Most helpful critical review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2004
A worthwhile topic, disappointingly rendered, especially if you've read "Fast Food Nation".
Critser goes into useful levels of detail on tantalizingly few topics. Too many of his other points are supported only anecdotally, or worse, because-he-said-so.
He does make at least a few points excellently: the blistering critique of our feel-good fat-positive self-esteem etiquette nonsense, that prevents us from warning our friends and ourselves when we are literally gorging ourselves to death, was right on the mark and needed saying. I attended a women's college during a high-level eating disorder scare, and found it surprising and eye-opening to learn that the rates of anorexia and bulimia are far lower than our self-help culture has suggested. Certainly it is useful for everyone to place anorexia and bulimia in proper perspective alongside the skyrocketing rates of obesity, and ask ourselves what we've gained for conceding one in the name of fighting the others. (He does not detail, but in later years it has also become part of the thinking on eating disorders that they are primarily mental illnesses related to control and trauma, not food. We should stop treating them as being about food, and start treating obesity, which is about food!) And, the chapter on the "branding" of food and drink in our schools should be a wake-up call for parents and school boards nationwide.
Unfortunately, too many other topics represent missed opportunities or simply misfires. Sure, his high fructose corn syrup theory is supported by some initial dietary research, but so were all the other fad diets he himself decries. The opening chapter on America's food subsidies and ag policies is frustratingly thin and primarily devoted to an amusing character study of Mr. Butz instead of a weighty analysis of which foods we make available to ourselves and at what prices. It's been said that subsidies of specific unhealthy food types contribute to the disproportionate rates of obesity among the poor (because the cheapest foods are the worst for you, while lean meats and fresh produce are unaffordable for many working Americans), but you won't find that discussion here. There's no mention at all of the shift in the nature of employment for Americans... thanks to labor-saving and even safety devices, even minimum-wage work is increasingly sedentary (standing in one place all day as a cashier or Wal-Mart greeter is not physical activity), and at home, the villainous TV and video games get all the blame, with no discussion of everyday labor-saving devices and their effect on American sloth. I don't recall much information about Americans' rejection of public transit and our propensity to fight one another tooth and nail for a parking space five feet closer to the mall doors.
If we fail to recognize that modernity has changed the nature of our physical lives across the board, all of Critser's exhortations about PE will surely fail. He hints at it, but never really nails it... for most Americans, exercise has become artificial rather than an integral part of everyday life. And PE, no matter how skillfully taught, is artificial, in a structured form unavailable to adults. The affluent can afford to purchase their exercise in comparably tidy packages (clubs, leagues, etc.), but where does that leave the rest of us when we grow up?
And so, saddest of all, Critser's one and only proffered "solution" is: more PE in (public) schools. What a political football that is! Should our desperately cash-strapped schools (stripped of their fast food and soda sponsorship contracts, no less) pull money and time out of already underfunded and inadequate academic programs? Should we spend yet more of our resources teaching our kids how to have a sanctioned lifestyle instead of teaching them how to read and do math? Especially low-income kids, who need a real education more than anyone! Do our schools have to be everything to every child simply because they're the one and only opportunity in an American's entire lifetime where we have a captive audience? Can we serve Americans better all the way through adulthood if we teach literacy, history, statistics and general critical thinking instead of dodgeball?
"Fat Land" is a tasty appetizer. I hope the main course on this subject is yet to come.