Thank Maude for the British—because, without Kim and Aggie teaching us how to clean our homes, and Jo Frost teaching us how to raise our kids, and Victoria Stilwell teaching us how to control our dogs, and Trinny and Susannah teaching us how to dress ourselves, and Simon Cowell teaching us how to sing, and Nigel Lithgoe teaching us how to dance, Americans would be naked, cultureless beasts who lived in garbage heaps with feral children and wild dogs.
This is all true.
The latest Brit in the British How-To Invasion is “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver, whose new show
I Hate Fat People Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution features Oliver traveling to Huntington, West Virginia—the Obesitiest Place in the Multiverse!—where he was determined to use his “magic” to help Huntington’s Fatties get less fat. I mean, healthier!
The reality series based on this generous thin martyr giving up his time to help stupid fat people premieres tomorrow night. But! By the magic of the internetz, you can watch it here right now!
[Editor’s note: this is the entire episode, but the first 8 minutes will give you the idea; also, I’m sorry non-U.S. readers, I know you can’t see Hulu.]
If you can’t view the video, here’s a quick summary: Headless fatties? Check. Enormous food stock footage? Check. OHNOES Obesity CrisisTM? Check. Being fat is ugly? Check. Fat people are lazy? Check. Fat people are stupid? Check. Fat people are sick? Check. DEATHFAT? Check. Mother-blaming for fat kids? Check. Fat as a moral failure? Check. Religious shaming of fat? Check. Fat people don’t have “the tools” to not be fat? Check. Fat people need a skinny savior? Checkity-check-check!
I want to note that there is, buried somewhere beneath the 10 metric fucktons of fat-shaming (and not an incidental dose of misogyny, for good measure), information about healthful eating (e.g. not eating any fresh veg, ever, isn’t good for anyone), but this is information that could be delivered without a scene in which a mother of four whose husband is gone three weeks a month is told that she’s killing her children while she’s weeping at her kitchen table.
The premiere episode has absolutely zero structural critique, not even a passing comment about the reason that millions of mothers feed their kids processed foods is because it’s cheap and fast, which is a pretty good solution for people who are short on money and time.
Oliver places the responsibility for unhealthful eating exclusively at the feet of the individual, seemingly without concern for the cultural dynamics that inform individual choices. The extent of the explanation provided for why someone might choose to stock their freezer with frozen pizzas is that they’re lazy and/or don’t know any better.
And then he wonders why he isn’t greeted by the citizens of Huntington with open arms.
At the end of the episode, a newspaper article comes out in which Oliver’s evident contempt for the community has been reported. Oliver claims his words were taken out of context; the people with whom he’s been working to revamp elementary school meals don’t believe him—and understandably so, given that he’s been a patronizing ass to them.
In the final scene, Oliver speaks directly to the camera, and he is crying, wiping tears from his eyes as he throws himself a little pity party:
It’s quite hard to cut through negativity, always. And defensiveness. You know, I’m giving up massive time that is really compromising my family—because I care! You know, um, the tough thing for me [exhales deeply] is they don’t understand me, ‘cuz they don’t know why I’m here. [sniffs] They don’t even know what I’ve done, the things I’ve done in the last ten years! And I’m just doing it ‘cuz it feels right [sniffs], and when I do things that feels right, magic happens! [sniffs; shakes his head disbelievingly] I’ve done some amazing things, you know? And that’s when I follow my heart. And when I never follow my heart, I always get it wrong.
Look, I’m gonna be really honest: You do live in an amazing country. You put people on the moon! You live in an amazing country. And so do I, you know? And, right now in time, is a moment where we’re all confused about how brilliant we are and how technically advanced we are, and that is fighting with what once made our countries great, which is family, community, being together, and something honestly as simple as putting a few ingredients together and sitting your family or your friends or your girlfriend or your mother-in-law around that table and breaking bread. And if you think that’s not important, then shame on you!
In an interview to promote the show, Oliver says, “You can’t really blame the parents when the whole culture and the whole horizon of food is all the same.” Which is an interesting comment from someone who chose a scene where he’s telling a mother she’s killing her kids for the premiere episode of his show.
That underlines a key problem with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: He doesn’t want to be seen as the guy who blames parents for killing their kids and shaming fat people for being fat—but there he is in his show, blaming parents for killing their kids and shaming fat people for being fat. Oops.
And, on top of it, he ends the premiere episode by crying because those goddamn fat ingrates don’t appreciate him.
Reportedly, Huntington eventually warmed up to Oliver, but I don’t think I’ll be sticking around to watch that happy ending unfold.
And, for the record, Mr. Oliver, the “whole horizon of food” is actually not all the same in the US: In some places, things are much, much worse.
Melissa McEwan is the founder and manager of the award-winning political and cultural group blog Shakesville, a founding member of the Big Brass Blog, and a contributor to The Guardian’s Comment is Free and AlterNet. Melissa graduated from Loyola University Chicago with degrees in Sociology and Cultural Anthropology and an emphasis on the political marginalization of gender-based groups.
If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.
Meg — April 2, 2010
I watched the show and frankly, I was very impressed with Oliver and think he did a great job of focusing on judging choices and not people. He didn't go around saying, "Look at all these ugly fat people!" No, he's approaching this as someone who does care about these people, and especially the kids. Some people want to pretend that you can be obese and healthy, and maybe there are a few people who do pretty well, but the problems that come with eating unhealthy food, or even too much of healthy food, are real. I know this not only from the vast quantity of medical research that is out there but also from personal experience seeing the problems my mom has faced and trying to avoid them while still eating on a budget.
I came from a small town with many of the same issues, so yes, I do know why people eat what they do. That's why I believe it is important to focus on choices, where there are choices, and not on judging people. Yes, there are some who don't have a choice. And yes, the costs of food WERE discussed in dealing with the school system. However, a lot of people can make better choices and I think it does a greater disservice to these people to just assume that they're all just so broke that they have no choice whatsoever. I believe that's a self-serving assumption because with that people can throw up their hands and say, "Well, there's no point to even trying to help! Poor people should be happy to have any food!" And do I need to point out the classism and sizism behind assuming that people who are obese are poor? Did the show once share the family's income?
I've met people who are in serious need of nutrition information and who could eat a lot better AND cheaper with some help, like the help Oliver is trying to give. It's not that the people are stupid, just ignorant when it comes to nutrition and cooking. Where are they supposed to get nutrition information from? Many people look at food labels and have no clue what they're looking for. As the school cooks showed, some people think it's completely alright for ingredients lists to be a mile long and unpronounceable because that's what they're used to. My mom still thinks that Pop Tarts are a healthy breakfast. Same with sugary cereals. And why not? The packaging tends to make lots of health claims about being no or low-fat, or being whole grain. So, it's no surprised that some people get duped when they haven't been taught to be skeptical.
And "fucktons"? Really?! I know this is a guest post but I expect better from this blog.
Meg — April 2, 2010
P.S. I don't see how Jamie Oliver qualifies as "skinny". I'm not a doctor, but he looks like a very healthy weight to me -- probably more than my husband who is also a very healthy weight.
And, again, please clue me in to where he called obese people "ugly". If you see obese people and think they are ugly, that's not the same as them calling obese people ugly.
vlucca — April 2, 2010
Excuse me, but he *is* attacking the socio-economics of obesity by trying to change the school lunch program at the school. In fact, the second episode goes to great lengths to show how hesitant the administration is to change because of the bottom line and issues of expediency. Sure, there's plenty of hemming and hawing and drama (the tears were just ridiculous, as is Oliver's "feud" with the local radio jockey), but Oliver managed to make significant changes to school lunch programs nationwide in Britain. I would also consider telling a mother that frying every meal her children eat is completely irresponsible and shortening their lives attacking the source. Fat acceptance have every right to attack negative images of fat people for obvious reasons, but pretending that obesity--not just being a little overweight--carries serious health implications is what's truly offensive.
vlucca — April 2, 2010
I would also like to point out that the majority of children shown on the program are average weight to thin, and their atrocious eating dismays Mr. Oliver just as much if not more than the family that buries their fryer.
