As a Canadian, I sometimes fall into the habit of trashing the United States about… well… everything. All of us here do it to some extent. The US is a big, easy target, and Canadians have a tendency to feel a bit inadequate next to the world leader in GDP and military spending ($663,000,000,000 in 2009, if anyone is interested).
But tonight, while watching NBC’s The Biggest Loser, I was struck anew by how utterly oblivious America is of how it looks to the rest of the world. The entertainment industry is one of that country’s largest exports, and with satellite TV available virtually everywhere now, it is likely that people all over the world will be watching a show about morbidly obese people competing to stay on a ranch full of vegetables and treadmills.
Stop for a moment and think about this.
925 million people in the world don’t have enough food to eat. Somewhere around 6 million children a year die from malnutrition and hunger. And I’m watching a show where I’m supposed to feel sorry for people that are eating themselves to death?
Yes, I know, there are people with genetic predispositions, glandular issues, and histories of emotional abuse that find themselves overweight for reasons that are – in many way – out of their control. And yes, I come from a long line of bean-poles so I can’t appreciate the difficulties of dealing with a slow metabolism. But that isn’t what The Biggest Loser is about. This is about people living in a society that glorifies 2000 calorie fast-food combos and deep-fried everything, that turns its nose up when Jamie Oliver comes in and suggests that kids should be eating salad, that proudly declares that French cuisine is for sissies and celery is for the weak.
And you want me to feel sorry for these… these… losers?
How much sympathy do you think that some kid in Chad feels when he hasn’t eaten in days? Do you think that he cares that Jimmy-Bob has been lured in by Burger King’s siren song of bacon wrapped cheeseburgers? Does he shed a tear when Betty tells a story about how her long-dead dad was fat as well and that’s why she eats dessert twelve times a day?
The weird thing here is that the rest of the developed world doesn’t have this problem. When I was in France and Switzerland – both countries with penchants for rich food, wine, and chocolate – I couldn’t help but notice something: virtually none of those people were fat. Go to Europe and look around; you can’t possibly miss out on the fact that, by and large, people are far skinnier than the average American.
Strangely, The Biggest Loser has been picked up by 22 other countries for domestic production, and one of those places is India, a country that has some serious food issues of its own. Does that then excuse America from blame in this case?
None of these countries (you can see the list here) are as dead-set against healthy food as the US. None of them see binge eating as a valid hobby. None of them have fast-food joints sprouting like weeds at every corner.
You can’t have it both ways, America. If you stand by killing yourselves with French fries, don’t expect me to cry at your funeral.