Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fat Land, by Greg Critser


One book leads onto another. The ‘suggested reading’ at the end of Felicity Lawrence’s Not On The Label listed this book by Greg Critser. Fat Land started out as an essay for Harper’s Magazine and was fleshed out into a book.

You’d think this would be a ‘quickie’ book dashed off to make some money, but it's actually a well thought out and smartly organised look at the past thirty-five years of American culture.

According to Critser, things first went wrong when American agriculture was de-regulated by the Nixon administration. Excessive corn and soya production ensued and Americans started eating more and more, while prices went down and down. (Actually, I think from memory that Michael Pollan covers this exact territory in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)

Critser also covers the marketing gurus and psychologists who came up with the idea of supersizing and other tricks to get people to eat more. This, coupled with declining exercise, in part due to our all entering the services sector in the labour market, has meant people are getting fatter and fatter.

The chapters on the health consequences of being over weight are absolutely hair raising, the virtual equivalent of one of those cigarette ads that show what tobacco does to your body. This chapter alone should be enough of a wake-up call to get people to do something (and by that I don’t mean over-eaters themselves necessarily, but government). The descriptions of what happens to the bodies of diabetes sufferers was horribly depressing.

So this book really covers the social and personal. If you’re interested in public policy when it comes to obesity, you’ll want to read this. Or if you’re over weight and want to figure out how bad it could be for you, this is your book too.

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