Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy holidays!

Hope everybody has a very Merry Christmas, etc.

Here is a picture of Bunpote eating our Christmas tree!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The poison keyboard

This month's Utne Reader included their list of nominations for the Utne Independent Press Awards, and guess who's on it: your favorite and mine, VegNews! And what's more, they were nominated not for design (which I think they have been in the past) but for "Health/Wellness Coverage"!

This was really too much for me. So I decided to take bold, swift action and... write a letter to the editor. Here's what I said:

I'm puzzled as to why VegNews was nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award for Health/Wellness Coverage. As a health-conscious vegetarian, I recently stopped my subscription to VegNews because they promote veganism for reasons of animal rights, not human health. Any time the two come into conflict, they side with the animals. For example, a recent issue bemoaned the impending ban on trans fats in New York City restaurants because it will raise costs for vegan fast food restaurants. They also regularly promote packaged, processed food products as alternatives to animal products, and they recently attacked the Slow Food Movement (referring to it as the "Developmentally Disabled Movement") because it doesn't have any prominent vegetarians on its board.

I could understand VegNews being nominated for Political Coverage, or for Best Design, but Health/Wellness? Not unless you mean the health and wellness of animals rather than (and sometimes at the expense of) humans.

Think they'll run it? I'm not holding my breath. My last letter to the editor (of VegNews) didn't get published and I'll bet they never even read it. Here's what that one said:

In your August issue, Dan Piraro the nutrition expert/cartoonist claims to have discovered "the reason" people are fat: Dairy! Oh, so that half cup of nonfat organic milk in my morning coffee is the reason for my "sizeable posterior"? And if I just went vegan then I'd get skinny and have a healthier heart? OK, I'll just start eating only VegNews recipes and watch the pounds melt away – after all, the amount of coconut milk in your Thai-Style Coconut Soup recipe on page 65 only has 177 grams of saturated fat! And while I'm at it, I'll head over to Food Swings in Brooklyn (page 25) and get some vegan fast food loaded with heart-healthy trans fats.

I've considered going vegan in the past but have hesitated because of concerns about margarine and soy. If you want to convince vegetarians to go vegan for health, then get a real nutritionist to make the case that a vegan diet is healthy, rather than just reinforcing our society's hatred towards fat people and pretending it's all about health. Smug articles like Piraro's that hurl insults and make unfounded judgments about people's health based on their size will only push people away.

I thought maybe the sarcasm kept my letter out of the magazine, so I decided to tone it down for Utne. But in fact, VegNews only prints letters that tell them how great they are, so I suspect that they wouldn't have run it either way. In any case, whether Utne prints my letter or not, I'll look forward to seeing the next issue where they announce that somebody other than VegNews won the award for Health/Wellness Coverage (the winner was, in fact, POZ).

And now I think I am done being bitter about VegNews.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The new war on Christmas

Forget about Bill O'Reilly's worn-out claim that liberals are waging a war on Christmas. The new war on Christmas cuts across party lines, since it's being waged by fatphobes and the diet industry. In case you didn't know: they want to slim down Santa! (Here is just one example.)

Happily, there is an organization trying to combat this effort with a campaign of their own: Keep Santa Fat. The whole thing is about half tongue-in-cheek (i.e., I think they are serious about it, but they aren't pretending like this is the most important issue in the world). But there is one very real positive consequence to the campaign: for every person who signs their petition to Keep Santa Fat, they will donate one pound of food to America's Second Harvest, which is a charity organization that runs food banks around the US. Apparently there is always a shortage around the holidays, so the timing of the campaign is particularly... uh... timely. I recommend the Keep Santa Fat site anyway since it's interesting and funny, but if you agree with the cause then it would be particularly nice if you would go and sign the petition and help out the food banks.