Zach — April 2, 2010
So how are we supposed to talk about the atrocious nutrition in a county where parents are expected to live longer than their children will? How are we supposed to talk about the fact that these kids don't even know the difference between a potato and a tomato? How can we talk about the fact that one kid is at huge risk for diabetes because he doesn't eat well, and he won't eat well until his family eats well, and THEY won't eat well until the entire town starts eating well? How can we talk about how incredibly destructive to the environment fast food is?
Because it sounds like we should stop and very carefully explain that it's okay to eat McDonald's every night - it's so easy, after all! - and never try to shake people out of their complacency by challenging the school system, the FDA, and people's personal habits. We shouldn't say that eating healthy is actually quite cheap and easy but you have to put some effort into it. We shouldn't mention that obesity greatly increases risk of disease. We shouldn't mention that fast food is incredibly unsustainable, and will destroy our earth faster than electric cars and carbon caps will save it. No, no, we should let people accept the consequences of their own decisions (despite most of them not having any idea of what those consequences are!) and let them continue to refuse to take their child for a yearly checkup at the doctor. Let them skip vaccinations too while we're at it.
I'm sympathetic to the fat-movement. Honestly. I'm not a concern troll or anything - it's easy to see how fat people are demonized in the news, in sitcoms, by people who don't understand medicine but pretend to. But I watched the same show you did - and Jamie Oliver was extremely careful not to demonize anyone except for that single conversation with the mother - and he quickly moved on to more productive tasks from there. I didn't see ANY "fat is ugly" or "fat people are stupid". The structural critiques are absolutely emerging in later episodes, even if they aren't explicitly called out (and were absolutely present - see the school nutritionist stonewalling Jamie, or the principal insisting that chicken and rice be served with more bread). But THIS critique read as all snark and fury, with no persuasion or evidence. I could just as easily write this rant about the seat-belt movement, accusing people of demonizing those who don't buckle up, or those who talk on their cellphone when driving.
I don't really want to have this argument, to be honest. But this critique seemed incredibly unfair and I'm not really sure how else to address it. I don't want to impugn anyone's right to be fat without getting harassed for it, but at the same time attacking someone for daring to start a conversation about the nutritional, educational and medicinal problems we have in this country seems to be a bit unproductive. If elementary school lunches get better, than maybe that will float up the chain to college cafeteria lunches getting better - and that will make a lot of people my age extremely happy.
Terrie — April 2, 2010
"The latest Brit in the British How-To Invasion is “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver"
Hardly. Oliver's been around for years. I ran across one of his cook books in my local library about five years ago, and he wasn't brand new then. When you make a mistake about something so basic, it undermines your entire piece, no matter how good the rest of it. I'm seriously disappointed by the lack of basic research here.
Laughingrat — April 2, 2010
Heh. I used the same terminology ("our new food Jesus!") a while back when it was revealed that he was theatrically "crying" over poor rural Americans' food choices.
The kind of backlash I got at the time (and which it looks like you're getting now, judging from the comments already posted here) indicates that fat-hatred is so endemic, and so based on assumptions and privilege, that any attempt to debunk it will result in verbal violence. Thanks for making the effort, at least.
Erika — April 2, 2010
While I do believe that people should probably be eating better, what bothered me about the show was the complete lack of focus on WHY people eat that way. In a rural, lower-income area, people are likely not going to be able to afford (or even purchase) fresh produce, and many might not have the time to cook for themselves and their kids. Sure, you can teach people good eating habits, but it will not last unless they can actually afford to eat that way.
Corey — April 2, 2010
I couldn't disagree more with your take on the show. Poor nutrition in schools and society has wide-ranging implications for our country -- and the problem goes far beyond Huntington, WV. The show is hardly focused only on shaming obese, poor, small-town folk -- it's about trying to improve people's lives. And you're not helping.
Alice — April 2, 2010
Melissa: awesome. Thanks. People really hate it when you challenge the mantra "All fat people are unhealthy!" The Health At Every Size movement for some reason scares people, and I'm not sure why. And there is a serious lack of discussion about socioeconomic factors that lead to unhealthy living, be it food choices or otherwise (the school lunch thing just BARELY begins to touch on it).
But in the end, you know what my big problem is? Jamie Oliver is cruel. He is also arrogant, narcissistic, and clueless, but it is his cruelty I find unforgivable.
Erika — April 2, 2010
The trailer does Oliver a disservice. I watched the show and I was impressed that he didn't talk about fat content, or calories, or I think ever even use the word "obese." He focused strictly on his primary mission: to convert people from processed foods to unprocessed foods.
The mother he told "You're killing your kids" was deep frying all of their meals. For reals. She had a FryDaddy set up on the kitchen counter, and she said it was her most-used kitchen item.
When Oliver said "you're killing your kids," he didn't mean "your kids are too obese." He meant "feeding your kids deep-fried food for every meal will eventually kill them."
As someone who's morbidly obese, I totally know where you're coming from. And the trailer deserves every one of your critiques. But I think if you give the episode itself a fair viewing, you might be surprised.
MorgansMom — April 2, 2010
Shame on you. As sociologists, I would hope that you would recognize the way that our food system has been set up to make us fat (particularly if we are low income) and the way the bureaucracy of the food system works in a way that benefits the 'fat cats' at the top (politicians, lobbyists, corporations who thrive on the massive popularity of over-produced, cheap "food" (in quotes because it is only about 50% "food" and 50% "filler").
Given that, I think you are completely missing the point of the show, and that is not to 'shame' people for being overweight. I don't recall him pointing the finger at the individual. Ever. Instead, he is working on the individual level to help incite change (isn't that what all grassroots movements are?) as well as the institutional level. How is giving our society a wake up call to perhaps re-think the way we've been doing things a bad thing? It's not like "Biggest Loser" where overweight people are humiliated by being placed on a giant scale in their undies. This show is aimed at EVERYONE. You can be thin and still be extremely unhealthy. This is about changing what kids eat so they can be healthy. Not skinny. Granted, it is a television show, and in order to get anyone to watch it, there does need to be a dose of drama (the crying bit) and editing to make it 'must see TV' instead of a documentary. Maybe that's what you're really offended by and therefore are missing the bigger point of what the show (overall) is trying to do.
To me, the show points out the MASSIVE flaws in the system--the simple fact that one criteria for the school to change over to a fresh-cooked meal vs pre-packaged was that the kids had to LIKE it??? Not "is it healthier", "is it better for them" but "they have to like it"? WHAT?!? Didn't your parent(s) ever make you eat things you didn't "like" because they were good for you?
I don't think the motivation or the message is 'fat hatred'. It should be taken as a wake up call that what we as a nation (fat, skinny and in-between) are doing is not working and needs to change. If we keep purchasing over-processed products, they will keep producing them. And diabetes, heart disease, etc rates will continue to climb.
Nena — April 2, 2010
Sorry, but there's a difference between "overweight" and "morbidly obese". One is an issue of individual variation, the other is clearly abnormal. I don't see any reason why the "fatty pride" movement needs to embrace the folks with a BMI > 30. This is behaviour that, like smoking, needs to have at least some degree of social stigma. Yes both are associated with lower socio-economic status but I wouldn't say that either are absolutes. Not every poor child will be obese and eat McDonalds every day just like not every person in a poor neighbourhood will smoke.
I don't think ignoring the reality that people who are obese do have a significantly higher risk of a number of health problems which can and probably will kill them early helps anyone (let's see: fatty liver --> NASH --> cirrhosis; type 2 diabetes --> retinopathy, blindness, gangrene/amputation; atherosclerosis --> heart attack/stroke; increased stress on joints --> early osteoarthritis; probably a few more too).
I agree that Jamie Oliver was really a bit out there telling the mom that she's "killing her children" but I think it looked like a significant part of their problem was more of the specific ingrained culture of eating rather than inability to obtain fresh food. He also did tackle this in a way when he did the test in the school with the junk and the healthier option and saw that the kids chose the junk. It was more of an issue of education and a culture of food than about fat vs. skinny or rich vs. poor.
You do have a point in saying that the socioeconomic status does play a role in what people choose to feed their children, but I don't think that's an absolute, and I think that's also something that could probably be modified at least partly through education. If people saw that as a priority, in many cases it would be possible to modify their spending to make that easier. Also there are many initiatives I've seen that put into place things like local gardens in low-income neighbourhoods so people can grow their own produce in the community. But in order for any of these things to be viable options, you need people to want to change their dietary habits. If everyone's a-ok with a BMI of 35 and eating frozen pizzas every day, then that ain't gonna happen.
