Mar 20 2013

TMI: spinster aunt surprised by spinster aunt’s obesity

As I revealed in the comments to yesterday’s post on Big Gulps, Sarah Palin, and metabolic disease, I recently had my personal auntly body fat measured. They dunked me like a donut in a sort of clinical baptismal vat, whereupon it was revealed that the spinster aunt is comprised of 37% fat.

This, it will not surprise you to hear, blew my entire lobe (the extra fat globules made the explosion particularly glisteny). Based on my being generally underweight, of bird-like aspect and of lanky build, the assumption had always been that I am skinny. But no. I am obese. Clinically and for real obese. Some of the fat is subcutaneous, the la-di-da no-big-whoop kind of fat. But apparently a goodly slab of it can be found festering in the dank hidden recesses of my abdomen, in the shape of the far more sinister visceral fat.

Sidebar: yesterday, when I suggested that better education might help liberate the American populace from toxic diets — a remark that was perceived by some as classist — I was writing from the perspective of recent fat ignorance. Before I got dunked and subsequently gave reluctant audience to a reading of the Riot Act, I of course knew that sugar is bad and fiber is good, but I was a little shaky on the science. The fact is that although I am privileged, white, suburban, and overeducated, as well as a world-renowned expert aunt who can afford monthly road trips to Whole Foods, I had never before given a moment’s thought to visceral fat, much less its unique (as opposed to sub-q fat) characteristics or its specific role in the jolly Parade of Fatal Human Diseases. I do concede that because of the aforementioned socioeconomic factors, I am in a better position than many to address my hidden globs. But it has nevertheless occurred to me that I am probably not alone when it comes to lack of visceral fat awareness. No, education alone can’t, as blamer Saurs pointed out, make you not poor or give you a fat-free liver. But it’s got to be better than no education. You can’t fight what you don’t know.

Anyway, it turns out that, whereas subcutaneous fat — muffin tops, saddle bags, bingo arms, et al — is actually beneficial, goodly slabs of visceral fat are, in a word, not. Particularly for cancer patients, among whose ranks I am, reluctantly, counted.

To help me achieve a fully-realized panic attack over this latest healthbomb, my ever-obliging oncologist gave me this book Fat Chance by, oh what the hell’s his name, Lessig? Ludwig? Whatever, I keep calling him Dr Zaftig. He’s a practicing childhood obesity specialist who uses No. 1 Science Information to explain in terms that even a spinster aunt can understand the relationship between sugar, processed food, and metabolic disease.

Before you go all Savage Death on my ass, let me say that this Dr Zaftig is no fat shamer. He might even be construed as an advocate, asserting that obesity is not, as is popularly imagined, a function of character flaws or lack of willpower, but rather the inevitable outcome of heredity combined with the flaws in the so-called American diet. Zaftig doesn’t suggest anything new or earth-shattering. His advice consists of the usual “less sugar, more fiber, and have a little olive oil on your salad.” But he does advance a theory explaining how an aunt can be underweight and obese at the same time, which I found pretty enlightening. I won’t bore you with the soporific details about insulin, lipogenesis, the fucking Maillard reaction, and correlations with cancer and dementia and whatnot. Suffice it to say that I have beaten a hasty retreat back to Kale Nation.

Don’t construe this post as an ad for the book, by the way. In the first place, I haven’t applied to it the jaundiced eye of feminist analysis; I’ve only read it from the perspective of a skinny obese aunt who wouldn’t know a lipid if it poked her in the eye with a sharp stick. In the second place, Zaftig is a dude, he’s a privileged member of the Establishment, he’s got a NYTimes bestseller, and of course he’s been on NPR, so what are the odds that that his argument doesn’t contain hidden agendas and dominant-culture affirmations galore? He certainly does take a pretty paternalistic tone when writing about his feckless soda-swilling patients. And his attempts at humor could be used to make corn syrup. But I will say that at least he’s not as condescending as, say, the NIH. Their website says

“Our bodies have a complex system to help keep our weight at a healthy level. In some people, this system does not work normally.”

Whereas Zaftig refreshingly declines to label obese persons as “abnormal.” He avers instead that the cause of obesity rests, not with an individual’s supposedly “abnormal system,” but with the normal body’s completely reasonable response to the wackaloon processed, refined, and artificial foods that in recent decades we Americans have been conditioned, and in many cases coerced, to accept. This conditioning, he maintains, is the direct result of profit-driven efforts of the mighty Fast Food Industrial Complex.

A propos of which efforts, have you seen any reviews of that Pink Slime dude’s book Salt Sugar Fat? I haven’t read it, but it’s supposedly an expose about how the processed food industry specifically designs toxic convenience foods to be both addictive and cheap, then poisons the citiizenry all the way to the bank. Quoth the NY Times, the author

“visits with neuroscientists whose M.R.I.’s of test subjects demonstrate how the brain’s so-called pleasure centers light up when the subjects are dosed with solutions of sugar or fat. He then describes how consultants and food scientists calibrate products — ‘optimize’ them, in industry-speak — to maximize cravings.”

And did you get a load of Stephen Colbert mocking the so-called “bliss point” by using a giant taco shell as a chip to scoop up a dip made entirely of Tostitos?

