Monday, March 22, 2010

Taking a leave

Hi all...

So I'm on leave from my teaching job, and I guess I've unintentionally taken a leave from this blog. I didn't mean to, but now that it's happened, I thought I'd write a quick post and kind of make it official that I am taking a break.

Since my last post in December, I'd have to say that the state of affairs vis a vis the fat stuff has probably gotten worse. I have always been in favor of healthcare reform in general, but I am worried about what will happen to fat people under the policy that was passed by the Congress yesterday. Apparently now that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, they will instead be allowed to jack up premiums for people with pre-existing conditions, including the "condition" of being fat. If true, this is deeply uncool. I am also pissed off about Michelle Obama's new "childhood obesity" initiative. I think it is nice to want to improve nutrition for kids, but I wish this wasn't being promoted on the backs of fat children. It is hard enough being a fat kid without there being a nationwide effort spearheaded by the first lady to eradicate your kind. And I am not even going to get started on Jamie Oliver and his patronizing attempt to educate the citizens of Huntington, West Virginia about the proper way to live. There was that cool moment when Kevin Smith gave a big F-U to Southwest Airlines for kicking him off a plane because he's fat -- but who knows if that will have any lasting effect. Maybe it will empower fat people in the future to make a fuss when these things happen and make it more uncomfortable for airline employees to single them out, thereby inhibiting them from doing so. That would be cool. But in general I feel kind of discouraged. I think that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, and although I think things have to improve over the long term, it would make my blog posts significantly more negative and bitchy for a while if I were to keep up with everything here.

In any case, I'm going to check out for a while and observe the proceedings (or perhaps try in my own small ways to influence them) without commenting on them here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best coffee in Seattle

Hi everyone, I've got a post brewing on the Fat Studies reader (in a nutshell: it is awesome), but in the mean time I thought I'd share something I learned recently, which is that Seattle has some fabulous coffee. Obviously I'd heard that before, but until last weekend I'd never gone and checked it out for myself. And now that I have done so, I figure I might as well post my findings, since a google search for "best coffee in Seattle" proved to be surprisingly unhelpful as I prepared for the trip.

We had four nights in Seattle, so even though we had a bunch of family stuff to do (we were there for a wedding), I figured I could hit at least four coffee shops. I went to the forums at to compile a list of places to hit, since the geeks on coffeegeek are super-anal about their coffee. There was a remarkable amount of overlap in the places that people mentioned. Here are a few: Victrola, Espresso Vivace, Zoka, Caffe Vita, Stella, Stumptown, Lighthouse Roasters, Cafe Ladro, Hotwire, Zeitgeist, and Caffe Umbria. In particular, it seemed like the consensus favorite was Vivace, though Victrola and Zoka are also well-liked. Caffe Vita and Caffe Umbria got mixed reviews.

The first night, we stopped at Victrola for some coffees to go. I got a cappuccino and the Admiral got a regular coffee. Both were great. The cappuccino had some seriously exquisite latte art going on; it made me wish we'd sat and enjoyed it right there, but we arrived late and I think they were closing.

The next day, I ventured out on my own to the Stumptown next to the University of Seattle campus. I was doing some reading, so I ordered a latte. It was delicious and had a beautiful rosette design. I wished I'd ordered a cappuccino to better facilitate comparison with the other places I visited, but anyway, I did enjoy the latte. As I was sitting there reading, this guy started setting up for a free public "cupping" (i.e., coffee tasting) next to me. So I stopped reading and joined in the cupping. It was such a cool experience -- a very elaborate ritual that really enhanced my appreciation for the different roasts they had on offer. I also got a serious buzz -- you're supposed to spit after tasting, which I did a few times, but when you're sipping coffee that good it's hard to just spit it out. I got the Admiral an Americano to go, and he reported that it was exceptionally good (by that point I was so saturated with caffeine that I declined to taste it).

On day 3, we walked all over town. Our first stop was Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square. Some geek had posted something about how their famously rich steamed milk was achieved by nefarious means, namely, adding half and half to the milk. Scandalous!! Well, I have no idea if that's true -- the milk for my cappucino was poured straight out of a milk carton, but I suppose it could have been tampered with behind the scenes. In any case, the cappuccino was delicious. Almost as good as the one from Victrola. That afternoon we stopped at Caffe Ladro. My cappuccino was really good, better than you could find in most cities, but not exceptional. Points for friendly service and funky decor, however. And later that night, on our way back from the wedding, we stumbled upon Caffe Vita and decided to pop in. They were just about to close, which was too bad because they really had a nice, cozy atmosphere and I would have loved to stay a while. My cappuccino was excellent -- with lovely latte art and tasting just as good as the one from Victrola.