Tanglethis — April 2, 2010
Come on, pro-Jamie commenters. You don't see ANYTHING wrong with the framing of this supposedly sacred mission as one man sacrificing himself to save the sinful masses? And that was just the first minute.
Even if you're critical of the post, there is still plenty to criticize about this so-called "Food Revolution."
b — April 2, 2010
The ~*~edgy~*~ snarkiness and deep bitterness that filled the first half of the post nearly made me stop reading before I got to the part with actual content. Maybe guest bloggers should read the blog before writing their post so that they know what the usual tone is. There are places I go for snark; this isn't usually one of them.
I agree with a lot of the other comments here - trying to get people to be accepting of different body types is one thing; pretending like there is absolutely no link between obesity and health problems is something else entirely. Note that Marshall is not just the "Obesitiest" (really?) city in the nation - they claim that it also has the highest rates of heart disease and diabetes. Perhaps these are completely and totally unrelated to people's diets, but you'd need to show me the research on that one.
I didn't watch the whole show, but I've seen Oliver's shows before. And from those, I'm sure that your critique of his framing himself as a savior is probably valid. But I'm not so convinced that he ignores the societal problems that lead to individual problems - in fact, one of the things he struggled with in his British show was figuring out how to feed an entire school healthier foods on the same shoestring budget they'd used for chicken nuggets, and I'm sure he'll face the same struggles here.
Also, I remember my high school offering pizza for breakfast, and even then I thought it was absurd - but I'd get it now and then because hey, it was tasty.
Lyndsay — April 2, 2010
1. I can understand that radio host. Who wants someone to come from somewhere else and tell you you're doing things wrong?
2. That pizza kids are eating for breakfast does look disgusting. I disagree with him that it's not what's on the pizza, it's the pizza. If they were having pizza loaded with vegetables I'd see it differently. Potato pearls?
3. I want to know who allowed him into the cafeteria kitchen. He says "the town". Doesn't a principal have to approve that? If so, someone really should've talked more with the cafeteria women about what he was there to do. Maybe there's a school that would've been more receptive to him?
I saw part of episode 1 on youtube and I wonder if I watched the same thing. It's all about the school. I'm interested to see if he can make any lasting change.
Erin — April 2, 2010
I agree with the sentiment of this post but it was really abhorrently written and taken to a level it didn't need to go to. "Fuckton"? The fat acceptance movement isn't going to go anywhere when it's talked about like this.
Jeremiah — April 2, 2010
KFC's got a new offering:
Crys T — April 2, 2010
OK, for starters, I am a fat-positive fat person. Also, I'm outside of the US, so I can't see the video, so I can't comment directly on it, only on Oliver in general. I've read all the comments posted so far, and, if this programme is at all like the ones Oliver has done in the UK, I believe that most of the people here have some points right--even those people who are disagreeing with each other.
Yes, Oliver in general does NOT attack fat people specifically, but bad, low-quality food. Whether this food is being eaten by people who are fat, "normal weight," thin or skinny. I have no problem with that. Low-quality food IS killing people. And it's making our kids sick. In his UK programme on school dinners, he spoke with a doctor who regularly saw children whose diets were so poor and so low in fibre that they virtually ceased having bowel movements, their faeces accumulating in their guts until they had to expel it by vomiting. I don't care how laissez-faire you want to be about food choices, that is clearly unacceptable. If an adult wants to live that way, fine, but children need to be taken care of properly. And this was NOT framed as a problem for fat kids, but as a *generalised* problem in Britain.
He also took fresh food into classrooms, where many children, fat and thin, were shown as unable to name basic fruits and vegetables. There was one boy--and remember, this is the UK and he was from a white background--who had never even tasted a strawberry. Again, if you're an adult, go ahead, eat in the way that you want, but kids deserve the chance to learn about food.
Importantly, in the UK programme, he didn't go to individual families and criticise them: he went first to the schools, local councils and eventually the government minister in charge of education to get change in the school dinners. In other words, he recognised that these problems were systemic and needed to be fixed from the top down, not the bottom up like most other "healthy lifestyle" gurus insist. Whether he took this tack in his US programme, I obviously don't know. But even if he did occasionally fall into victim-blaming behaviour, that doesn't invalidate every single thing he says.
However, reading the partial transcript and some of the comments here, it does seem as if he's playing the martyr. I don't think anyone in Huntington needs to give a damn about what he gave up in order to pursue his high-paying television project: they didn't ask him to come, after all. If he wanted to do this project and it wasn't working out as he'd hoped, that's his problem. He is a celebrity (of sorts), and he has a celebrity ego, and at times he can be ridiculous. That was one of those times.
I also can easily believe that the programme was promoted using a lot the "OMG, Teh Deathfatz!!!!111!!1!" rhetoric. It's pretty much inevitable with anything health-related these days, isn't it? And even if that didn't come directly from Oliver, I doubt that he's come out criticising it. Which he should: after all, if he's so concerned about health for all, he ought to make sure that his programmes aren't used for simple fat-bashing.
As I said above, I do support fat-positivity. But that doesn't mean I'm going to come out against attempts to genuinely teach people about higher-quality food. Maybe that's because I live in the UK, where the general diet, for people of all sizes, is horrifying. And people don't know about healthy food. All you have to do is listen to the discourse here to realise the depth of the ignorance. And this ignorance DOES kill people: in Wales, where I live, lifetimes of eating low-quality food has given the Welsh one of the highest levels of stomach cancer in the world. So if you ask me if I believe that the UK needs to learn about healthier food, I'll say yes. And that has nothing do with fatness, that has to do with not dying in screaming agony.
I realised long, long ago that these problems were related to economics, politics and cultural pressures, not personal lifestyle choices, so most attempts to "get people eating healthier" just infuriate me. But, when I do see someone who is at least trying to make top-down changes (Oliver got the government to pay more per meal per pupil for school lunches, as well as getting more legumes, grains and vegetables on the menus), I'm certainly not going come out against them--even if I will criticse some of their tactics.
s.f. — April 2, 2010
I am a fat woman who has watched all of the episodes of this show that have aired so far, and I disagree strongly that this is a series about fat-shaming, as I feel the focus is on healthful eating and general well-being. If the show gets somewhat sensationalist at times, the medium of delivery must be considered as a factor.
There ARE a number of moments of definite cultural misunderstanding that pop out strongly, such as Oliver pointedly saying, "I don't know much about health care in this country, but..." and continuing on to scold parents for not attending regular check-ups, seemingly without consideration of the fundamental differences in cost and availability of health-care in the U.S. as opposed to the U.K.. But I do not feel his comments are meant to be malicious or judgmental, but rather they just show an understandable misinterpretation or ignorance in the face of the differences he sees. It is my hope that as the show progresses, we will be able to see him achieve more understanding as he spends more time with the people of Huntington.
I hope very much that this is not the quality of post I should expect in the future. It pains me that you felt this was appropriate to the tone of this website.
C. V. Reynolds — April 2, 2010
Fat acceptance is one thing and a fine thing...
But this guest post ignores that the town is unhealthy and that they eat crap. How can we make any progress if we can't "look at ourselves in the mirror" and see our faults for what they are? People never want to be told that they have to take responsibility for anything.
The show looks okay (aside maybe the "you want to look good" bit, if I heard that correctly; that was inappropriate). There is no good excuse for that family to eat like that. Even price isn't an issue when there are cheap fruits and vegetables in stores. They could try to eat some of them sometime. Is Oliver cruel? He may be depending on how you choose to take it, but the truth hurts sometimes.
Also, if Oliver had been a fat savior instead of a skinny one, then what? Would that be okay? And so we're clear, thin people who eat crap are no better in my eyes. People just need to take some pride in their bodies and care for them sometimes. If it takes someone like Oliver to change things, even a little bit, then so be it.
fog — April 2, 2010
I find this post quite disappointing. I'm a daily reader and I think this is the first time a SI post has upset me. The snark is totally uncalled for. The show reminded me personally that I definitely need to consider how my dietary choices can affect my health. I grew up attending US public schools and ate food just like that for breakfast and lunch, but I can choose better for myself now. I loved the public kitchen designed to teach people to cook meals.