Incidentally, my own favorite Santa isn't fat at all. But I'm pretty sure that wasn't a deliberate attempt to send an anti-obesity message, given that Willie Stoke isn't exactly a model for clean living otherwise...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

So close, yet so far away

An Alert Reader sent me a link to this article (Alert Reader, do you have a preferred nickname?), which says so many things that I like. For example, that exercise performance is the best predictor of longevity, period. And that it is a far better predictor of longevity than BMI. That "what something looks like does not tell you how it runs" (my favorite quote in the story, from cardiologist Paul Thompson). That exercise reverses some of the so-called risk factors of obesity including insulin resistance, low HDL cholesterol, and hypertension (we already knew all that, but incidentally, doesn't the fact that exercise "reverses" these factors even in "obese" people suggest that they are not risk factors of obesity at all, but rather risk factors of a sedentary lifestyle?). That "fitness" can result from as little as 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week.

So then why, oh why, is the second page of the article subtitled "Obesity Still a Big, Fat Problem", even though nothing after that subtitle provides any evidence whatsoever for fat being inherently bad for you? And why does the author of this otherwise lovely article feel compelled to add that "Experts say that for the most part, it's uncommon to be fit and fat, which means staying trim is just as important as exercising"? OK, here's a GRE question for you all: does the second half of that sentence follow from the first? Argh. And this is followed up by a gem of a quote from Nathan Wong: "In real life, few abdominally obese patients have a high level of fitness, so practically from a public health point of view, getting across any message implying we place less importance on obesity is ill-advised." So this guy is suggesting that even though a new study just showed, once again, how much more important fitness is than BMI, we still have to be obsessed with fat because of a correlation. Say it with me, people: Correlation does not imply causation. Now say it again, louder, so Nathan Wong can hear you. This pisses me off so much I feel like just typing it over and over again. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation does not imply causation.

The Admiral sent me a Newsweek article that suffers from the same problem, but in reverse. You think it is going to be a totally crappy piece because it basically says that fat women's weight loss goals are not ambitious enough, in that on average the fat woman's ideal amount of weight loss would still leave her in the "overweight" BMI category (god forbid). And we all know that all this "obesity" is really "alarming" (in fact we get the words "alarmingly" and "alarming" in back-to-back sentences in the same paragraph, in case you weren't alarmed enough after the first instance). The author of the study that revealed fat women's modest weight loss goals suggested that a 5'2" woman who weighs 200 pounds probably just thinks it's totally unrealistic to get down to 120 lbs. (which it is, statistically speaking). But then the authors of the Newsweek article follow that up by saying that this "may just mean that women who are very overweight might need to achieve small weight loss goals before they can envision larger losses and change their eating and exercise behaviors accordingly." Oh, yeah, totally, I'm sure that would make it 100% easier; in fact, they should market this as a new foolproof weight loss strategy! Just lose a little bit of weight, and then you will believe that you can lose a lot more weight, and then you will totally do it! It reminds me of the Jenny Craig counselor (a thin woman) who once brilliantly advised my mom, "Maybe if you could just not eat as much..."

This article also cites that lovely "having fat friends will make you fat" idea from a while back, and here is how they explain the effect supposedly found in that study: People with fat friends "may simply see being fat as the new normal." Does this strike anyone else as being completely idiotic? Like somehow if you have fat friends you become incapable of figuring out if someone is fat or not? For some reason I am reminded of Stephen Colbert's claim that he doesn't see race -- like, literally, he can't tell if someone is black. But the difference is that the authors of this article aren't trying to be ironic.

So why am I even bothering to tell you about this article? Well, because at the end, they finally get around to saying that maybe women should be encouraged to feel good about themselves regardless of whether society tells them they are too fat. They cite a study that showed that "girls who felt good about themselves were more likely to be physically active and pay more attention to what they ate," and they advocate "encouraging women to love and care for their bodies — even when they don't match the Hollywood ideal". Then again, they say that the reason to encourage women to feel good about their bodies is that statistically, a woman who feels good about her body is less likely to gain weight, so therefore this may help "reverse or at least slow the progression of the obesity epidemic." So let me just make sure I'm clear on this: We should encourage women to feel good about their bodies, even if they are fat. But if they are fat, that is "alarming", and if they don't make large enough weight-loss goals for themselves, then they just need to lose some weight so they will feel like they can lose more weight so they can become "normal" and therefore not be so alarming to everybody else. But in the mean time they should still try to feel good about themselves.

OK, never mind, that article just plain sucks.