On our last day, we finally made it to Espresso Vivace, our 6th and final stop. I had high hopes, and I wasn't disappointed. The atmosphere was cozy, my cappuccino was delicious, and the barista's latte art (pictured above) was very nice. I kind of think once you get to that level it's really hard to distinguish among really excellent coffee drinks, so I can't say that I liked it better than Victrola or Vita, but it was equally good. I guess on the whole I'd say I liked Caffe Vita the best. But I look forward to a return visit so I can check out the rest of the list.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Omg panic: only 92% of "obese" people think they need to lose weight!

This is not an Onion article, but it's so depressingly hilarious that you'd think it might be.

The article starts with a statistic: in the Dallas Heart study, of the 2056 "obese" people surveyed, 8% "said they were satisfied with their body size or felt they could gain weight."

Well, it's really a shame that only 8% of "obese" people are satisfied with their body size, but I guess that figure is not surprising. Maybe the article will go on to suggest ways we can help fat people to overcome their feelings of inadequacy in a culture that places such intense pressure on people to conform to an arbitrary and very small body norm? Oh... wait... I'm being told that wasn't the point of the article. No, it turns out that the "story" here, according to Tiffany Powell MD, is that those 8% are suffering from a "misperception" and "don't understand they are overweight," and so doctors need to hassle them about it more to get it through their fat skulls that they need to lose weight. Yes, Tiffany, I'm sure that's it: "obese" people are so stupid that they just "don't understand" that they're fat.

Of course, every article about "obesity" has to contain at least one gigantic and utterly unfounded leap of logic, and here it is: "Those with a misperception of body size believed they were healthy. But 35 percent of them had high blood pressure, 15 percent had high cholesterol, 14 percent had diabetes and 27 percent were current smokers. These risk factors are similar to obese individuals who acknowledged they had a weight problem and needed to lose weight, Powell said."

So did they also ask people if they "believed they were healthy," and it turned out that the exact same fat people who were satisfied with their bodies were the ones who said they believed they were healthy? Gee, that would be an interesting finding... but I have a sneaking suspicion that the author of this article is simply asserting that if a person said they were satisfied with their body size then that means they think they are healthy. Earth to mind-bogglingly stupid author of article: those two things are not the same at all. Maybe you should go back to reporting school. Or, like, preschool.

Another teeny problem is the inclusion of smoking as a risk factor that is supposed to have something to do with being "obese". Here's the logic as far as I can see: this person doesn't think she needs to lose weight, and therefore I will assume she thinks she is healthy even though she didn't say that. But really, this person is not healthy, which we know from the fact that she is a smoker. Therefore she needs to lose weight. And therefore she is an idiot for not knowing that she needs to lose weight, because all she needed to do was think about the fact that she is a smoker and therefore obviously unhealthy, and that there could only be one solution to this problem: lose weight!

So, OK, let's just set aside the smoking category (we'll assume the author was smoking something him/herself when he/she decided to include smoking) and look at those other "risk factors". Even if we simply add up all the percentages, we come to 77% of the "obese" people who thought they didn't need to lose weight as having some kind of health problem. Which means that at the very minimum, 23% of the "obese" people who supposedly thought they were "healthy" were absolutely right according to the health measures mentioned in the article! And let us remember that there is likely to be significant overlap between the people who had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and possibly diabetes too. So possibly up to 65% of the stupid fatties in this study who think they're healthy are totally right.

But hey, let's not get bogged down with the facts -- or even the version of "facts" reported in the article. Let's just continue to assume that all fat people are unhealthy and that our goal should be to make sure that 100% of fat people (not a measly 92%) are fully aware that they are fat and therefore unhealthy and that they have to lose weight. Even if we grant all that, there are some other really questionable conclusions here. For example, "Those who misperceived their body size were less likely to go to a physician. In fact, 44 percent didn't visit a physician during the past year, compared to 26 percent of obese participants who correctly perceived they needed to lose weight." The idea is apparently that it's bad if you don't think you need to lose weight because then you won't go to the doctor. But I have some other ideas that would explain these correlations. How about this: if you are unhealthy you are more likely than a healthy person to go to the doctor. And if you are fat and unhealthy, given all the messages you hear about fat being unhealthy, you are probably somewhat likely to blame your poor health on being fat, and therefore to think that you need to lose weight. Even if not, if you are fat and unhealthy you are likely to be told by your doctor that you need to lose weight. So there, I've just explained the correlation, and notice how my explanation doesn't rely on the idea that a fat person who is stupid enough to be satisfied with his/her body is also too stupid to go to a doctor. Or here's another, more depressing possibility: people who are fat but don't think they need to lose weight avoid going to the doctor even when they get sick because the doctor is likely to tell them that they need to lose weight rather than actually bothering to diagnose their real health problem.