I found most of the health messages fine, but the way Jamie spoke to the cooks he worked with was what bothered me the most. These were grown women who had been working there for decades, and he called them "girls." When you're not getting along well with a group of women, you should at least take care to address them with respect. He also got a displeased look when he called them "lunch ladies." Perhaps it's a cultural difference, and the term dinner lady is not as loaded in the UK, but it wasn't the best choice on his part.
He also reinforced the idea that the mother would do all the cooking, and the father would just be upset to come home and find that the food is different. The father wasn't ever accused of killing his children. I'm glad that the son was chosen to learn to cook, and I realize that he was being realistic about this individual family, but I wish they had waited until both parents were around for the serious health speech.
I've never encountered Jamie Oliver before, and I haven't regularly watched a reality TV show before, but I look forward to seeing this series progress.
Anonymous — April 2, 2010
I watched a presentation that Oliver did at the TED conference and he came off as something like a cross between Steve Irwin and one of the many know-it-all Brits that Melissa mentions in this post (with a little sobbing Glenn Beck thrown in there once in a while). He's a showman first and foremost, that's why the media are falling all over themselves to get a glimpse of him. All my alarms went off watching his overblown presentation about how Americans are killing themselves with food - what is this guy's real interest in all this and why hype himself so widely and loudly? He's got an agenda, that's for sure.
But Americans apparently love a showman who can lay it on this thick, hence the backlash just on this blog alone. Easy for everyone here to say how fabulous this guy is when they aren't the ones being hounded. Sitting back and judging people (whom we're watching on TV) is one of our national pastimes.
Oh, and you didn't know he was getting paid? You thought he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart? He's doing this so he can make tons of money off TV revenue, not because he really, really cares about you and yours.
Nicolson — April 2, 2010
Wow, the strident anti-fat tone of many of these comments is not what I expected from a blog whose readers I generally find to be very thoughtful about complex issues. And obesity is a complex issue.
There are some things I'd like to point out:
1) Oliver's show is certainly not unique in its approach to the obesity crisis. Perhaps those of you who are defending him might like to explain to me exactly what value headless shots of fat people add to the show and to his message? As someone who is fat, I can say that such images are part of a culture which dehumanizes fat people, which sees them as less than complete people. Just a reminder folks: when you are a fat person you KNOW it. Fat people aren't stupid, we're fat. We don't need you to tell us. And, by the way, fat-shaming does nothing to motivate people to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle. If it did, America would not have an obesity crisis.
2) Oliver's attitude toward the women who work in the school lunch program is both demeaning and sexist throughout. Constant references to "dear", "sweetheart", etc. left me grating my teeth. I would have been rude to him as well.
3) I agree that structural changes need to be made. But Oliver spends little time talking about things like: the paltry amount the government spends on school lunches ($.80-$1.00 on actual food and prep per meal, once administrative costs are factored in); the way in which growing poverty adds a massive burden to school districts and lunch programs; the way in which agricultural subsidies in the U.S. prop up a food system that is flat-out bad for us; the fact that, in many areas of the U.S., especially inner-cities, fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to come by as primarily poor and minority communities exist in what is known as "food desert" (here in Chicago, activists in poor south-side communities are organizing around this. See, for example: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2009/The-Food-Desert/).
For a great article on (mostly poor and minority) kids organizing to fight for better school lunches, see:
This to me is worth more than a million of Jamie Oliver's doses of fat-shaming, parent-shaming moralism, as its kids demanding the resources that they should have, without just blaming people for "eating too much of the wrong stuff."
In the case of schools, I have a friend who commented that she would love to have her kindergartner have gym class every day--kids should have outside activity/exercise as a part of their daily routine, of course! But his school has cut back on gym--kids now get it once a week instead of every day. Why? Because "No Child Left Behind" is forcing teachers to spend longer hours "teaching to the test". And what happens when schools perform poorly on standardized testing? They get even more funding cuts and teachers fired (throwing public school further into turmoil and often allowing charter schools to poach the best public school students). This is an insane system.
4) Obesity in the U.S. is a problem that is very much linked to poverty, yet people like Jaime Oliver, Alice Waters and others (and some of the commenters above, I notice) very often have a very disdainful attitude toward that.
Waters (who has done some great work promoting the local food movement), for example, told the New York Times about a year or so ago that people struggling with their food bills should "make a sacrifice on the cell phone or the third pair of Nike shoes." To me, that comment is dripping with class elitism, disdain for, and stereotypes of, the poor. (It's also galling considering what the cost of a meal at Waters' restaurant goes for.)
Instead, why is it that we don't question the logic of an agricultural system in which our subsidies lead to 2 liters of Coke or a double cheeseburger at McDonald's being cheaper than a head of broccoli? Unless we start to grapple with these kinds of questions, the obesity crisis will continue to get worse.
As Raj Patel (author of the very good book Stuffed and Starved) notes, 20 percent of fast-food meals in America are eaten IN A CAR: "People are incredulous and ask: is that because Americans so love their cars? But living here you see how hard people work, for a pittance, with no healthcare, no decent education, not even a hint of a pension - so it’s not surprising that the one hot meal you eat a day you eat off your lap,” says Patel.
5) A couple of resources people might check out for a more thoughtful take on the issue of obesity:
a) Patel's book Stuffed and Starved: this is really one of the best resources on the way in which hunger and obesity are linked globally to the way in which food is produced. (One of the most interesting sections is examines how NAFTA allowed US producers to flood Mexico's market with cheap grains, throwing small farmers off their land and leading to a fundamental change in the Mexican food system--and a huge spike in obesity and diabetes rates in a small amount of time.)
b) On the question of school lunches (a more rational take than Oliver's): http://www.chow.com/stories/11358
This is a video with Ann Copper, who took over the Berkeley lunch program (at the behest, ironically enough, of Alice Waters). Cooper's interview gives a sense of what a re-imagining of a school lunch program could be like (if other schools had the resources Berkeley has)--and she slams government for subsidies that ensure a proliferation of cheap, bad foods. She has done for school lunches there what Oliver's show claims to want to do, but in my opinion, in a much more thoughtful way and less moralistic way.
6) Finally, just a note about "health at any size." Those who are being deliberately obtuse claim that this is an initiative/movement that tells morbidly obese people they are just as healthy as everyone else. Not at all.
What it is, however, is an approach to health which put the focus not on dieting and numbers on a scale (the traditional approach) but on eating right and exercising. All of the studies out there say that dieting *does not work* as a means to maintaining healthy weight loss (nor does shaming people with comments like "obese does not equal healthy" and "the truth hurts").
So, "health at any size" is simply an attempt to put the focus on a healthy lifestyle, without the focus on numbers on a scale.
Holly — April 2, 2010
I'm really disappointed with this guest blogger. To place the cause of "fat acceptance" above obvious facts on a sociological blog is absurd. As a sociologist who studies poverty, the very real reality is that low-income families in America lack access to nutritious, affordable food. Combine this SOCIAL FACT with the other SOCIAL FACT that most Americans (not just the overweight ones) are naive about proper nutrition, and you have a huge problem that is hurting poor families. Food conglomerates exploit this fact at every turn and poor families are structurally susceptible to eating poor-quality foods. This is injustice and a real social problem and should not be "poo-pooed" away by your anger at TV's lack of fat-sensitivity.
Simone — April 2, 2010
"At the end of the episode, a newspaper article comes out in which Oliver’s evident contempt for the community has been reported."
Am I the only one who sees this as hard evidence that, even if Oliver is really, really trying to be respectful, he isn't doing a very good job, and very much supports the point of Liss's post?
Yes, it's possible that the folks in the town were just being oversensitive. But I'm not really going to bet on it.
P — April 2, 2010
It is revealing how the comments here differ from those on the original post. I went looking for someone to make a substantive counterpoint to McEwan, but gave up halfway through the thread.
Juliette — April 2, 2010
Holly, aren't you, to a small degree, over-looking the fact that the guest blogger was arguing that point? Through focusing her attention on Oliver's approach, she very clearly expresses her disappointment with the fact that the blame is being placed on the individual and not on the grander scale--on the fact that the industry is so warped that it is next to impossible for these people to have the choice to pursue healthier options. They simply can't afford it. Oliver's goal is fantastic, but his harping on the fatties and not the sources is problematic.
