I had my first Big Mac in months last night having landed back in DC. It's one of my favorite comfort foods. For the poor, it has the same appeal. TNC talks about coping on a tight budget:
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.
Ezra chimes in:
This reminds me of Charles Karelis's "The Persistence of Poverty." The basic argument is that the wealthy misunderstand the mental state of the poor, which leads them to make conceptual errors when creating policies to address poverty, or, in this case, obesity. Think of a bee sting, he advises. If you have a single bee sting, you'll go buy some salve to take away the pain. Now imagine three bee stings, a sprained ankle, a burn, a cut, a crick in your neck, a sore throat, and arthritis. Does the bee sting matter anymore?
Karelis argues that this is more the situation of someone in poverty. Obesity is bad, but it may be just one of many bad things. Overdue bills. A horrible part-time job. Endless commuting time on the bus. A mother with diabetes. A child running with the wrong crowd. A leaking roof. In that scenario, slowly reversing your weight gain might be a good idea, but it hardly makes a dent in the overall crumminess of the conditions. It won't replace pain with pleasure. So you do things that are surer to replace pain with pleasure, like have a delicious, filling, satisfying, salty, fatty meal. That may make your overall situation more unpleasant, but then, making that situation pleasant didn't seem like an option in the first place.
This, he would say, is fundamentally different than the situation of someone who is fundamentally happy with his life but thinks he should lose 30 pounds. For that person, those 30 pounds are the main thing standing between him and perceived happiness. It's one bee sting instead of a dozen ailments.
Cigarettes too. I know they're awful. But I find the puritanism and bossiness around them curiously blind to the fact that for many people in rough times and rough places, they are one of life's pleasures. For people with many pleasures, quitting is tough but won't really affect their quality of life. For those with very few, it's one more assault they could do without. Leave people alone.