You get my drift.

Anyway. Using the Zaftig argument, it is hypothesized that my high fat content is a result of my having reverted, over the past year or so, from a fancy privileged vegan life to a “convenience” diet of refined flour products, potato chips, “liquid sanctimony” smoothies, Fresca, Thundercloud Subs, too much wine, cookies, and Amy’s frozen entrees (mostly the kind with cheese sauce and potatoes). The hypothesis is on its way to being confirmed; I have lost an estimated 2 percentage points worth of fat in as many weeks, merely by adjusting this program to reflect a more lentil-heavy foodlosophy.

Which is my usual long-winded way of saying: I grasp that, though it still poses mondo health risks, skinny obesity is, at least in terms of women’s oppression and membership in the sex class, orders of magnitude less stigmatizing than fat obesity, and I’m sorry I fatshamed. And concerntrolled.


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  1. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    They didn’t float me in a tank. They pinched me with hideous calipers, all the better to measure my rolls and bulges. If you want fat-shaming, look no further than this humiliating ceremony. I’d rather take a crap on a landmine.

    P.S. Fret not over wine. Something in the fermentation process renders the sugary parts harmless.

  2. buttercup

    You didn’t fat shame or concern troll. You did, however, open the door for those activities to commence, which they did, posthaste, though admittedly in a far more subdued and polite manner than what usually happens on Huffpo. For that I commend Blame Nation.

    Don’t limit your reading to Dr Zaftig. There’s a lot of good information out there. Try Gary Taubes and Gina Kolata for a start. And take everything you read with a grain of (figurative) salt.

  3. ChariD

    @Antoinette: THANK MAUDE. I just cannot give up the wine.

  4. Lorie

    Dr. Joel Fuhrman is good too.

  5. pheenobarbidoll

    Just to make sure it’s seen-

    You didn’t fat shame or concern troll. The Bloomberg Food Police did.

  6. minervaK

    Actually, 37% body fat isn’t that high, for a broad over 50. Also, hie thee over to Junkfood Science, which, while it is currently on hiatus, still contains buttloads of actual scientific information about the links between fatness and health (scroll down the menus on the right side). It’s not as dire as the Capitalists would have you believe.

  7. c2t2

    The ability to be simultaneously underweight and obese perfectly illustrates that the medical establishment is full of crap. We ought to divide the whole shebang into two completely separate industries, one “health-related”, the other “having the appearance of P2K compliance”. Then we’d take everything in the second category and catapault it into the Sun. Seriously, P2K compliance = health has got to go.

    As for Zaftig –
    “…the normal body’s completely reasonable response to the wackaloon processed, refined, and artificial foods that in recent decades we Americans have been conditioned, and in many cases coerced, to accept. This conditioning, he maintains, is the direct result of profit-driven efforts of the mighty Fast Food Industrial Complex.”

    By golly, that almost sounds like blaming!

  8. ew_nc

    I wonder if any of these BMI measuring clinics have every told anyone, “Hey, you’re just fine!” Where’s the profit in that?

    Skinny people have died young and fat people have lived to be quite old. I don’t think we’re even close to figuring out what’s really going on, because the research being conducted is entirely bathed in patriarchal assumptions. And sure, the “American Diet” is shit, but it would be a colossal undertaking to change it. There are billions of people on this planet who need to be fed. While I agree that GMO foods and the like are bad news, what’s the alternative at this point? Can’t be giving kale smoothies to chronically hungry people and expect them to like it.

    I think we hang a lot of health concerns on fat because the patriarchy realizes it can’t get away with simply saying, “Don’t be fat because dudes think it’s ugly”. No doctor, etc. will admit to that. But that’s what it is. No better example of that than the hugely loathsome Dr. Oz. And I’ll really go out on a limb and say that fat hatred is so deeply ingrained in us that it creates a mind-body connection that messes with your health. If your sub-conscience hates your body, then what messages is the brain sending to your cells?

    I know, I sound like a whackadoodle. But my dog, what a national obsession food and eating have become, instead of just being an enjoyable activity that is necessary to life. Is it any wonder we’re a nation of disordered eaters?

    You know what I blame.

  9. buttercup

    Oddly enough, EW_NC, many of the diseases correlated with obesity are also correllated with stress. Stigmatization causes a hell of a lot of stress..

  10. ew_nc

    Thanks for pointing that out, buttercup. I completely agree. There’s tons of empirical evidence to support that stress is harmful to the body. However, a stressed-out woman can still be hot, so that’s all that’s really of importance, right?

  11. quixote

    c2t2: ‘We ought to divide the whole shebang into two completely separate industries, one “health-related”, the other “having the appearance of P2K compliance”.’


  12. blue

    “Whereas Zaftig refreshingly declines to label obese persons as “abnormal.” He avers instead that the cause of obesity rests, not with an individual’s supposedly “abnormal system,” but with the normal body’s completely reasonable response to the wackaloon processed, refined, and artificial foods that in recent decades we Americans have been conditioned, and in many cases coerced, to accept. ”

    Or people are born fat, diet or are forced on diets as children because of this country’s fat hatred, and weight set points and metabolisms get mightily messed up and in many cases forever wrecked.

