Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Obesity in the U.S.

Obesity in the U.S....

Fine Food and Fat: Are Chefs to Blame for Obesity.

Obesity — or fatness, as it used to be called — is the touchiest of topics. From Michelle Obama to Anthony Bourdain, when you talk about America's weight, you talk at your own risk. And a lot of chefs, restaurant chains and food manufacturers face the same quandary. Our feelings are mixed-up at best. Fatness is a thing to be loathed and a condition to be accepted; a medical contagion but also a lifestyle choice; a condition defined by body mass index, or self-esteem, or coercive fashion magazine editrixes, depending on your point of view. At the very least, it is the specter and shadow of eating in the U.S., and as complicated as the great, conflicted, hungry nation that is its natural habitat.

The facts of obesity are well known to everyone. By some estimates, roughly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and over 25% of American children are. There is a corresponding epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and various other life-threatening ailments to go with all this weight gain, to the point that obesity has been called the No. 1 health problem in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health.

For Bourdain, having made the transition from chef to food personality, obesity has risen to the level of a public-health problem — or so he said on Nightline last week. "I think that if you're at the point that you need help getting out of the car, if you're raising kids that are morbidly obese by the time they're 5 or 6, or if you're clogging an exit, now it's not a lifestyle choice: it's a problem that others will have to deal with." In fact, the svelte former chef was much less guarded in 2008 with Ted Nugent, a noted fatty basher: "If you're leaking over into my seat on a plane that I paid full price for, you're paying half my seat, jumbo."

Bourdain speaks plainly what a lot of people in the food business think themselves. At the same time, we've seen culinary trends that aren't exactly a formula for manufacturing Audrey Hepburns: the past few years have seen a major embrace of animal fats, offal, bacon and the like. That's part of the energy of the all-potent marketplace, in which better-tasting, more explosively delicious food crowds out its more pallid rivals in a Darwinian race to the bottom of your large intestine. Any number of food personalities have tried over and over to combat obesity via low-calorie cooking — from Rachael Ray to Rocco DiSpirito to Rozanne Gold to Jamie Oliver and innumerable others. Some have even tried to teach kids to eat well, which is invariably an uphill battle. I've written before about Oliver's monumental failure to get children to not like processed chicken nuggets on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. If the most likable man in food can't gross out kids with blendered bones, what hope does anyone have of getting them to eat healthily?