My friend who sent me the link pointed out a similarity between this and our cultural attitude towards "depression": if you're a sensitive, introspective person who feels saddened by the state of the world, rather than being able to glibly go through life thinking everything is hunky dory the way that most people apparently do without getting bummed out by things like war and global warming, then clearly you are the pathological one and you must have a medical problem that needs to be treated in order to bring your worldview into alignment with everyone else's.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strikes and gutters

I was so excited to see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It's a really nice introduction to fat studies -- naturally, since the authors are editors of a Fat Studies Reader that came out last week (look for a review here -- my copy is due to arrive today!). It's so nice for once to read a sympathetic piece on fat studies that isn't "balanced" by a quote from some doctor saying "Yeah, but just because studies have repeatedly failed to show that being fat is a big health hazard, and 95% of people can't permanenly lose large amounts of weight anyway, it would be dangerous for fat people to think that they are OK." In fact, the article is totally free of such crap, with the teeny exception of the caption on the (awesome) photo of the Padded Lillies, which includes the term "overweight." It's not an unsympathetic caption, but it was clearly not written by the authors of the article, who I am pretty sure would not use the term "overweight". It's not quite as irritating a term as "obese", but for me it always brings to mind the question "over WHAT weight?" (aside: just now in googling the phrase "over what weight?" to see if I could figure out its origin, or at least remember the first place I saw it, I came across a very interesting feminist blog called Professor, What If...?. I've only read a few posts so far, but it seems worth checking out, especially this post.) I think many people consider the term to be more polite than "fat", but "overweight" clearly carries with it some normative weight that everyone should be, which I find icky. But that's a minor nitpick; you should really go read the article because it's great and I love that it appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. It seems to me that we'll need more of that in order for fat studies to really come into its own.

On the negative side, today's features this lousy excuse for an article. Read it for yourselves (or don't); I just wanted to highlight a few of the most idiotic things about it here.

First there's this funny line: "[American Heart Association spokesman Russell] Pate and other childhood obesity experts say more American youths are becoming obese because so many are addicted to television, video games, testing and fast food." I find the thought of kids being addicted to testing pretty hilarious. I personally will confess that I like taking tests, especially the bubble kind, and I liked them when I was a kid too. But I'm pretty sure I was kind of a weird kid that way. Anyway, let's give the editors the benefit of the doubt and assume the author meant "texting"; I'm still going to call bullshit on it. This strikes me as just a list of stereotypes about what fat kids do with their time. Where's the evidence that fat kids engage in more of those activities listed than other kids do?

On a more serious note, there's the whole "ticking time bomb" concept that appears in the headline and is repeated in the article. What a terrible metaphor, especially when you're talking about kids. Hey parents, if you don't make your fat child lose weight right away, he/she will EXPLODE!!! This is exactly the kind of substance-free, sensationalized rhetoric that characterizes the entire "war on obesity" and should lead any thinking person to be skeptical about the whole enterprise.

And then there is the very telling description of Russell Pate's research methodology: "Pate, who has testified about childhood obesity before Congress, says he can tell how American kids have changed by looking at old yearbooks. 'You see fewer overweight kids,' Pate says. 'There were some kids that were overweight in the older yearbooks, but the typical kid was leaner.'" Wow, I can't wait to see the results of that super-objective study where a thin guy flips through yearbooks and concludes that there are more fat kids than there used to be, based on 1" square photos of the kids' faces (which are, by the way, kids' faces -- i.e., commonly kind of chubby regardless of the child's overall physique). Maybe I'll do my own study where I flip through some modern yearbooks and conclude "Hey, everybody looks OK to me!"