    “Using the Zaftig argument, it is hypothesized that my high fat content is a result of my having reverted, over the past year or so, from a fancy privileged vegan life to a “convenience” diet of refined flour products, potato chips, “liquid sanctimony” smoothies, Fresca, Thundercloud Subs, too much wine, cookies, and Amy’s frozen entrees (mostly the kind with cheese sauce and potatoes).”

    Or you’re aging. At lot of what we put at the doorstep of fat/unhealthy is actually the aging process.

    Your soda post I didn’t find fat-shaming or concern-trolling. It’s just that sin taxes on food/sodas are code for “fat people can’t control themselves, we must do it for them.”

    This post I do find fat-shaming-ish, though. Despite my comment on the earlier post that the term “obese” is offensive to fat people, it’s still all over this post. But it is your blog after all, and I’m merely allowed to comment by your leave.

  13. blue

    Please ignore the part of my previous comment about your use of the word “obesity.” I don’t know when you made this post or even if you saw my comment on the other post. My apologies.

  14. pregnant pause

    Holy smokes, this might be me too! My parents were/are skinny and so am I but I think I am skinny fat too. I always suspected this was a thing. My dad died super young from a heart attack and my mom is prediabetic even though she looks like a bird. Doctors never worry about me because I look fine. I always have to force them to look for problems which they are then surprised to fine, just because I guess to them looking skinny=healthy. Maybe I should jump in a tank too (after this bean is born obvs). All this new science information!

  15. minervaK

    Another good resource for reliable fat research:


  16. Hermionemone

    Fat is weird. Just when I was adopting a reduced-fatty diet, during random post-shower P2K compliance assessment / self-examination I discovered a 3cm blob of squishy fat next to my breast that if I poked here,blooped out over HERE. Poke. Bloop. Poke. Bloop. Wow, weird! After only partially panicking, I had an ultrasound and a mammogram that indicated it is a benign lipoma, the ‘lipo’ meaning fat, and ‘oma’ meaning lump. So, medical science confirmed it is a lump of fat next to my breast. How did it get to be 3cm in size, without me noticing? What if it had been NOT benign, like, a real cancer? 3cm is pretty huge for a freshly discovered blob. Anyway, it’s kind of cool, now that I know it’s harmless. Poke here, bloop out HERE. Bodies are full of surprises. Sorry for the unavoidably anecdotal nature of this comment. Sometimes the personal is political medical analytical parenthetical heretical. Poke. Bloop. Check for weirdness, and get it checked out.

  17. Gertrude Strine

    Wow, that list of foodlike substances is too long for any kind of health, let alone visceral fat fitness.
    Maybe one could attribute the recent resumption of blaming to a lobe or two regaining function via not being assaulted with whatever comprises Amy’s frozen entrails.

    It’s pretty simple, Aunt T.
    If it came from a plant eat it, if it was made in a plant, don’t.
    Michael Pollan, who blames the Patriarchy very nicely for the way it’s trying to remove the US food culture, is responsible for quite a few of these user friendly aphorisms.
    If you can’t buy fresh, then buy frozen.
    Or if you own land, and you can’t buy fresh, grow it on your dreadful acres with all that unpotable water.
    I look forward to a snap or two of the Auntly veg patch.

    For the poor criers, I visited the USA a few years ago and couldn’t believe the volume of processed carbohydrate served at each budget burger/taco/happy meal style restaurant meal, or packaged as a supermarket ready meal. And it was clear as hell that the people who were eating there, or buying from the cheap supermarket ready meal shelves, were mostly too fat. Were they eating more because they needed bulk of that low-value crap to get enough actual nutrition, or were they eating more because the foodlike stuff producers had trained them to eat big with huge portions?
    So kill me: I think there’s a serious argument for taxing that kind of eating out of existence if the food megacorp won’t restrain their marketing of excess shit. At any one sitting at even a medium price restaurant I found the volume of stuff on the plate was around twice as much as is served in similar places in Australia. At least I got to stop and do more than just exchange pleasantries with the men with foam cups sitting outside because I could hand a few of them a good sized meal after I’d taken what I wanted from those mega bags.
    Nobody ever starved by paying more for good stuff, but eating less of it, but that’s not what the foodlike stuff economy appears to want anyone to know.

    The same pushing of rubbish is going on in the closed world of processed food for pets.
    And the Corporates in that sector are running a vicious campaign against those who have worked out that extruded pelleted cardboard with mineral and vitamins isn’t food, but a very profitable way of recycling the waste products from meat factories, dairies and corn farms.
    Fido and kitty have visceral fat issues now, along with a long list of other premature death problems that can pretty simply be solved in many cases by tossing out the packet foods and substituting the real stuff that grandma used to toss them. The men from Mars Corporation, having seen the writing on the wall, are shoring up their market by producing super-cardboard – ie stuff with more wood and less carbohydrate – that functions exactly the same as eating less, except Mars et al get paid for it.

    The whole deal of food factories is a con. IBTP.

