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June 06, 2005

Fat and Costco Again

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I notice that some visitors have felt hurt by my recent micro-posting about fat people and Costco. Apologies for any offence given by the posting. Although I've got my reservations about Costco, fat people are certainly fine by me, and I'm sorry if I stepped on tender feelings.

May I peep up, though, and try to make a small case for the value of these kinds of observations, and of entering into these kinds of conversations? Ineptly though we -- er, I -- sometimes do it?

First-off, maybe we can all agree that there are a zillion body types. Big people, small people, thin people, heavy people, etc. And that's a neat thing, not a bad thing. Life is full of variety, and we come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Life's a multi-sided and variegated thing, and what's not to like about that?

At the same time, there are questions and issues which have come up only in the last couple of decades. They're related, they're hard not to take note of, and they're genuinely interesting to think about. They're also prominent parts of life as we know it, and life as many of us wrestle with it.

One is that living patterns have changed. That includes shopping and walking patterns. Costco -- with its huge parking lots full of gigantic SUVs, and with its mammoth shopping carts and big markdowns -- is part of that. Costco equals, in other words: buying in bulk, driving not walking, and placing consumer convenience above all other values. Many Americans now lead lives that simply don't involve much physical moving-about.

Even in the 'burbs, leafy and airy though they are, it often isn't easy to do any casual walking. I live in Manhattan, and walk the few miles to work every day. But Manhattanites also do a lot of incidental walking -- we walk without noticing that we do, because in our minds we're just shopping, or going somewhere to meet a friend. I wouldn't be surprised if the average Manhattan resident averages a mile of walking every day. Some years back, I lived for three months in L.A. and put on ten pounds. I was perplexed: where'd it come from? I ate as I usually did, I even gave myself the structured exercise I usually did. Yet in a short period of time I'd put on ten pounds. It finally dawned on me that in L.A., I wasn't doing any incidental walking. I returned to NYC and to my usual habits, and the ten pounds quickly came off.

At the same time as our living and shopping patterns have changed, a new kind of fat person has emerged. Studies indicate that obesity rates are 'way up, even among kids and even among affluent people. Foreigners visit America and are stunned by how many fat people we have. As commenters on my posting noted, people seem much fatter in some regions than in others. I spent three days in a midwestern hospital a few years back, for example, and nearly all the nurses who took care of me there -- all of them lovely people -- were good-god-would-you-look-at-that, move-the-furniture-out-of-the-way fat. A friend of mine from the south tells me that, although southerners have always enjoyed their food and have never been shy about carrying some flesh around on them, he hadn't seen this new kind of fat person around until people stopped walking and started buying in bulk and living on junk food.

We're living a new kind of life, in other words -- maybe it can be symbolized by Costco. Maybe we can also agree (maybe not) that one consequence of the new kind of life many of us are leading seems to be a new kind of fat person. "Doublewide" or "blimp" may be cruel, but we need some kind of acknowledgment of this new kind of fat: the new, "I live on salt, sugar, packaged food and Big Gulps" kinds of bodies that have really emerged only in the last 20 or so years.

We value driving-convenience and shopping-convenience perhaps a little too highly, no? The whole complex of factors encompassed by the idea of "buying and selling in bulk" may have something to do with why we do so much battle with fat these days. Perhaps life in a consumer utopia has its dark sides. We live in a culture that's much more responsive, at least materially, to what we want -- or at least to what we think we want and say we want -- than it once was. Yet does getting what we say we want always turn out as well as we hope it will?

I'm often tempted to spin this state of affairs out metaphorically. I work in the media biz, for instance, and I see parallel developments in our media environment. As far as the media go, we're living in a very different state than people were only a few decades ago. We no longer have three or four TV stations, but hundreds. We no longer share top 40 radio; we can tune into tons of segmented music markets instead. We no longer rely on a couple of dozen magazines, but are able to easily access hundreds and hundreds of publications, whether on paper or online. Not to mention the web's infinite other temptations, and not to mention the kinds of design developments (spinning imagery, lotsa color, dancing typefaces, etc) that we like to keep track of on this blog.

This new media environment is great in one sense -- it's a media cornucopia! But this new media environment also seems to play a hard-to-deny role in a lot of conditions many of us may not be crazy about: the decrease in reading abilities; the increase in the inability to think straight; the kids who are jaded about everything by the time they're 12; the sexualizing of children; the degradation of culture and language generally.

An example: computers have enabled filmmakers to soup up movies. The kind of movie rhetoric -- the kind of imagery and sound -- being presented to us in theaters these days is much richer than it was just a few decades back. Cool! But one consequence of this heightened rhetoric -- the imagery so much swoopier; the sonics so much ka-thumpier -- seems to be that many kids raised on these movies seem unable to see anything going on whatsoever in older movies. They don't know what they're meant to be watching or listening to; old movies, however great, just seem dull to them. The appeal of shiney-and-new is hard to deny. Yet is it a great thing if it wipes out our sense of history? And I know few people (aside from media-battered kids) who would make the case that we're living in an era of good movies.

Interesting questions: Is more always better? Is convenience always desirable? It's very difficult to argue that more choice is bad. Yet more choice is clearly a challenge. How to balance and manage these new circumstances of overabundance, whether of food, of shopping, or of the media? How to negotiate our way through our lives without doing too much damage to our bodies and our brains? Most of us probably don't want to withdraw from modern life entirely, yet many people also find it distracting and difficult to interact with modern life in ways that don't leave us feeling exhausted, overstimulated, and overstuffed.