There are plenty of other things to pick on in the article, but I'll just point out one last little ironic thing, which is that the photo that goes with the article is of a chubby person (I guess it's supposed to be a kid, but it's hard to tell) in a swimming pool. So if the whole point of the article is that kids don't exercise anymore, isn't that kind of a stupid photo to run with it? Well, maybe the person who selected the photo was being subversive. If so, kudos to them for getting one thing right: it's entirely possible for a fat kid (or adult) to exercise and still be fat. When I was a kid I did a sport every season: swim team, soccer team, basketball team, softball team, plus horseback riding lessons, and later marching band. And I was still fat. Gym class in middle school and high school were almost humiliating enough to take all the joy out of exercising for me (like the time sophomore year when the gym teacher's daughter, who was in my class, got put in charge of weighing everyone and she told her friends how much I weighed... incidentally, although my body composition is a lot different, I weigh the same now as I did then; how many self-righteous fat-bashers can say that for themselves?). Somehow on my own I discovered the fun of running when I was in college, and I have continued with running and/or other kinds of exercise pretty consistently since then. But it was absolutely not due to gym class -- so the idea suggested in this article that phys ed classes are the solution to the "childhood obesity problem" is, in my opinion, way off base. I'm pretty sure the people quoted in the article who promote this idea were not fat kids, or they'd know that phys ed as it is traditionally taught in American schools is no way to get fat kids excited about fun and healthy ways of moving their bodies; quite the contrary.

Oh well. I guess I gotta remember that at least there are people out there like Sondra Solovay and Esther Rothblum and Marilyn Wann.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fat Guy in a Little Controversy

When I saw this ad, my first reactions were: Aww, fat guy in a little coat! I love that scene! and then Hey, Chris Farley is dead, so what the hell are they doing using him in a DirecTV commercial? Apparently I wasn't alone in thinking it was a little problematic making a dead person into a spokesman for your company.

According to this article (nitpick: the article incorrectly refers to the scene as "Fat Boy in a Little Coat," suggesting that the author had never even seen this classic scene before and therefore isn't in the best position to comment on how wrong it is that they turned it into a commercial... but whatever...), Chris Farley's family was totally on board with the ad, and David Spade thought it was a nice tribute to his friend, so everyone on board apparently has a clear conscience about the whole thing and doesn't intend to apologize or pull the ad.

I'm not going to tear into David Spade for this (though Gawker had no qualms about doing so). I blame Farley's family for giving their consent, and DirecTV for having poor taste. To paraphrase the late great Bill Hicks (hey, wouldn't it be hilarious if they used him in an advertisement? maybe for Orange Drink?), when you do a commercial, you're a corporate fucking shill. You're off the artistic roll call. Everything you say is suspect, and every word that comes out of your mouth is like a turd falling into my drink. (Bill meant his own drink, but hey, mine too.) So the thing is, when you choose to do an endorsement, it's like when an amateur goes pro -- you can't go back. From now on, when someone hears you say something, they will not know if you sincerely believe it or if someone just paid you to say it. So apparently David Spade made the calculation and thought, OK, the amount of money they're paying me makes it worth doing this. But poor Chris Farley doesn't have the luxury of making that kind of choice, now, does he? Maybe you don't think that's so bad, but think about it this way: there's a whole generation of people out there who were not yet born when Tommy Boy came out and might not have ever seen it, so the next time they see Chris Farley on TV their first thought may well be "Hey, it's the guy from the DirecTV ad!"

Maybe Chris Farley did other endorsements during his lifetime, in which case he was a corporate shill anyway (I'd still love the guy if that were true). Even so, the decision to use one's own talent and reputation in support of selling a particular product is one that only an individual can make for him/herself, and no matter how well his family knew Chris Farley they can't know for sure that he would have wanted to do an ad for fucking DirecTV. I'd like to think he wouldn't.

While I'm on this subject, have you all seen Jeff Bridges' ads for Duracell and Hyundai? Very un-Dude...

Monday, October 05, 2009


I was glad to see this article on today.

And, happily, I had some kind of problem loading the comments page, so I wasn't able to read the comments (despite which fact I am still confident that I could recite them to you almost verbatim). It was an all-around very enjoyable reading experience that has inspired me to stop reading comments in general -- except for the ones you post on my blog, of course, dear readers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CNN clueless when it comes to... a lot of things headline: "Parents clueless when it comes to kids' growth charts". The article basically says that when doctors (et al) distribute pediatric growth charts to parents, the parents often don't understand the charts and that this "has implications in the war against childhood obesity". God forbid that parents' stupidity should get in the way of the war effort!

The thing is, though, that many parents (at least the ones I know) are perfectly aware of their kids' percentiles on the growth charts. In fact, if anything (from the perspective on a non-parent who has politely sat through more conversations on the subject than I would prefer) I would say that parents probably dwell on the percentiles a little too much. In several cases, it seemed that doctors deliberately caused the parents to worry about their very young children by going on and on about the percentiles (not just on the height/weight spectrum, but also in terms of the timing of certain childhood milestones). It is true that most of the parents I know do not have low income or low education levels, and therefore according to the article they are more likely than others to be able to understand the charts. But I'm not convinced that being able to understand the charts is really such a wonderful thing if it causes people unnecessary worry about their children. Maybe in this instance, ignorance is bliss.

