fast food industry for making people fat because there’s nothing wrong with being fat
4. You can’t blame the fast food industry for making people fat because fast food consumption is one little factor among MANY OTHERS that lead to weight gain
5. You can blame the fast food industry for the actual bad stuff it does
Fact: If you’re poor and from the inner city, then you’re more likely to be in the proximity of fast/junk food exclusively, and you’re more likely to be fat. Mississippi is ranked first in obesity and last in median household income.
But there’s nothing inherently wrong (morally or health-wise) with being fat. In fact, fatophobia and classism often go hand in hand—just look at the archetypal “fat lazy welfare bum,” a perennial target of the GOP’s ire.
I repeat: there’s nothing wrong with being fat or gaining weight. There is something wrong when fatness is determined not only by choice and/or genetics, but by geography and financial necessity. If you really just want to eat fast food and trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup all the time, that should be your choice, but not your fate. (Important: such choices are NOT the primary nor sole cause of being fat! More in later paragraphs.) Every American deserves the right to make their own informed food choices, regardless of where they live or how much money they make. Access to fresh, non-processed meals is largely exclusive to the upper and upper-middle classes. Who’s ever seen a Whole Foods in the inner city?
And yes, I realize there are exceptions. My mom is one such person. Even while working full-time, she would spend anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour every night preparing home-cooked dinners with food she bought at the cheapest market two towns over. But even she made her sacrifices. She’d pack leftovers for my lunch, and if there wasn’t any left for her, she would have Cup Noodles with a cup of milk (ew I know) or skip lunch altogether. My mom skimped on her own meals to go big for mine. How much easier would it have been if she could afford to get a household cook or eat out at nice restaurants? It’s a lot easier to be healthy when you have the money.
Americans are surrounded by a culture that embraces junk food, moreso if they’re from low-income neighborhoods. When I was in elementary school, I was always jealous of my classmates who had Lunchables and Cheetos for lunch while I had a plastic container of rice and vegetables. Fast food corporations spend absurd amounts of money on commercials that persuade us that we need a bucket of fried chicken in our life right now. And even if you can look past the advertisements, some people can only afford food that requires minimal time and money, aka. fast food. Coercing people to consume certain foods is, to some extent, an infringement on bodily sovereignty.
We also have to remember that fatness is not an appropriate measure of unhealthiness. Because guess what? The kids I was jealous of in school, the ones with endless bags of Doritos and Fruit Gushers—they weren’t all fat. Actually, some of them were a lot skinnier than me, especially once I hit puberty. Yes, you are more likely to gain weight by eating junk food, but that’s irrelevant. Excessive junk food is bad for you because it lacks key nutrients and vitamins, not because it makes you fat. These are two separate qualities.
First of all, some people are just born fat and there’s nothing Jenny Craig & Co. can or should do about it. Nothing “made” them fat, other than nature. But besides pure genetic predisposition, lots of stuff can make you gain weight, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy it is. I gained a lot of weight when I started eating meat and fish after quitting vegetarianism. Even most vegetarians agree that meat and fish aren’t fundamentally unhealthy; they just find eating animals unethical and substitutable.
Some foods are associated with weight gain. Some foods are unhealthy. Junk food happens to be both, but you can’t conflate and link two distinct qualities as you please. It’s the same kind of mindset that justifies modern Islamophobia. Some people are Muslims. Some people are terrorists. Very very very very few are both.
Also, back to the vegetarianism comparison: who’s going around telling every American to be a vegetarian? Vegetarians are constantly criticized if they try to convince others to also stop eating animals, because they should keep their choices to themselves. Why do we treat certain food choices like individual decisions but not others?
Big fast food chains can suck for a lot of reasons. Maybe they mistreat their employees and prohibit unionization. Maybe they use deceptive advertising. Maybe they exhibit racism, sexism, and/or homophobia in the workplace. Maybe they prioritize profit margins over environmental consciousness. Maybe their menu items contain far too much sugar, oil, and strange chemical concoctions to be appropriate for regular consumption. Maybe they make such unhealthy foods despite knowing that over a million Americans can afford nothing better. Maybe they disproportionately exploit and hurt the working class, whether they’re employees or customers.
But they aren’t bad for making people fat. If that’s your problem with fast food, maybe you should try taking on genetics first.
(I did not think this would end up so long holy crap please abridge if necessary)