    For those who’d continue usual alcohol intake with a fatty liver:
    Alcohol places a fair bit of a processing burden on a liver.
    Nothwithstanding the body doesn’t pile coh on to the viscera, the liver that has become fatty in any way would benefit from not having to process alcohol until it recovers its less fatty, healthy profile.

  18. Helen Huntingdon

    Thank you for the information on this. I recently had cause to get an abdominal CT, so now I will ask the doctor what was on there in terms of visceral fat. (At the time we were only concerned with, “Anything visible that might cause wrenching gut pain?”) I figure as long as the test was done, may as well get the most use out of it.

  19. speedbudget

    Gertrude Strein, have you heard of food deserts? These are things that exist, and that affect mainly poor people. Perhaps all those people who were “too fat” eating all that processed fast food were eating the only food they could afford and/or access.

  20. Twisty

    Poke. Bloop.

    Yeah, one day I poked and blooped and suddenly there was a walnut-sized tumor in my boob. Just like that. Turned out it was stage 3 breast cancer. Who’d a thunk it!

    My sibling Tidy had a giant, entity-class lipoma in her butt-cheek. She had to get it amputated because it was interfering with her ability to sit around. We called it the Ass Mass. Someone in the OR photographed it. I wish I could find that photo. The Ass Mass was awesome because it looked exactly like a baseball mitt, about 8 cm wide.

  21. Twisty


    No, I didn’t see your previous post until a few minutes ago. But I’m really sorry I offended you. This is one of those times when a spinster discovers she has been blind to her own privilege. I will totally cop to not having sufficiently hipped myself to the manifesto of the fat acceptance movement. Clearly I have some studyin’ to do.

    For instance, I am aware that it is entirely possible to be fat and not sick (even the aforementioned Dr Zaftig asserts as much. His name, by the way, is actually Lustig). So I have assumed that there is a difference, politically, between fat in the outward-appearance sense (fatness), and fat in the medical sense (obesity). The former has to do with weight and defines a politically oppressed group. The latter has to with elevated levels of visceral adipose tissue and the constellation of medical conditions associated with same. The two groups may intersect or not. In my case, not. Hence this post about my inner fat. My team of medical professionals has informed me that I am teetering on the brink of metabolic wackiness. This I consider a medical condition. I am comfortable calling myself obese, but this is probably because I am outwardly thin. As I suggested in the post, I am somewhat aware of the social consequences of fat vs thin in this screwy world. I will be more aware when the sun sets over the bunkhouse tonight.

  22. gwyllion

    i have said this before and i will say it AGAIN (and AGAIN ETC ETC ETC) THERE IS NO BAD FOOD! unless you are talking about food that is poisonous or is spoiled or rotten and hence non-consumable. There ARE foods that have more or less nutritional value than others – by labeling a food BAD (yes even PROCESSED food is not BAD – if you were starving – a package of processed lunch meat would not be BAD at all – in fact it would actually save your life and hence be GOOD) you are contributing to a disordered way of thinking about food and eating, which in turn contributes to eating disorders, distorted body image etc etc etc! PLEASE STOP!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. buttercup

    These tend to be great if you’re interested in deconstructing some of the common assumptions about fat and fat people.


  24. Keri

    Cancer is fucked. Trying to mitigate risk factors by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, utilizing SPF devices, and having weird shit checked is just a good idea.

    That being said, my ultra healthy vegetarian skinny mom with no risk factors only went to a naturopath so the two of them didn’t catch the giant esophageal tumor that was inhibiting her swallowing. When diagnosed finally, she died with in 5 months. And my skinny dad died at 39 from melanoma.

    So “obesity” is not the only risk factor, obviously, and many times cancer just happens inexplicably but obesity has to be honestly discussed.

    Also, i understand the privilege issues, like it’s a privilege getting any health care at all, but still. Society is fucked too but living here beats the alternative.

    Hermionemone-I have a third boob too!

  25. TwissB

    Thundercloud Subs. Substance and ambience.. Bliss.

  26. pregnant pause

    @ gwyllion: I’d like to second and third what you said about good and bad food. applause.

    Canadian here. I’ve travelled around some in Canada and the US with my band and we usually shop at grocery stores for food to save money by not eating expensive fast food all the time. (plus, sitting in a van for hours+fast food+gas station bathrooms= terrible digestive problems galore).
    I always notice that people in the states are quite a bit bigger than here, but that parts of Canada are too, usually small towns. It usually correlates with grocery stores that don’t have much selection especially of fresh things, and a higher prevalence of chain restaurants and unwalkable towns. My sister is a dietician and she said sometimes if you lack nutrients your body will tell you (because bodies are very smart actually) “hey you need to keep eating until you get me enough ‘x'” so you’ll feel hungry until you get what your body needs.

    I think some people are just naturally bigger and we should just get off their backs, but I don’t think that genetically Canadians and Americans are all that different, so, is something strange going on? Why would there be such a size difference just a few hundred miles away? I am not educated in this enough to really say why, but it seems like some people are making a TON of money off of feeding Americans sub-par food, then shaming them into dieting (which i think is the devil) and creating a population that has a super disordered relationship to food and their bodies.