That said, of course it is important to educate people, and for goodness's sake, get the pizza off the breakfast table. But, there is something to be said for the tone, and yeah-- that article does condemn.
Obviously, an editor here looked over the post before it went up. And I seriously doubt snark has never been used before. I mean no discredit, but I do wonder how much of the vitriol here (in response to, admittedly, a sharply worded post) is due to anything but a need to stick to fat-hating.
Diahann — April 2, 2010
I'm watching the episode on Hulu now, and so far, I'd say that the blog feels off for sure. I'm not all the way through, so maybe I'll change my mind.
But I just got through the scene where he tells the mom she's killing her kids. And...yeah, with that pile of food on the table, I'd say so. Sure, it's a little dramatic, and there's a lot of fairly evident production going on. But the points he's making are pretty spot on.
He's only said one thing I've heard about "looking good," and that was a passing comment. Instead, he's talking about health and talking about eating well; and how eating well can be easy.
It's a far cry from shaming overweight people and saying "hey, look at all this highly processed, brown food. Stop eating that."
Sue — April 2, 2010
I've watched four minutes. As reality shows go, there's nothing surprising; plenty of edited-in drama and conflict. I don't understand the critical tone of the post. As others have said, he's not attacking people, he's criticizing behavior that is clearly unhealthy.
Pizza for breakfast for crissakes? French fries are the "vegetable" on the school lunch menu?
I really hate to say this, but this blog is beginning to sound like Jezebel.com -- plenty of assertion, no evidence.
Sue — April 2, 2010
And while he is trim, he's hardly skinny. I'm reminded of being in a hospital for a procedure and the nurses going on about how thin I am and how easy it is to find my veins and I wonder what their average patient looks like.
Because while I am certainly of normal weight, I'm not skinny either.
Mint — April 2, 2010
As a West Virginian, I can tell you Mr. Oliver has been on the news a lot, and not just in the area around Huntington. It's big news around here. I have to say I've found this so far to be mildly embarrassing (not putting WV in the best light, I'd say) and a little hurtful, and I've been a fan of Jamie Oliver's for a long time. I have several of his cookbooks and there are many "not healthy" items (by his own standards) on the menu.
I was actually in Huntington when then news broke that Mr. Oliver was coming to town and going to film a reality show there. It was a big deal an everyone I talked to was really excited, but I couldn't help but cringe, figuring it would either make WV look "backwards," or make the situation look worse than it is... or be another excuse to make fun of "hillbillies".
Huntington is hardly rural by anyone's standards, but everyone thinks of West Virginia and thinks "poor" and "rural". Huntington's not exactly "rich", either, but it is one of the wealthier places in the state. I'm not sure how Mr. Oliver feels about Huntington, but when I was down there they seemed more than willing to embrace him... I can't imagine people treated him poorly. Being a resident, I just hope this doesn't turn out to be a "Boy are those backwards West Virginians poor and stupid!" thing.
Meems — April 2, 2010
I can't even comment substantively on this post because of all the ridiculous misinformation. The only things that bear saying if they have not been said already are:
1. Correlation is not causation. Just because obesity is associated with any number of diseases does not mean that obesity causes any of said diseases. In fact, early symptoms of several diseases associated with obesity (Cushing's Syndrome, Type II diabetes, PCOS, etc.) actually include weight gain or obesity.
2. Lots of thin people are perfectly healthy as young adults and develop diseases later in life. That is not something unique to obese people. My father, who just turned 60 and has a BMI between 20 and 21 has been on medications for high cholesterol for years.
3. These claims that this is the first generation of children who will lead shorter lives than their parents is asinine. I certainly believe that fitness and nutrition are important and children need to learn how to take care of their bodies and health, but obesity levels have been nearly flat for ten years. People are not getting exponentially fatter.
I'm not going to comment on Jamie Oliver's show specifically. I didn't watch it and have no plans to do so.
Basiorana — April 2, 2010
This is a television show. Oliver probably genuinely cares about the poor nutrition problem and wants to help make a difference by providing education in buying food and cooking and by changing the diets offered in institutions. He's doing this not by encouraging people to undergo surgery or dangerous crash diets but simply telling them to eat healthier. We can ALL benefit from whole grain, vegetable rich diets with good fats.
But he can make 10 times the amount he'd make just by going there and providing education and changing the school food by filming it. And by arranging to be filmed, he has to agree to the network role for him, which, since this is being adapted for American TV, probably means he has to be as mean as the stereotypical know-it-all Brit. That's probably also why he's going to homes-- we WANT to see our Brits make people cry.
That said, I will say something else-- you can't just barge into someone's home and give them a food critique. Every person on the show, INCLUDING the woman who cried, agreed to appear on it, and the woman knew that he would be very critical of their food (if she thought her food was healthy, why agree to be on a show about bad food?). These are PEOPLE who agreed to be on a television show about the poor quality of their food in the hopes of changing their diets. We shouldn't assume he is some sort of evil person taking advantage of the poor West Virginians, that's not the way these shows work.
Cdp — April 2, 2010
I wanted to say thank you to the people who replied here for letting me know I wasn't alone in thinking this post had little to nothing to do with Jamie's show. I originally saw this post over on Shakesville and it was one of the reasons why I finally took that blog off of my RSS reader. I don't mind reading things that I disagree with. I don't mind reading personal rants. I do mind reading someone going off on a rant and treating said rant as though the opinions in it are facts. Particularly when it is obvious that the writer is going off of very few facts.
Perhaps I have the advantage of having seen Jamie's program when he did this over in the UK and thus know that he's aware of the need to address issues like more money per school lunch and so on. But what he doesn't do is go on and on about weight and how weight alone is the only indicator of health. He certainly doesn't treat people poorly because of their size.
Likewise he's not trying to insist on anything expensive and complicated. One of the meals he taught the family he visited at home (taught the 11 year old son, in fact) involved boiling up some dried pasta and serving it with tomato sauce and a basic salad. It's not like he was demanding that they only have free-range organic beef served with caviar and truffle oil. Considering that this was the same house where the mother was making breakfasts of whack-a-dough biscuits shaped into donuts, deep fried, and then covered with chocolate frosting I don't think the simple pasta dinner was in any way out of line in a time, money, or effort standpoint. (Nor do I think it's out of line to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there's a healthier breakfast option out there.)
Anyway, all of that is a side issue compared to my main point which is that while Melissa can certainly post whatever she wants to on her blog, I don't think the post was appropriate for *this* blog. If it had been a critique of the trailer only, and the words and imagery used to sell the show, I can see how it would be good SI food for thought (... no pun intended).
But what it really is is Melissa seeing the preview, using it to make assumptions about the entire show, and presenting said opinions as facts. One need only skim through the comments over at Shakesville to see people refusing to watch the show at all because Melissa presented it as a show entirely about fat-hatred, and Jamie himself as someone who goes around doing nothing but insulting overweight people.
As a reader of this blog I'm left very confused as to what was the hope behind this guest post. As others have said, Melissa talks about these issues over at Shakesville so I understand why she posted this over there, even if I don't agree with it. For this blog I'm used to seeing posts that present things which encourage meta-discussion about the presentation and our perceptions of it. Where is that aspect in a post that presents incorrect facts as truth, and frames entire discussion of a show based upon a single biased opinion? Where is our focus intended to be? Are we supposed to come away from this talking about the show? The trailer? Melissa's opinion?
If you want to have more posts like this in the future (though being honest I hope that you don't - again when I want personal rants I will go to blogs intended for them) I would say that they need to be framed better so that we understand why you are bringing this to our attention.
A.C. — April 3, 2010
I'm also disappointed in this guest blogger. I won't add any further critique, as I agree with so many of the previous commenters, but I want it to be known that I don't find this writing style to be appealing on Sociological Images.
Bosola — April 3, 2010
I am inclined to concur with the two foregoing comments. It is not difficult to find impassioned ranting--of any flavor you can imagine and many more besides--on the Internet today. That's not what makes SI special, and it's not why I read this blog.
