Stand up for fatties!

Was it not Martin Luther King who said we should judge a man “not by the colour of his skin, but by the content of his character“? When faced with a report saying “Obese blamed for the world’s ills“, I say it’s time we invoked the great man’s rhetoric. Judge me not by the amplitude of my girth, but by the content of my character!

When I heard of the report, my first reaction was to try and seek out the original. Failing that, I thought I’d leave it: the news reports probably misrepresent it anyway. But then today out cycling up Dartmoor, I met a chap even more rotund than myself on a bike, and looking plenty fit enough for Dartmoor’s hills, and thought maybe this is at least blogworthy. This kind of report – judging people for what they are – is perilously close to the kind of prejudice Dr King’s people suffered.

I’m a fatty, so I eat 18% more calories than average?

Probably guilty as charged, though I eat a small fraction of what I did in my youth, before the middle-age spread set in. But against that, the fact I don’t eat meat must surely in itself put my dietary carbon footprint well below the developed-world average.

But more than that: I’m sure my good layer of natural organic insulation is one reason I don’t need to heat my environment in the English winter. Not the only reason: the fact that I’m fit and healthy helps, as does the legacy of my youth when the cost of heating was out of the question, meaning I got used to nature’s temperatures. But anyway, I have no doubt that my layer of fat more than pays for itself in carbon emissions saved.

And I drive an excessive amount?

Definitely not guilty: the last time I drove was a little over three years ago, when I hired a van for a day to move house. I use a combination of bicycle and public transport for all my travel. More importantly, I make efforts to avoid unnecessary travel, particularly that western-country ritual of commuting, which I have eliminated altogether from my life. To cap it all, my life’s work is dedicated to developing the infrastructure for many more people – in principle everyone in the knowledge economy – to be able to avoid much of their travel.

So I guess I’m guilty of being portly, just as Dr King was guilty of being black. I don’t see that either of us has anything to be ashamed of!

Posted on May 18, 2008, in environment, health, rants. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. If this study actually says what the Beeb reports it as saying, then it is astonishing, prejudiced rubbish. World population growth, the misguided rush to biofuels and the high oil price are the principal reasons for rising world food prices (and as an economic geographer I know my facts here). Then there are issues like the airfreighting and/or energy intensive production of food out of season, the sheer waste of unused food that goes on in the affluent West and so on that most certainly do contribute to the carbon footprint as well. And all this has little if anything to do with individuals’ weights.

    It seems that large people are now seen as fair game for the same sort of offensive scapegoating that used to be aimed routinely at gays, women, disabled people etc – and all this kind of prejudice is simply wrong.

  2. I can’t agree with you here. Unless you are a real hardcore genetic determinist, you have to acknowledge that a person’s obesity is partly (I believe *virtually all*) under their own control. Thus you aren’t judging them for *what they are* so much as *the choices they make*. It’s like judging somebody for being a smoker or meat-eater. And that’s perfectly acceptable and not at all akin to racism.

    Yes, I know some people find it more difficult than others to maintain a “normal” weight. Yes, I know that what constitutes a healthy weight varies from person to person. But *in general*, when you see somebody who is huge, it’s their own fault. Biology means we should afford them *some* leeway, but it’s not the absolute excuse so many people would like it to be.

    But I agree with John, there’s far more influential things affecting the environment and a person’s weight is but a drop in the ocean.

  3. I’m a hardcore genetic determinist 😉

    Obesity is a complex field, some folks are genetically obese (but presumably they don’t account for a significant proportion of the newly obese).

    But ever since I saw how much one of my acquaintances gets from drinking alcohol, I realized exactly how easy it would be for him to become an alcoholic. Some folks really do have a sweet tooth, and so making the right choices may be harder due to genetic differences. Some people who make bad choices are also born stupid, that isn’t their fault either.

    Niq needs to add long haul air travel to his carbon footprint calculator.

  4. Jim – you missed the point completely. I’m criticising an article (and attitude) about fatties that portrays a couch-potato burger-junkie image.

    Simon – see elsewhere on this blog for example and all other posts tagged apachecon. Or, going beyond the purely personal, Alice in Business

  5. With respect, I didn’t miss your point at all. I understand the problems you have with the article. But I take exception to the idea that a person’s weight is out of their hands, something as uncontrollable and meaningless to their character as their skin colour. Whether you meant to or not, that’s one of the things you expressed in this article.

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