    Note: I do NOT think Canada is superior in this regard, I saw a lot of this in parts of Canada too, I am just observing and wondering what’s up.

    Note: I used to have an eating disorder and spent years of labour-intensive therapy to exorcise it, and so now I really am anti-diet and pro body-acceptance, but like a recovered alcoholic who thinks everyone has a drinking problem, I have very sensitive disordered-eating detectors.

  27. buttercup

    Pregnant Pause, factors could include –
    Heavier antidepressant use in the US
    Former smokers who have gained weight
    Higher rates of weight cycling, which is known to add weight in the long term.
    Stress related to lack of decent health care in the US
    and so on and so on.

  28. speedbudget

    @pregnant pause:

    I wonder what kind of government subsidies Canada throws at food producers. Here in the States, these subsidies tend to support the over-processed, over-sugared foods that lead to weight gain.

    And our towns are not built for walking. I used to ride my bike the three miles into town to grab a few things at the grocery store. I had to stop doing it for fear of losing life or limb. Literally. I was way over in the shoulder, and when a driver wanted to pass someone waiting to make a left turn, they would come into the shoulder, bike or no, and practically push me off the road. This happened many times. It was die or exercise.

    And having been in many an American grocery store, the pre-processed boxed shit in the middle of the aisles that all the nutritionists tell you to steer clear of his the cheapest stuff in the store. It never goes bad. So if you’re living on the edge moneywise, it makes sense to purchase this awful stuff rather than the more expensive fresh foods that go bad in a few days.

  29. pheenobarbidoll

    ” I think there’s a serious argument for taxing that kind of eating out of existence if the food megacorp won’t restrain their marketing of excess shit.”

    Great. Then YOU fucking pay it for me. I have a paypal, you just let me know when you want to start depositing money in it. I may not starve, but I’ll have to forgo doctor visits or start choosing between water and electricity again. And I’ll expect you to cover the gas money it will take me to get to the store more often. I’m not near a bus route, and unless your happy ass is willing to come get me then YOU can walk 10 miles to the bus in 114 degree heat 9 months of the year.

    There needs to be an asshole tax.

  30. blue

    Twisty, I very much appreciate your comment. And I shouldn’t make a big deal out of being offended. Offense I can handle. It is the daily unrelenting onslaught of the idea that fat people are the scum of the earth that I can’t take.

    Here’s, IMO, where fat the political and fat the medical intersect: the medical is pretty much the engine of fat hatred. It’s not the reason, of course. The reason for fat hatred seems to be “it’s ugly,” but since most people don’t want to cop to being that shallow, they hide their hatred behind concern for health, outrage at health care costs, and “what about the children”?

    In fact, I guess that had fat the political made advances in the last few decades on par with the women’s movement and the Civil Rights movement (and I know both have a long ways to go still), I think your personal medical situation described above would be characterized much differently by your doctor and the literature.

    junkfoodscience [dot ]blogspot [dot] com/2009/08/myth-of-unhealthy-belly-fat.html

    “Regardless of the fact that no association has been found between visceral fat and actual health outcomes or mortality, these null studies continue to be ignored. […]

    With visceral fat found to have no association with obesity or belly fat, the theory now claims that even thin people with small waistlines are at risk from visceral fat based on a correlation with carotid IMT measurements. But this ignores the null studies that have found that carotid IMT measurements are not a measure of atherosclerosis, either. […]

    Even more significantly, while the metabo syndrome and all of its health indices are being used to promote a plethora of preventive health interventions and pills, none of the metabolic risk factors being attributed to visceral fat in the first place has been shown to have a meaningful correlation to cardiovascular disease or premature death. […]

    Visceral fat is largely genetic, as well as appears greater with aging, yo-yo dieting and emotional stress.”

  31. blue

    Thank you.

    @pregnant pause
    Coming from the POV of what I’ve learned from the fat acceptance movement, I believe America is fatter because we are the most obsessed nation when it comes to dieting. Also, though, we are fatter now along with being taller, having longer life expectancy, and being more intelligent. There may be correlation among those four.

    Eating does not make people fat. In the book Rethinking Thin, study after study shows that fat people eat no more than thin people, on average, and also both groups eat for the same reasons (i.e. more when stressed/upset). Also, fat people don’t “overeat” because of some deep-seated psychological problem.

    Weight is regulated by the body. It can be pushed up or down 20 pounds with some effort, but the body fights to keep at a predetermined weight, called the set point.

    What can reset the set point higher is dieting (nothing has been shown to be able to reset the set point lower). Dieting is perceived by the body as a famine. So when normal eating is resumed, the body tries to put extra protection into place against another famine, usually 25 pounds. If a person diets twice, that could increase her set point by 50 pounds.

    If you aren’t familiar, read up on the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. It is astounding what dieting does to the body and mind. One of my numerous comments on Twisty’s post right before this one has a list of resources corroborating my above statements.

  32. Saurs

    Or if you own land, and you can’t buy fresh, grow it on your dreadful acres with all that unpotable water.

    That is really dangerous advice. Irrigating your backyard veg (especially root veg) with non-potable and grey water risks contamination and the spread of pathogens, unless you can afford to test it before every application.

