Some Notes on Fat

The Subsidised Mineowner - Poor Beggar!. It is...

People know the adjective ‘fat’ is a moral judgement. From the standpoint of political economy, eating all the pies is a clear act of theft.

The ‘obesity epidemic’ warned of is a disease mostly affecting the poor. It requires time, money and education, and often a mode of transport, to buy and prepare healthy food, whilst salt, sugar and fat are used as drugs to temporarily alleviate boredom, anxiety and despair.

Organisations that claim to represent working-class constituencies are not averse to using ‘fat’ as a moral judgment.

Because capitalists have enjoyed luxury and leisure on account of the exertions of the frequently malnourished proletariat (the introduction of rationing in the UK during World War II raised nutrition levels among the general population), ‘fat’ was a vivid illustration of how the capitalist exploited the proletarian. As in fat cats, etc: witness the ICTU campaign last year with the images of real fat cats.

Or, as in the most recent edition of the Union Post:

Many of these senior executives are still at the helm of our industry, with egos still inflated and demanding salaries and perks to prove it. They are the fattest of fat cats, licking the cream while ordinary working people who had no role in creating this crisis are facing the dole or cuts in their terms and conditions of employment.

It’s well known that fat is a feminist issue, with women subjected to intense demands and surveillance so that they comply with ideal body types. But it’s also a class issue.

Higher prices, wider waistlines –

The link between poverty and obesity may be counterintuitive, but it is well documented. Hunger and obesity are not at opposite ends of the continuum from poverty to wealth; rather, they are opposite sides of the same coin of malnutrition. As food prices continue to inflate, so will waistlines. And increasing rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a host of other chronic disease will likely follow.

..the cost per calorie of healthier food is higher because of the economics of industrialized food production and distribution. As food prices climb, people with lower incomes will be pressured to choose cheaper, processed, calorie-dense foods — increasing the likelihood of obesity.

A part of the food price crisis is being driven by the diversion of worldwide corn and sugar crops to biofuels. In the past, the relative low cost of these mass-produced commodities was considered a factor in the obesity epidemic. Now, the amount of these crops available for food has gone down and the prices have risen proportionately faster. Nonetheless, calorie-dense foods, including those made with corn syrup sweeteners, will still be cheaper on a per-calorie basis.

The fact of being fat is frequently cast in terms of simple consumer choice, as though at any given moment all had equal opportunity, education and amenities in order to access healthy food, and as though habit were a mere consequence of choice. If someone is fat, that is their choice.

This judgment of fat people sits quite snugly with a vision of a society in which those with the greatest portion of social power are those who have made the canniest choices in the marketplace, and not those who have been sustained by familial affluence and educational institutions that serve the interests of their class. No surprise, then, that current prime minister of the UK David Cameron was quoted by the BBC as saying last year that:

politicians should not be afraid to spell out right from wrong. Failing to do so meant “a denial of personal responsibility and the concept of a moral choice“.

“We talk about people being at risk of obesity instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise,” Mr Cameron said.

Fatness inhibits the vigour of the nation. Fat people must avoid becoming a burden on the state in terms of medical treatment on account of their insatiable appetites.

But the state itself must be rid of its fat. Government departments are ‘bloated’, and commentators like Eoghan Harris -though Harris’s obsession with fat cats is second to none- say that:

‘fat cats hiding behind trade union banners are still fat cats’

Meanwhile, the chief economist with Davy Stockbrokers says that

‘the health service has a lot of fat in the middle’

While Ronnie O’Toole from National Irish Bank says ‘

A lot of fat will be cut out of the public service with An Bord Snip Nua, and that will be good.’

More recently, at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Jim Power of Friends First said of the boom:

Policy makers, and indeed the rest of us, became totally caught up in the booming economy and “Ireland became fat and arrogant

Cast in this light, public sector cutbacks are necessary for moral redemption and physical rejuvenation. The solution, in the words of Eoin O’Leary, writing for the Irish Times, is

‘a leaner but more effective government’

To those who say that cuts hit the poor hardest. If the result of cutting the fat from government means that the poor are hit hardest, this is no bad thing, because the poor are also the fattest, and therefore the most slothful and morally suspect members of the body politic.

Perhaps one day the body politic itself will be subjected to liposuction.


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