Fear of Frying

Mar 24, 2014

Dieting is the curse of the modern age. Having freed ourselves from religious puritanism, we've fallen prey to the far worse medical kind. No sooner have the first crocuses emerged from the frozen earth than the media announce that dieting season has arrived.

Those of us who were born long before the 1960s weight loss craze have heard them all. We've trodden the downward path from our mothers' version of good food ‑ lots of butter and eggs, milk and steaks and bacon ‑ to the neo‑puritan platters of today: three ounces of white fish, a few steamed vegetables, a bowl of sprouts and a glass of purified water.

Back in the golden years before healthy food was invented, we ate what we liked, if we could get it. Now perfectly fit people consult cholesterol, calorie and sodium charts in restaurants, and frown over the lists of additives on supermarket food packaging. Don't they know it's only the chemicals that make modern food edible? When the package says "Genetically Modified" this means you. You have been genetically modified to eat this stuff, and take the consequences. It took millions of years of evolution to raise our diet from grains and raw green stuff to the double maxi‑burger with large fries. If we're going to eat natural food like our Neanderthal ancestors, we may as well go live in caves and save a fortune on mortgage payments.

Every spring, the pressure to diet rises to a pitch of hysteria. "Twelve weeks to summer," scream the magazines at the supermarket checkout, each one of them with a strikingly tall and slender cover girl, a body type rarely seen on Long Island. On the Internet the words “slimming diet” bring up twenty-five million hits.

The diet industry's major product is not health and slimness, but anxiety. They keep their public constantly off‑balance by promoting a new miracle diet about once a week.  If a diet can be created by human imagination, it has been: all‑protein diets, carbohydrate diets, liquid diets, rice diets, grapefruit or kiwi fruit or banana or boiled cabbage diets. The slogan "you are what you eat" takes on a new and sinister meaning when we contemplate these dreadful menus. This week's miracle diet always turns out to be next week's health hazard, and here we go again.

It’s all about body image, and this raises intriguing questions. In some cultures, as we know, fat is good. It’s a sign of success or a mark of health and therefore of beauty. In our culture we favor height, especially in men. A tall man like Mayor De Blasio (6ft 5in) has a power advantage, which is why short men like President Putin (5ft 5in) are always so angry because they have to stand on boxes to make their speeches. Increasingly this is true for women too, at least in the world of work. We all want to be seen, to occupy space. It’s a deep psychological need that we get from being overlooked in childhood. But when it comes to the human figure we admire the vertical dimension and disdain the horizontal.

There is no diet that can increase our height, and that’s why dieting is such a poignant metaphor of the human condition. All our problems are multi-dimensional, and we are offered nothing but one-dimensional solutions.

Copyright: David Bouchier