    As for the backyard orcharding, raised veg bed, urban farming, chickens in the side-yard deal, we in boonie inland southern California are a bit behind the crunchy times (whereas dirt-poor Los Angelians have a fairly rich history of doing so when times are crap, yuppie community gardens besides), but the trend is slowly gaining a foothold. Apart from the delicate diplomatic finesse required to get landlords to agree to it, it’s time-consuming, expensive, and hard work if you’re just starting out and have to amend clay soil (or sheet compost the fuck out of it), hand-water or run drip line, start seed, harvest at schedule, save the seed, battle all those invertebrate bastards stealing your grub, et al., when you work 40 – 60 hours a week. And this is a climatic utopia. What people across the county do in less clement weather, I’ve no idea, but it’s probably not fun. Growing your own food or other people’s is tough and unrewarding; that’s why people in the last two centuries swiftly fled the farms and ag businesses when they could.

  33. Ruskii

    @buttercup: Not just that, but its fairly likely the more ridiculous aspects of American work-til-you-die culture may be a significant cause of the “obesity epidemic.” I have narcolepsy, which as far as your body knows is chronic, extreme sleep deprivation (autoimmune, part of the brain that manages sleep gets destroyed, and you don’t get restorative sleep when you sleep, and your body never releases enough of the hormone that would tell it it’s rested). One of the few complications is that narcoleptics have a MUCH higher rate of obesity and speaking from experience, when I go off my meds, I suddenly get extremely desperate cravings for the absolute worst carbs. Now, I was raised by a woman who understands diet ridiculously well and has been attempting Weight Watchers since she was in high school, and my natural preferences are really good (healthy fats, lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies). This goes completely out the window when I’m the most exhausted. I’ve also recently realized its probably behind my dad living off Hostess cakes–he has very severe sleep apnea (stops breathing 55 times an hour,I think they said).

    Anyway, the whole “sleep when you’re dead!” American perspective on work and relaxation might have more to do with Americans taking to such awful diets than anything else–also explains the correlation between poverty and obesity. Cheap fuel makes sense for a body when you aren’t giving it time to properly rest.

  34. Ruskii

    @pregnant pause: I always find it fascinating how random and specific some cravings can be. I find it odd that so many fat blamers are convinced fat people (who overeat–since not all do) are just blindly stuffing their faces, and ignore that the urge to eat is programmed to be pretty damn strong, what with starvation being deadly and all. Mentioned in my last post seep deprived people craving the cheapest carb “fuel” and how sleep deprivation and chronic stress can affect the way your body stores or burns fat, in ways that make sense in a survival way.

    Totally not relevant CSS: I went months craving steak like crazy and at the same time I had awful insomnia, which I thought was just unavoidable from restless leg on top of narcolepsy (which can go through periods of insomnia). Eventually tried an iron supplement when I learned it could help restless leg symptoms and it cleared up fast. I’ve also had a few times where I had a very intense and isolated craving for sweet potatoes or bananas. Rather than blame people, I wish more doctors would ask why patients are struggling to control some urges in the first place.

  35. Saurs

    further re: well-meaning advice to fatties about how to improve their lives via Farming

    Speaking as somebody who grew up on a Utopian Compound of White Middle-Class Privilege, the success of urban farming enterprises, like communes, often depends on the availability of unpaid female labor, those who’ll cultivate and process / preserve the food, feed the chickens and collect their shit for composting (not a good idea, I reckon), while, as per rigid standards of asceticism set by the dudes, simultaneously bake bread, clean house, and launder britches for upwards of 20+ adults without the use of machines. Like with Kale Police and Superfood Troops (and pre-Raphaelite woodworking brotherhoods of yore), It’s often women who shoulder the burden of preserving the “purity” of any idealistic movement and serving as that movement’s figurehead, normally by shunning convenience in favor of antiquated methods that keep them figuratively barefoot and literally out of the workforce.

    I often visit local urban farms for work (with vector control), and I’m amazed at all the shit they’re pumping into the gutters and water table while claiming sustainability–meanwhile my piddling cactus garden is watered with rain (sometimes my own tears, if I’m unlucky / drunk and fall into an evil batch of opuntia), fertilized with nothing, attracts cool pollinators, and controls erosion. I like wandering around the “farms,” though, because outside of the living quarters, they’ve got some pretty awesome looking technology. Takes a lot of dough (and a mortgage) to play-act that kind of frugality.

  36. pregnant pause

    @ buttercup
    Interesting food for thought there. I think we (Canada) might have you matched on antidepressants and smokers, but you and @blue both mention that there is more dieting there, so I’ll buy that. And the stress from lack of health care, I can’t even imagine. I am sure that contributes to all kinds of bad health outcomes in itself. My heart goes out to you guys for having to deal with that.

    I hear you about dieting, you’re preaching to the choir my dear! I devoured any book about this stuff years ago when I was struggling with my eating disorder. I also experienced the Minnesota study effect personally, the more I tried to lose weight, the more I totally lost touch with my own body’s signals and the more I was starving ALL the time and the more weight I gained. The worst part though was how annoying and boring it was to be thinking about food all the time. Ugh. Whenever I hear someone talking about going on a diet I wave my arms and yell “don’t go in there!!!”. Especially if someone is talking about doing any kind of restricting/diet thing to their kid, I literally beg them not to do it, and pull out charts and anecdotes and whatever it will take to change their mind.