Ames — April 3, 2010
I'll paraphras another blogger to help all of you who think this blog is all about you and what you want:
They blog at their own discretion and your participation happens at their pleasure, not yours. They have not solicited your participation and they don't need it. They very possibly couldn't care less if you disagree with them or their guest bloggers. Heck, they probably even think highly of their guest bloggers, made a conscious decision to invite them and their views on here, and very possibly aren't concerned one whit with whether you like it or not. You do not have a right to be heard on this or any other blog and you certainly don't have a right to tell them what they can and can't post or whom they can and can't invite to guest blog. Neither do they owe you anything and wringing your hands over what gets covered here is just that, it's your own stuff and not their problem.
So climb down off your high horses and go read some other blog if you don't like this one.
ashasekh — April 3, 2010
I didn't want to form an opinion until I watched the show, which I finally did this morning. Actually I thought it was pretty good; i'm on episode 2 now. Sure there's the overwrought pseudo-drama that is due largely to the editing norms of the reality tv genre. I was born in the south and lived in London for some years, so recognize both the culinary bad habits and the London vernacular ("lunch ladies," "hello dear" etc).
Though he doesn't use academic lingo, he does identify one of the major villains, and that is institutionalized (thus corporate-driven) food rules via the USDA, which he calls "rubbish," and I would agree. [those are the food rules that enabled a George Bush Sr to say "isn't ketchup a vegetable?"]
Also, there are some basic lessons in compromise and conflict resolution being raised in the show: he calls Alice a "force to be reckoned with" and talks about how to help them introduce better food habits that will satisfy the schoolkids. Clearly Alice is being set up for "redemption" in a future episode and, as she is coded as the bureaucratic kitchen functionary, this speaks to the larger goal of redeeming a broken bureaucracy and public school system, with its mostly dysfunctional lunch programs.
I don't own a television, so don't see much reality tv, only snippets, but surely this is one way into the minds of precisely the audience that needs the message most: american couch potatoes who are allergic to any green food on their plate. if melodrama and hyped-up pseudo conflict is what you hate, don't watch reality tv, bearer of a narrative formula that relies mainly on its editors to achieve the expected result.
John Yum — April 3, 2010
True, they do blog at their own pleasure (although some people do get paid to do this whole blogging thing). True, they have not directly asked us to comment, but by providing a comment forum they implicitly are soliciting participation. That they moderate comments to ensure that "really bad" ones are removed indicates that they do care about the type of participation.
Well, if they want to know what their readership thinks about the content they are trying out on their site, then they should be concerned "one whit" (or more) about what their readers think.
Well, I suppose I know where you stand on the 1st Amendment. Really, I have NO RIGHT to say what I want to say? Where do you get off? Are you saying that somehow you are more equal than people who happen not to agree with your point-of-view? How absolutely insecure of your point-of-view that you would need to muzzle those that don't agree with it.
True, they don't "owe" us anything. However, the current readership (25000 visits per day) can leave. The hand-wringing is more from shock and concern from a certain (major) contingent of commenters that the caliber of the site will be seriously imperiled if this is the sort of person that will continue to make appearances on this site. If the authors of the site want to keep the current level of the current type of readership - who, although I may disagree with vociferously on many matters, I generally greatly respect due to their ability to make cogent arguments and rebuttals - they would do well to be concerned.
However, I doubt that any of this will form a convincing argument for you, Ames.
Such a completely oblivious way in which to end a preachy high-horse screed of a comment about how others should act that I have to agree with Bosola: a "rare treat".
P — April 3, 2010
In response to a comment higher up:
What does it mean to say that obesity is "75% heritable?" It does not mean, as some intimate (elsewhere), that 75% of obese people are genetically destined to be obese, regardless of their environment. Nor does it mean that 75% of one's weight is immutable, with 25% being the limit for voluntary change. The APA, in a statement on intelligence and The Bell Curve, has this to say about heritability:
Let's apply this to obesity. Body fat has many purposes, including cushioning internal organs and providing insulation, but its main role - especially with regards to large deposits of "excess" body fat - is to store energy. What is the point of storing energy as body fat but to use it at a later time? Compare this with the concepts of "natural" obesity and weight set-points. We are meant to believe that evolution has provided for people to accumulate large deposits of excess body fat, but not to be able to metabolize these for energy in a way that would deplete fat reserves.
In reality, the normal human organism is able of both gaining and losing fat as it attempts to make good use of energy input and accommodate for varying levels of energy output. Anything else would be grossly inefficient. What does this have to do with obesity and causation? Well, we can point to many things that play a part in causing obesity, from genetics to environmental pollutants. But lifestyle is the great regulator. Healthy, able-bodied people become obese through the accretion of small choices and routine behaviors, and they lose weight through a similar accretion of changes to how they eat, how much they move, how they rest, and so on.
So there is no question as to whether lifestyle is an important contributor to obesity. You "believe that nutrition and exercise are important parts of leading a healthy life, but don’t see any purpose in making weight part of the equation." Nutrition and exercise determine weight, independently and also as conduits for genetic, environmental, and social influences. Height, by comparison, is in adults almost completely unresponsive to any of these factors. But weight is controllable. I mean it in a physiological sense, not a moral one.
So we know that weight can be modified at the individual level. We know that a certain level of weight in relation to height - clinical "obesity" - is strongly and persistently associated with all sorts of undesirable health outcomes. We know - see above - that this association persists even when we control for the usual suspects: metabolic health, fitness, socioeconomic status, smoking, drinking, and others. These are all reasons to endorse interventions - in policy and in private life - aimed at reducing the prevalence of obesity sensibly, healthily, and sustainably.
John Yum — April 4, 2010
In ruminating about the reasons why I seriously dislike this particular post (motivated finally by the comment made by Ames yesterday that really hit a sore spot), I came up with two basic ultimate reasons for my seemingly knee-jerk reaction against this post: its tone and logic.
While I have not been seriously impressed with some of the international "context" posts of S.I. (the authors and regular readers have likely seen this), I do believe that S.I. is one of the better blogs out there, and with page views approaching 1 million per month, I would forward the hypothesis that this level of quality is something that has caught the attention of many people, and continues to bring them back.
The reason why I return is not to castigate the authors' occasional international postings (although that is where most of my comments lie), but to read through the posts and (especially with the better-thought-out ones) look at how sometimes underlying prejudices and socially determined world-views (usually US-originated world-views) affect how people perceive and act in the world. Its analyses are well reasoned and well written, and is a haven from the LOL-cat grammar and spelling; extremely partisan agenda-riddled viewpoints; and insults to my intellectual abilities to reason.
The above guest post (as well as the one from Jezebel) fail to meet what I was expecting of the high standard of this site. Since this is a comment on the Jamie Oliver post, I will limit my critique to this post, but would like to note that many of the following critiques could be leveled against the Jezebel post as well.
Caveat: Tone and logic are intertwined in this piece, and so I may repeat some things when critiquing one versus the other.
The tone of this peace was demeaning and so obviously partisan that I felt that I was reading a piece of propaganda up there with the North Korean press releases. While the author never stated her point of view, it is very obvious that she feels that this show is somehow "bad" and therefore needs to be villainized. As a piece that purportedly is about how a TV program uses shame to try and transform an obese town into thin people, the author relies on many, many verbally shaming techniques of her own. To that end, the whole thing read more as a rant based on a preconceived viewpoint than on an analysis of a piece of visual media. While some of the posts on S.I. have been (arguably) angry about one point or another, it is rare that the level of vitriol is pursued with to such an extent, and (more importantly) with asking no open questions. To this point, all of the points brought up by the author are rhetorical and can only be answered in one direction, if one wishes to be "aligned" with the author. Such a line of questioning is more fit for a courtroom prosecution than an intellectual blog. In addition, while I am not generally a fan of Internet-isms (e.g., OMFG, LULZ, etc.) and snarky put-downs (e.g., fucktons) to extend an intellectual conversation, I would argue that they can be used effectively if their point is to extend the conversation or to (perhaps paradoxically) teach a point. One such blogger that does this is "erv" over at ScienceBlogs. (She uses many, many Internetisms while castigating Intelligent Design advocates and teaching about Endogenous RetroViruses, and I don't think these are out-of-place because of the manner in which she utilizes them.) In sum: the type of tone that I (and perhaps other) readers of S.I. have come to expect are at a completely different level of intellectual honesty and vigor than the one of this post's author.