Just have a look at this example of a pediatric growth chart. Notice that height and weight are on separate charts -- even as crude a measure of the height-weight relationship as BMI is not represented. Now suppose little Johnny is 2 years old and he's in the 70th percentile for weight on the chart. What is a parent to "understand" about that? *Some* child has to be at the 70th percentile -- 'cause weight, like height, exhibits a normal distribution -- so what if it's *your* child? Well, if he's also at the 70th percentile for height then maybe the doctor would let it go. But what if he's at the 50th percentile for height? Is he then "overweight"? And should you therefore put your 2 year old on a diet to slim him down?

The weirdest part of this article to me is the part where this pediatrician suggests that pediatricians talk to parents about height and weight in terms of clothing size because "It is real to them if they are having to buy clothes frequently or if hems always need shortening to accommodate girth." OK, remember we are talking about *kids* here. Now every parent who has to buy clothes frequently is supposed to panic and flip out and think that their child is abnormal and "at risk for serious medical problems"? I can just imagine what those conversations will be like... "Well, Mrs. Jones, the reason that you have had to buy new pants for your daughter three times this year is that she has a height problem. As you can see on this chart here, Susie is in the 85th percentile for height at her age, which means that she is overheight." What, you think that's ridiculous? Because height is mostly genetic and is just a natural parameter of human variation that is virtually impossible to control? And while it's possible that extreme tallness or shortness could signal an underlying health problem, which the doctor may want to check for, it is also entirely possible that there's no problem at all and therefore there's no reason to cause the parents to panic? Well, I couldn't agree with you more. Now, why is weight not treated the same way? Hey, don't ask questions like that -- don't you know we're at war?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fat and the health care debate

Liberals: if you think that the solution to all our nation's health care problems, as well as the key to paying for a national health care plan, resides in getting rid of fat people, you are in good company: your president agrees. However, as much as I like Obama, he's just plain wrong about this. If he thinks we can "prevent obesity", he's got another think coming. And even supposing we could do that, if Obama thinks that eliminating fat people would eliminate all of our nation's medical problems and save us a trillion dollars, well, he's got even more thinking to do.

The facts are these: (1) You can't make fat people thin in the long term. (2) Making people thin doesn't necessarily make them healthy anyway -- in fact in many cases it does just the opposite. And (3) a national health care plan is going to be expensive, and rather than pretend like we can eliminate all the costs by forcing or guilting everyone into getting thin, we need to just suck it up and pay for the plan, even if that means raising taxes.

I have noticed a lot of anti-fat rhetoric associated with the health care debate. There's John Mackey's controversial WSJ editorial, and Michael Pollan's response in the New York Times, and Obama repeating his previous claims. And then there's Ashton Kutcher's statement on Bill Maher's show (which Maher of course did not call him out on): "Frankly, I don’t want to pay for the guy who’s getting a triple-bypass because he’s eating fast food all day and deep-fried snickers bars." (I should immediately point out that this quote doesn't single out fat people, just people who eat a non-Ashton Kutcher-approved diet. But I think it's not totally out of line to imagine a fat person as the stereotypical person that he had in mind with this statement.) But I've also seen it coming increasingly from ordinary people -- in debates on Facebook, for example, and in the comments that people make on some of the articles mentioned above.

Here is what I would like to say to everyone who favors universal health care: our message has to be consistent or we are doomed. It is totally hypocritical for a pro-choice liberal to declare that "a woman's body is her own" but then turn around and try to tell others what to eat and how much to exercise and how much body fat they are allowed to have. Universal health care means covering everybody, regardless of whose "fault" it is when they get sick. That is the whole point. If you keep talking about policing the way people live their lives as a way to drive down costs, you are playing right into the Republicans' fear-mongering about how Big Government takes away our freedom. We liberals need to get our thinking straight about this, or this whole health care thing is going nowhere.

P.S. Sorry for the comment moderation; I've been getting spam comments every day on my last post and I don't know how else to block them. I'll try to approve your comments quickly.

P.P.S. I just got wind of a new blog called Fat Habitat that may be of interest. It's about fat and sustainability. There aren't many posts yet (and the last one was pro-Michael Pollan before he made his recent anti-fat remarks, so it will be interesting to see how he's treated in the next post), but this will be one to watch.