    So you guys feel that you are more bombarded there by the diet industry, that’s interesting, I’d believe that. There’s definitely something odd going on.

  37. pregnant pause

    Oh and @ speedbudget
    yeah what is it about city planners who allow things to be zoned so that it’s impossible for people to go for a walk or a bike ride? I have seen that so many places, where you are risking your life walking along a highway ditch between KFC and Mcd’s just trying to enjoy the outdoors. Is the patriarchy somehow involved? It’s money and capitalism related, for sure.

    As for subsidies for megafarms etc, I don’t really know what’s going on here but I suspect that our asshole Conservative tar-sands loving government is moving in a bad direction on that too.

  38. pheenobarbidoll

    I can’t even grow grass in my yard. Seriously. West Texas has been in drought conditions forever, SEVERE drought conditions for 2 years. We’re under water restriction and it’s forecast that unless something changes soon we will be out of water, unless it gets shipped in.

  39. Saurs

    But, pheeno…! *fluttering hands* Then where do you hold your garden parties?!

    If you don’t mind my asking, how drinkable is your water? Is your part of west Texas going to benefit at all from that much publicized wastewater treatment experiment (“toilet to tap”), or the forthcoming T-Bar Ranch pipeline?

  40. Saurs

    Argh. Is that ellipses ban still in effect? Sorry!

  41. Gertrude Strine

    @speedbudget, yes I’m familiar with the term.
    I lived in one for a few years when doing my training in the big smoke. It was a train ride, a 2km walk and a bus ride to a place that sold fresh (ish) food. But there was a Chicken Treat, a Burger King, 2 golden arches Mcdonalds and 3 pubs all within a kilometre of our place.
    The observations of US processed food portions were made in fairly large conurbations where stupidmarkets with the actual real food were in the same street, so the comments I make in this thread are intended to single out the size of the portions, nothing else. But of course I understand that people may choose a supersize frozen ready meal or a fast feed restaurant because it’s cheaper than some real food that they prepare themselves. I don’t blame them. IBTP

    The danger is in how you treat the grey water, and the produce grown in it; it’s not immutably useless because it’s got bacteria in it. And the claim that it needs daily monitoring is a furphy – but I think that’s a bit of rhetoric on your part.
    I come from a few generations of ignorant dirt scratchers who always grew food with the house effluent. Grandma taught me how to use it and how to treat the produce.
    I run a few hydroponic buckets of recycling (oh no! facepalm) solutes in greywater. The chem is from rich men’s research on feeding privileged Antarctic station sojourners, and I manage to recycle it enough times to make the yield around the equivalent of a chicken poo regime.
    It’s hard work lifting those barrels of solution, but some stupid woman’s got to do it.
    I have enough land around my maison de merde to scratch the old way if I wanted to, but soil is so last century don’t you think.

    Instead I leave the veg growing up on the verandah and play donuts out in the backyard with the dogs.
    We’ve been in drought for 11 years here.

  42. pheenobarbidoll

    Our water is technically drinkable if you can get past the smell and taste. Twice a year they do something to it and it smells like BLEACHY swamp water and makes your skin itch when you bathe.Between those times it smells like swampy water with a little bleach. I generally buy bottled water to drink.

    We’re not allowed to water the yard with grey water. The city will ticket you.

    That pipeline is owned by Midland, and I’m in Odessa (about 15 miles west of Midland). We won’t be receiving any of it.

  43. goblinbee

    Ruskii, I’ve had sleep problems since childhood, but was determined to not go on sleeping pills so as not to get addicted. Then menopause made my insomnia go into overdrive. I finally started on Ambien last September, after becoming a danger on the roads (I could hardly keep my eyes open).

    I worry about the effects of long-term sleeping pill use, and I AM addicted (can’t get to sleep without them), but it seems much better than causing an accident (plus! for the first time in my life I’m not exhausted all the time!). I did try all the natural stuff first (melatonin, etc.). I’d love to hear others’ experiences with sleep deprivation/sleeping pill use, or other strategies.

  44. Saurs

    Fair enough, Gertrude Strine. But properly recycled / treated grey water is distinct from non- or unpotable. Hence my confusion. (We’ve a wholesale nursery in the next city over that does, in fact, have to test their own recycled water before every application to liners, and it’s pretty farcical, yes.)

    I’ve found container gardening veg is pretty cost-prohibitive for most folk in my neighborhood, who can’t invest in whole scoops of potting media or for whom the bagged peat-based nonsense from the boxstores is too costly and, for many, an unethical choice. Our native soil isn’t the kind you can chuck into pots, and then you’ve got the handwater / drip dilemma. Those drip components are temperamental as fuck on a high traffic porch or pathway. But you’re right, it’s preferable to digging.

    pheeno: fuuuuuuck. We practically had an uprising a coupl’a years ago when they told the builders they couldn’t plant little strips of turf any old where they felt like it, because: overspray. I actually saw a libertarian whinging type on a street corner holding a placard about the tyranny of overspray guardians, or some such. Meanwhile you can’t drink your tapwater. Fuuuck. I’ve heard Austin are going to (thinking about?) start phasing in the grey water scheme for ornamentals, the way a lot of large southwestern cities have. Do you think your city’ll eventually adopt that idea?

