Food. We Need Food.

Back to Fallows' ongoing convo about obesity and class. I think this e-mail gets at something important:

"An overlooked connection between obesity and class, I believe, stems from varying quantity of personal enjoyment and anticipation of enjoyment.

"It is one thing for a successful, financially comfortable, socially accepted and respected person who has multiple things happening every day that are pleasurable (golf, driving a nice car, nice home, stylish clothing, success at work, interesting social events, kids doing well, planning vacations, etc) to take just one pleasurable aspect of life (overeating) and sacrifice some of that pleasure for the good result of losing weight.

"Now, for people struggling financially and socially, trying to just get through the day and keep their lives together to varying degrees...their meals are often the only consistently happy and pleasurable events they can count on each day. 

"Obviously, a generalization.  But, if one gets up and faces a day with a tedious and unfulfilling job, not much money to spend on anything but necessities, and no "fun" things ahead, how much more difficult it is for that person to also think ahead to a day of denying themselves the pleasure of their mealtimes...."

When other aspects of your life aren't going to well, that McFlurry is an awesome pick-me-up. Trust me, I know. I almost hit 300 pounds (298 at the height of my glory) while I was doing the entry work of becoming a writer--spend long hours alone in the library at Howard, writing pieces for 10 cents a word, coming to New York and writing editors who didn't know me from the next wannabee, losing three different writing jobs. I had years when I grossed five figures, years when I worked as a food delivery boy, and years when Samori's pre-school bill was higher than my earnings. 

I gave away my 20s, in large measure, to writing and to my kid. I don't regret that. Everything--from a beautiful son to beautiful commenters--I have now stems from those choices.  Still, it was not a fun time. How did I get over?  Leaving aside the support of my family, I have two words for you--Breyer's and Entenmann's. It sounds disgusting when I write it. But that little a'la mode pick-me-up made things a little more bearable.

Now, here's the thing. I paid some dues, but I was not living in the PJs. I worried about eviction sometimes, but my parents always had my back. We were poor--but we were creative class poor.Kenyatta and I had chosen our paths. This was what we wanted, even if we didn't know what it would cost. And finally once I saw some return, I needed that pick-me-up a lot less, and sort of like paying old debt, I started shrinking back to the old me. Very slowly, I might add. But, by the ghost of Gabriel Prosser, I'm approaching the self I knew before this odyssey began.

What about people who are born into hardship? Who are born into stress and born into eating as a way of ameliorating that stress? Who grow up in an environment where mostly everyone else does the same? And then this gets conflated with old ideas about food and money--the notion that "All You Can Eat" is a good thing.

There is a culture to being fat, and putting fresh veggies in the hood isn't enough to counter it. The culture is complicated--and its more American than it is hood. I would encourage people to think about all the negative ways we cope. The upper-class may not be fat, but in my experience, they know their way around the tequila bottle. 

Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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