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Beached whale

Beached whale

According to a report on the Centers for Disease Control website, “the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 32.7 percent of U.S. adults 20 years and older are overweight, 34.3 percent are obese and 5.9 percent are extremely obese…”

This means that nearly three quarters of the American public lies on a continuum that ranges from simply overweight to morbidly obese.

Unfortunately, news like this is no longer startling.  Americans have grown accustomed to their girth; moreover, they’ve grown accustomed to being told that they’re the fattest people on the face of the Earth.

And while the federal government occasionally makes a stab at elevating America’s awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy regimens of diet and excercise, we face stiff cultural barriers to staying fit.

For example, a recent report on CNN.com revealed that in an effort to deal with Americans’ expanding waistlines, clothing manufacturers have began sizing their goods on a sliding scale.  This is true of luxury brands, as well as off the rack goods at your favorite mall anchor stores.

“You may actually be a size 14 and, according to whatever particular store you’re in, you come out a size 10,” said Natalie Nixon, associate professor of fashion industry management at Philadelphia University. “It’s definitely to make the consumer feel good.”

Unfortunately, Americans tend to think that obesity is a God-given right, like child-rearing, home-ownership and the right to bear arms.  In fact, I recently heard a story that a certain congressman from below the Mason-Dixon line had proposed a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the “right to bear a Happy Meal.”

Not long ago, when I was still employed by a Fortune 500 company, I shocked three colleagues by trying to veto a suggested business lunch at one of America’s favorite burger emporiums. Initially, one of my colleagues assumed I simply had a preference for a rival burger mill.  “No,” I said.  “I just don’t eat fast food.”

My three colleagues stared at me.  They looked stunned.  Had they heard me right?  I might just as well have said, “Actually, I don’t breathe oxygen.”

“Well…,” one of my fellow bankers said tentatively, “what do you eat then?  Are you one of these veggians?”

He’d inadvertently created an amalgam of vegan and vegetarian, which didn’t really present a problem, as I’m neither one.  “No,” I said.  “I just don’t eat fast food.”

One of my other colleagues gave me a sidelong glance, and said to the others, “He voted for Obama,” as if that would explain the peculiarities of my diet.  The others nodded in agreement.  They understood.

It was clear I was the outlier of the group.  Not only was I certifiably liberal, in their eyes, but I was also thin.  I was, in fact, the only thin person in our group; and as I was one of four, that pretty much validated the obesity statistic I mentioned above.

But it was more than my weight or my politics that set me apart from the group.  I was somehow in a different cultural zone.  In their eyes, I belonged to the Conspiracy, that vast, left-wing media doped cohort that is desperately trying to subvert the peerless ideals and institutions of this great nation of ours.

The Conspiracy is behind a wide assortment of ills that plague mainstream American culture, including bank bailouts, stem cell research, rap music, gun control, progressive income tax, Social Security, low-fat yogurt, tattoos and Chris Matthews.

If you doubt the existence of the Conspiracy, then you haven’t listened to Rush Limbaugh (fatty) on the radio, or watched Glenn Beck (pudgy) on Fox News. You probably also don’t realize that President Obama (thin) isn’t actually a U.S. citizen, and that he hates white people (so claims Beck).

My banker colleagues and I finally resolved our difficulty by going to the “food court” on the mezzanine floor of our office building.  Although they weren’t able to indulge their fetish for brand name burgers, they were able to find a close approximation.  Meanwhile, I bought lunch at a Thai joint.  It was still fast food, but only by a technicality.

We then sat together at a table in the ground floor atrium of our building, each of us enjoying his or her cuisine of preference.  It was a heady moment.  I, clearly the minority of the group, had forced the others into an act of diversity awareness.  They hadn’t liked it, but they would remember it.  In fact, I’m sure they did, since they never invited me to join them for lunch again.

Image by Mr TGT, licensed through Creative Commons.

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