On to the matter of logic. If one watches the show and isn't already pre-disposed to (what I imagine to be) an extreme fat-positive viewpoint in which one imagines any large attempt at weight loss as an attack against them, their "people", etc., and which learning about food is considered "shaming", then it becomes quickly clear that most of the critiques offered by the author are patently false. It becomes more obvious if one watches the second and third episodes. (Side Note: True, Oliver does bring with him some preconceived notions from his British background, but the author doesn't approach these as cultural differences, but rather as being belittling. Having lived in the UK -- yes, I really have lived in many countries -- I can tell you that using terms like "dear" and "darling" and a group of women "girls", as well as calling female teachers "Miss" -- which Jamie does in Episode 2, but you have to really watch for it, because the teacher doesn't take offense -- and women who work in a cafeteria "lunch ladies" is quite common and seemed to me to be quite ubiquitous. Of course, the author makes no mention of this.) The supposed egregious "fat-shaming" of the family is - arguably - the most direct approach that Jamie takes in the three episodes, but in the second episode, it's not done with a tone of "you're fat!" but of a tone of "what you are eating isn't healthy, and scientific evidence indicates that it will seriously shorten the lives of your children." If that is fat-shaming then apparently anything that questions the quality of food that people eat in an apparent attempt to get people to eat more healthy food is just bad. Reading the link to Greta Christina's "Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement", I think that some of the points of contention (at least the feelings of being attacked) brought up by the author and the commentators at the original posting site stem from the type of manifesto Greta decides is logically false. (I encourage everyone to go up to mercurial ferret's link and read it.)
I will be going a little out on a limb in this section, but associated with this is the tone and logic of those who are in (seemingly blind) support of the points made in the post (such as Ames). That we have started to get people whose basic counter argument amounts to effectively telling people to "STFU" (to borrow an Internetism) is worrisome. While the author of posts are not responsible for the tone and opinions of the commentators, the do provide a legitimation of a certain form of dissent (in this case, it appears to me to be one that in analogous to questioning a fundamentalist's religious faith). I admit that I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe that this sort of stone-walling rhetoric comes from the tone and internal logic inherent in the post: that a rabid fat-positive viewpoint is the only correct one and any questioning of it is just wrong (again, this is my opinion, but I think that if Ames had more time and/or ability to do so, Ames would have made comments on all of those comments that didn't ascribe themselves closely enough with the predetermined orthodoxy). This particular critique may sound strange based on the types of comments I have made elsewhere that question why the author didn't incorporate an international perspective, and (especially with the Singapore credit card post) don't positively add to the conversation. However, I would argue that I don't say that the author's point-of-view is "wrong" or that people presenting their interpretations are "wrong", merely that no one seems to be (trying to) base their comments and arguments on the original context from which the image was taken.
In sum, the tone is belittling to this reader's intelligence, its arguments are delegitimized by the evidence (and this becomes more evident the more people watch of the posted episodes as well as the succeeding episodes), and unless one is already predisposed and committed to a rather narrow interpretation of the facts, the entire internal logical structure of the argument falls apart, and all one is left with is a partisan screed that jars both the intellectual and moral sensibilities of (at least) this reader.
If I have ended up sounding like a grizzled, crotchety old man who detests any whiff of change or opinion other than my own pre-conceived notions, then I would argue that you don't know me. I welcome intellectual debate that is honest, open, and speaks to a certain (in this case, higher) level of intelligence; all of which were lacking here. As Philip Pullman - the author of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - said in a recent "debate" of his writings, "No one has a right to live without being shocked." This is true, and I agree with it and the other points Pullman makes in his response that precipitated this opening salvo in defense of freedom of speech (if you do a search of that phrase, you will come up with the clip in question). When I read this article, I was shocked in so many different ways. However, at least in this forum and at this time, I can make my opinion known to the owners of the site that the tone and intellectual rigor forwarded by this guest author (and some previous ones) have been so below the expected bar in so many ways that this post is (in this reader's opinion) an insult to what has come to be the expected quality inherent in this site.
If you have gotten this far, thanks for reading. If you vociferously disagree with all or some of my points, then do feel free to let me know. So, too, if you agree with some of the points I made. I decided to write this to let the owners of this site - Gwen and Lisa - know of the reservations that I have with future alterations to the content contributions to this site, and (through contrast) what sort of things I would like to see if future content contributions were made, and I would (against the high-horse preaching of Ames) encourage readers to also make thier voices heard if they are concerned (or not) of the possible future quality of this blog.
To Gwen and Lisa (if you actually read this whole thing): For me, I would really like something more akin what and how you both write -- intellectually stimulating, open, and honest -- but taking an international perspective, if possible. I would definitely not like to have a contributor like the author of this post (and I believe the lengthy comment above is clear testimony of this). If you did bring someone like this author on board, then I will -- much to my dismay -- migrate away from reading and enjoying the content of this site.
enkidu — April 4, 2010
I'd like to echo other commenters and ask that Ms. McEwan is never asked back to guestpost for Sociological Images. I expect more from this website and her post was highly inaccurate and brought down the entire tone of the conversation.
little blue hen » Blog Archive » you say you want a revolution — April 5, 2010
[...] –Melissa McEwan takes affront at Oliver’s “fat shaming”. [...]
Ryan Jordan — April 5, 2010
Eating fast food because it's cheap and quick is not a "good solution". Our culture is in desperate need of a revolution... a paradigm shift in the way we let our government neuter the farmer. I hope this show is a catalyst for parents to see the crap schools are forced to give our children.
Celena — April 6, 2010
My son's school had to conform to new "health regulations"... they no longer serve fried donuts for breakfast once a week... now the donuts they thickly slather in a sugar/icing glaze are baked. *pause for applause*
I am immensly grateful my kid doesn't like messy food and doesn't particularly love sweets. Saves me heart ache and worry. Now if only I could get him to enjoy veggies.
Celena — April 6, 2010
Oh and I didn't care for the bloggers comments either. I like the show, I like the premise, and I appreciate Oliver's intent. Anyone trying to help another comes from a bit of an arrogant stance if you wanna get technical about it. It doesn't mean we stop trying to help and it doesn't mean we punish those who do.
Bilt4Cmfrt — April 7, 2010
This is an interesting conversation for me. Interesting in that I have a very different perspective on Jamie Oliver and his history. In particular I was FINISHED with him after he teamed up with Gunther von Hagens of 'BodyWorlds' fame for a televised autopsy of an obese man. Obviously Jamies crusade over-rode any petty concerns about dignity in death. His need to shock people into his reality a la Anti-smoking crusaders walking around high schools with preserved human lungs, was paramount. Maybe Jamie just went a little too far. Or perhaps he was just trying to be 'edgy'. Such as the time he donned a fat-suit. Obviously to find out what it's like to be fat. Well, it seems he couldn't eve get that right. As the Daily Mail states-
"He clutched a brace of burgers in his sausage-like fingers before climbing aboard a motor scooter which duly buckled under his weight."
-Clever editing? Reality Vérité? Or Jamie having a bit of fun at fatties expense? Actually I'm not really interested in WHAT Jamie Oliver was trying to do, say, has attempted since, or is trying to do now. And THIS is what many of the people who have read this post and expressed concerns about the tone or language have managed miss. Something those who have parsed the epidemiological terminology down to a sub-molecular level, have managed to gloss over completely.
The word your waiting for is ANGER. A valid human response to perceived injustice done.
Yes there is a lot of it. I find it interesting that some of you have actually noticed it but can't seem to, quite, figure out where it's coming from or feel it out-proportioned to the situation. Yes, of course fat peoples reactions to how the world treats them (in many cases that would be; as subhumans) should always be measured. Free of colloquialisms or foul language, and every concept should be spelled out completely so as to avoid confusion about terminology. Two words; Fuck That. Anger is what keeps me blogging. Anger is what keeps a lot of people in Fat Acceptance from curling up and never leaving their houses. And I do believe the Anger is justified.
