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Health and Shame

Posted Aug 24 2008 8:05pm
I've blogged about New York City posting calories on restaurant menus before ( here ), and yesterday it happened: all chain restaurants in NYC had to post the calories on the menus. In large type. By the price. Where everyone could see before they ordered.



Utterly craptacular .



It's supposed to combat the rising levels of obesity and how we're all going to some fat-laden hell because of it. That people can't make natural decisions about what they want to eat. But dieting basically wrecks havoc upon normal appetite regulating mechanisms. So this can't be helping with large portions at restaurants. You might want to rebel against the diet police. Or be so out of touch with hunger and fullness signals that you eat everything.



But what's interesting are some of the other implications of this.



1) Only chain restaurants are required to post calories. So you'll never know how many calories are in the 18 oz porterhouse with beurre blanc sauce at Delmonico's . Who are the primary target audience of fast food restaurants? The working poor. Those who need cheap food, fast. Those with moms who are working all day and want to bring home a treat to their families. Mickey D's is it. Who goes to Delmonico's - The wealthy. Those who can sip on mineral water all day and shop at Sak's .* Who can afford to work out and hire personal trainers. So who does this bill affect the most? The poor. Who might not have a whole lot of other options.



2) Mostly I see this requirement as an effort in stigma and shame. No one wants to be seen ordering something "unhealthy" or "fattening." It's seen as bad taste. As something taboo. Everyone knows the point of this bill is to "combat obesity"** and get everyone to eat healthier. It's pretty obvious.



No one wants to be fat, or be seen as fat, or be seen as unhealthy. Ordering a Big Mac is now a faux pas in many circles. Dieting and health have become our generation's chastity belts. We need something to keep us in line, prevent us from being derailed by temptation. All in the name of health.



But is it really? The NYC Health Department might very well have intended to "promote health," however misguided. But when you're posting calories in a very public place, there's more that goes into it than just "health." When people order a Big Mac, there's the nagging fear that those around them are tsk - tsking . Look at how unhealthy he is. I can't believe she's ordering that . And that's just the people in line with you! Now if you ever visit McDonald's and you don't fit our society's standards for thin (which is, like, basically everyone) shame on you- you know how bad it is! It's ALL YOUR FAULT that you are fat .



It seems like the bill was intended to "empower people" to make better choices about food. Which I'm all in favor of. But it really creates tremendous shame and stigma around food. And that's not something I want to supersize .



*I know I'm greatly oversimplifying and using every stereotype available. Bear with me.



**We're already involved in two very pointless wars. Do we really need to battle with a group of people who really aren't harming anyone?
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