  45. Betty C

    De-lurking to offer some thoughts on the whole Michael Pollan philosophy of food and eating: I have to respectfully disagree that he blames the patriarchy nicely. On the surface his advice sounds like common sense, but a closer analysis of his work arguably reveals he is indeed a classist fatshamer. He hides this by concerntrolling about sustainability and the Industrial Food Complex.

    For a good take down of his work, check out Julie Guthman’s article ‘Can’t Stomach It:
    How Michael Pollan et al. Made Me Want to Eat Cheetos’. (Google and it should come up straight away, it has an alternative title on other sites).

    In addition to the other recommended reading on the obesity myth mentioned here and in the previous posts comments section, Julie Guthman also has a pretty good book called ‘Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism’.

    Good to see you back Twisty, love your work, and the work of the other Blamers on SDI.

  46. stacey

    For the lazy-assed gardener:

    If water is not an issue (i.e. if you’re drowning in the Pacific Northwest) then you might have some success with neglectful gardening. I have a three-yr-old 4×4 square-foot garden (although I’m going to move to buckets or salvaged rubbermaids soon) which has been lovingly tended to for a week at the beginning of the season, then ignored until August. I’d water every couple of weeks, when I remembered I had a garden, and I pretty much never weeded.

    I’ve only successfully grown kale, radicchcchiio, cucumbers, and one perfect pumpkin, as well as a boatload of mixed lettuce greens that gave us our basis for salads for a month. This year I’ll try potatoes, which, I understand, were specifically intended to be ignored for several months.

    I consider this a success, as I was not setting out to “feed my family”, but rather to try it out, and see if it made a difference. (The lettuce bonanza was awesome, and the kale turned into kale chips forthwith.) It was low-cost (although i did splash out on organic fertilizer for our PNW acidic soil), low-maintenance, and highly gratifying to watch my kid be super-proud of his cucumber contributions to dinner. I’ve never worked out the cost/return, but my outlay was about $50 for the first couple of years (some soil, some seeds, some fertilizer) and salad stuff about $5-$10/week in summer, so I’m probably close to even.

    I’m not intending to suggest, encourage, or shame anyone into gardening. This is all for informational purposes only. I only hope that my lazy-assed approach to urban gardening adds to y’alls anectdotal bank of evidence for or against. Thanks for reading.

  47. Gertrude Strine

    Trouble is, Betty C , the original Guthman analysis of the unbearable whiteness of Pollanyanna is behind an unbearable white academic publishing wall – even though there’s plenty of discussion up for free. You could provide an actual link that’s not walled off, but I’d possibly not understand half of it.
    Thanks for the pointer anyway. It’s not my kind of intellectual level, that kind of social analysis, and it’s USA to which I’m not clued in, so time for me to finish here except to say that I live in the middle of a rural community that does have access to real food and plastic foodlike stuff and that eating real food is as cheap as eating processed stuff, and the portion sizes of “handy” and restaurant food are about half the size of those I observed in the US, but appear to be growing.
    This is in stark contrast to the sizes of just about everything else on the stupidmarket shelves; toilet paper has fewer sheets every time I look, chocolate bars always get looser and looser in their packets until the manufacturer announces a new ten-percent bigger for only 7 percent price increase, etc etc.
    I’ve only read Pollan’s food rules. His aphorisms possibly have more resonance for the state of food growing and distribution in Australia than over there for you. For that I still BTP.
    There appears to be a big gap between our produce and distribution cultures, even though the megatheocorporatocracy is taking over more and more of it in Australia.

    Saurs, media for root stability is not in my hydro setup, which is a fairly common one over here.
    Neither is any flow equipment in it, except the pump that aerates the nutrient trough. Expanded polystyrene boats for the plants are enough to keep leaves above the waterline. We make ours out of packing forms.
    The float system needs to force growth ahead of root senescence, but the veg are super tasty as a result. Just fyi, for your own data.
    I’m out of my cultural depth in here I think. Thanks for the discourse anyway.

  48. Ciccina

    I believe this link will take you to a pdf of the Guthman article —


    I think this is the same article, different link —


    Working my way through these comments and the subsequent post — I’m so grateful to everyone for the info they’ve contributed. I’m in nearly the exact same boat as pregnant pause, except for the pregnancy part —

    pregnant pause
    Holy smokes, this might be me too! My parents were/are skinny and so am I but I think I am skinny fat too. I always suspected this was a thing. My dad died super young from a heart attack…

    — my cholesterol was quite high back in my single digit years though I was tiny and birdlike, so my pediatrician put me on a low cholesterol diet… so much fun being a 9 year old kid who has to say at every birthday party, ‘no, I can’t have cake etc., I’m on a low cholesterol diet’ blah blah. Far as I know it made no difference. Okay, enough about me.

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