I would argue that no other group in any social justice sphere has been as throughly cross-examined, interrogated, miss-quoted, mal-quoted, ignored, brushed off, and flat out accused of lying, as fat people in this obesity hysterical country have. Case in point; I, personally, have been involved with F/A for over 3 years. NO WHERE have I ever seen anyone advocate that it is flatly IMPOSSIBLE to lose weight. What I HAVE seen multiple times in multiple forums (Now including this one) is people misconstrue the statement that 'it is practically impossible for most people to maintain a sustained weight loss for any meaningful amount of time'. ESPECIALLY if the statement is not formatted in EXACTLY that manner, virtually word-for-word, and with all modifying terms in place. At which point we are required to cite voluminous documentation and research which is then promptly ignored.
I would argue that no other social justice movement is beset by so many, mutually antagonistic groups as people in the Fat Acceptance Movement. Republicans cry self-responsibility, Democrats want to legislate our behavior for our own good, Liberals are just concerned for our health. The illiterati hate us because its fun for them, while the intelligentsia are enamored with the sense of their own superiority. Even people who SHOULD be in our corner, or at least sympathetic to a cause that ultimately could benefit them, can gain a measure of a safety by throwing those unrepentant fat people under the bus. Hell, if your fat and mention that you've LOST x pounds (2,5,3,20. Any meaningless number will do) everybody is your FRIEND. Your an 'inspiration' and 'doing such a great job'. Just don't re-gain, or you won't be worth what they scrape of the bottoms of their boots. For those who manage both the loss and maintenance, count your blessings you ARE one of the lucky ones. For those who don't, F/A isn't going anywhere, come on back when you get tired of trying to dancing that tune. But be warned; YOU may find yourself ready to snap the head off of anyone who mentions the word 'Diet'. Especially when you realize what a total Mind Fuck that whole philosophy is.
As for the rest, it might be of some help if, perhaps, you all perused another post over at shakesville. An, entirely reasonable proposal that contains no foul language and, I would assume, is formatted in an acceptably contrite manner. It's also written by an author you might recognize -
Perhaps some will consider it. However, if this discussion follows form and it would surprise me if it didn't, it will probably be met with condescending rationalizations or simply ignored.
And you people wonder WHY we're angry?
Jennifer — April 8, 2010
I am completely on this guy's side. Let's reform the food universe, for a million reasons. However, I was immediately turned off by him. He is rude and condescending to the "lunch ladies." He calls them "dear," "darling," (or was it "hon"?) and girls / gals. It's killing me! They are women, and yes, cooks! They cook for 500 kids a day, even if the food is substandard.
Anyway, he puts them in the position of having to defend the food when as one of them points out, they have no more to do with the choice of that food than the kids themselves. Peeling the potatoes alone (as an alternative to potato pearls) forever. Let's assume half a potato per kid. That's 250 potatoes. Let's assume each women can peel a potato in one minute. That's fast, but they'll get good at it. With no breaks, it'll take four of them an hour to peel those potatoes. If they cost the school $15 / hour (wages + benefits), that's an extra $60 per day 250 days a year, or $15,000 a year - just to peel the potatoes.
Of course, we think it's worth it, but I suspect the unhealthiest city in the nation is probably not pinching its pennies.
Jennifer — April 8, 2010
Above should say, "is probably pinching its pennies."
peepshow — April 9, 2010
Oh I love sociology and this website, there is never any sort of individual responsibility. We can't have people personally change or even expect them to change, given all the stresses of the world today.
We have to do it as a whole society, like a village. And what better way than bring the government in, after all school lunches are the problem. Not parents who are too lazy or irresponsible to feed their kids. Not the destruction of the family that necessitates several generations of children raised by anyone other than their parents. Not the fact that a family meal is not only unexpected, but unwanted. Individuals can never get passed these sociological issues on their own or with their family and God forbid they get their precious feelings hurt for "not being a certain culturally accepted shape"
I'm sure that will make them feel better when they are dying of heart disease and all their kids have Type II Diabetes
mercurianferret — April 10, 2010
The fourth episode is up now. I encourage people to watch it. Again, there is no evidence of fat-shaming, unless you want to say that showing the caskets that are necessary for morbidly obese people or revealing that these caskets cannot be cremated or loaded onto a hearse (but need to be taken on a flatbed truck) and must be placed in a double plt because of the size of these coffins is fat-shaming (as opposed to making a factual observation, as harsh as it may sound). If you say that the testimonials given by the children and parents to the DAWG show presenter is fat-shaming, instead of the tragic outcomes of a systematic flaw of society, then I would forward that there is a problem with the person who feels this way. There IS shame in the fact that your loved one doesn't fit in a traditionally sized coffin, that the remains can't be cremated nor taken to the church and cemetery in a hearse (but suffers the humiliation of being hauled on a flatbed truck). There IS shame in the tragic testimonials given, and people shouldn't be placed in a position in which they are told that they will likely die before they turn 20. However, to turn one's eyes away, to immediately call it "fat-shaming" and therefore negative is -- I believe -- a greater injustice to the people in the show (and the thousands upon thousands who are suffering from obesity and obesity-related illnesses). Ignoring a social problem by labeling it persecution is not responsible.
So, I wait to see if Melissa McEwan (or her supporters) will enlighten me as to how episodes 2, 3, and 4 are "fat-shaming" instead of trying to train people to eat more nutritious foods, to cook at home, etc. To be a form of "healthy" that is far different from that shown on The Biggest Loser.
Bilt4Cmfrt — April 12, 2010
As I've mentioned before, Haven't watched Jamie's little extravaganza. Not going to. Not interested. I've already explained why and I'm not going to get back into it but I will expound.
As far as I'm concerned, the man is a media hack. Attempting to exploit a trend that's currently prominent on the publics radar and, thereby, increase his own visibility.
Jamie, if your out there, the crying jag really was a bit much. Better; you might have gone all Meme Roth and, maybe. thrown a garbage can through some restauranteurs window. THAT I might have believed. Remember; Your a CHEF. Not an actor, or a doctor. It might be best if you didn't try, overly much, to rub someone else's rhubarb.
As for his message? Superfluous. Mercurianferret, it seems to me that you've read some within the realms of Fat Acceptance. If that's true then I'm absolutely sure that you've run across a philosophy that has practically become the rallying cry of the movement and goes by the acronym; HAES. Health At Every Size is and idea that's been around since the late '90's which was refined in a book by Linda Bacon in '06. Virtually every concept that both Jamie Oliver AND Michelle Obama (FLOTUS) are currently pushing has been expounded within the HAES philosophy. Except one. HAES flatly excludes the concept of weight loss as a goal. Personally, I suspect that this is the reason that it's been ignored, overlooked, and has even been denounced by Healthist America (for whom 'health'=weight). They would rather chew their own arms off rather than consider the idea that it might be possible to be both fit AND fat. Pretty irrational when you consider that HAES has the potential to be beneficial to not just fat people but thin people with unhealthy eating habits (Yes, they DO exist), people who suffer disordered over eating AND people who under eat as well as Orthorexics. Or people who exercise / eat in an extreme and possibly harmful manner.
Funny, there are so MANY food / eating / exercise disorders. I, and many people like me, would argue that peoples current screwed up relationships with food have a lot to do with the screwed up practices we've adopted as cannon to try and deal with them. Now here comes St. Jamie to save the day? Ummm, No.
His current media persona MIGHT not be adding to the harm already done. Maybe. However, in light of what he's done in the past and what I see as his disingenuous motivations, I see no reason to promote anything he's got to say. Especially since it's already been said, far better, elsewhere. My personal Hype Tolerance is way to low for Jamie Oliver's brand of BS and It's gonna take a lot more than just crocodile tears or Reality TV Sincerity to convince me otherwise.
Jay — July 16, 2010
The bottom line is that his intentions are good. If Americans just won't accept healthy criticism for their own good then just keep on drowning in a sea of fat!!! It is a total joke that junk food is apparently 'easier' than real food...a salad can be thrown together in a matter of minutes!! As far as calling people darling or whatever that is very English and so what!!! For goodness sake stop being so offended and focus on the real facts: America is going down the drain if it doesn't stop eating crap!! The next generation deserves better than that. :)
Rjjspesh — November 24, 2011
I liked this show & thought Oliver was genuinely passionate about food and had a positive message to share. People do need to change their attitudes towards food n stuff- it shouldn't hurt to say so