I'm not sure anyone has any of this terribly well figured-out. How could we? After all, superabaundance is a new state of being for almost everyone. Perhaps only the aristocracy wrestled with similar challenges in previous eras. Our biologies are of no help. We seem to be programmed to contend with scarcity, not superabundance -- so we stuff ourselves at every opportunity. And the general American ethic doesn't help much either. We're Americans. Self-restraint is most emphatically not our middle name. We like to rock out, and we like to go for the gusto. Yet are we entirely happy about the consequences?

We've all noticed these new conditions and challenges; we're all contending with them. I'm heartily sorry if I gave the impression that the Blowhards take ourselves for anything other than fellow confused beings blundering our way by and eager to swap observations. Shame on me (and apologies to visitors and fellow Blowhards) if I did. We do try to frank and honest around here about what we encounter and what we contend with. Friedrich von Blowhard wrote some postings about his struggle with weight, for example.

If I'm lucky enough not to have to worry too much about my weight -- and thank you for that favor, lord -- media-gorging (and general brain-addle) is something I'm very vulnerable to. I love the stimulation of words, images, and sounds the way some people love the high of shopping and eating.

It's a big question in my life: How to keep myself from overdosing on today's hyper-convenient pleasures, and from rendering myself idiotic? I certainly don't have the challenge licked. I fall victim to the temptations of easy media goodies all the time, far more often than is good for me. I've developed a few tricks and methods for minimizing the damage; using the digital video recorder instead of watching TV the usual way certainly helps. But my good resolutions often crumble -- and there I find myself, late at night, leafing through magazines and books while surfing the web and listening to my Itunes tracks. It's my own form of pigging out, and I sometimes get up from the desk hating myself for having succumbed.

So: apologies for any offense given. Truly, none was intended. I do remain eager to observe life and discuss it, though, sensitive though some subjects may be. There's a lot of big-box stores around, and Americans are struggling with their waistlines. Good god: We should be able to notice these facts and discuss them, no? Any tips about how to take on such subjects -- without giving undue offence, but also without being too dull, or too soft and fuzzy -- would be appreciated.



posted by Michael at June 6, 2005


Michael, that was a great post.

Incidentally, I just read in the BBC that you (allegedly) only need six minutes of strenuous exercise a week to stay fit.

I'm hoping it's the same brain-wise - I mean, only thinking for six minutes a week would be fine by me.


Posted by: DaveVH on June 6, 2005 08:40 AM

Forgot the link. See what I mean?

Posted by: DaveVH on June 6, 2005 08:41 AM

I was so fascinated by your post on Costco that I had to go. My girlfriend, the Karaoke Queen of Jersey, is a big Costco fan. So, Costco was our Friday night date.

The magnum bottle of Robert Mondavi wine costs 11 bucks! I've been paying 18. I'll never buy my vin ordinaire anywhere again.

You can purchase a can of albacore tuna in water big enough to manufacture 50 sandwiches. I'm going to have a tuna sandwich party.

The Karaoke Queen had been telling me that food is so cheap that she buys bushels and doesn't mind throwing it away. In fact, she's been sending me home with bags full of leftovers for months.

I think that the media glut will get sorted out in the future. The holodeck is on the way. I visit the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois (my alma mater) regularly, just to watch the progress of this invention. Within a short period of time the holodeck will be a consumer appliance and everybody will have one. The issue is miniaturization. Presently, the holodeck occupies several floors on a building.

Over a long period of time, I think that something very strange will happen. The commies thought that collectivization and centralization enforced by government would bring about plenty for all. They were wrong. American democracy and free markets are reducing the cost of the basics of life to zero. With the cost of the basics reduced to zero, the intrinsic value of ideas will soon begin to rise to the surface.

Ultimately, we'll cut out the middleman, just as this weblog has cut out the middleman, in the market of ideas. For a while, we'll go nuts on the hype and the technology, and then it will get boring and old. Ideas will prevail over the long run. Few people have them. But, we can search the globe for those few who do.

Posted by: Stephen on June 6, 2005 08:42 AM

Perhaps the revisitation to this topic indicates the need for a vanguard in personal responsibility.
I nominate you.
Your initial go at "Costco & Fat" was a short quip that I found amusing and comment-inviting. How it got off to personal offense indicates, well, at least to me, lack of personal self-awareness. At least to some extent.
Evaluating myself on the most current scale of weight control put out by our govt., I seem to slip-slide between slightly overweight to overweight to touching the borderline of obesity. I then slip back when the internal clangor starts cluing me in.
I eat what I eat, knowing full well the consequences.
I exercise, or don't, knowing full well the effects.
If I opt to buy large quantities, it's my own mind control at work.
I don't get it; are people saying that we have too much freedom, too much personal choice?

This particular blog entry of yours is especially well thought out and put together. It's a shame it had to get written, though. No apologies were necessary; a simple gentle nudge to the nearest mirror for some of us readers would have been fine.

Keep on leading us out of our desert of personal wallowing.

Posted by: DarkoV on June 6, 2005 08:54 AM

I wasn't the least bit offended by the original observation; it just didn't ring true. In my experience -- and I've shopped at Costcos in California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina now -- the shoppers at Costco are no fatter than normal.

Which means that some are fat, and some are thin. For every few shoppers waddling through the junk-food aisles, there's a bodybuilder picking up chicken breasts and tuna in bulk.

Posted by: Matt "Isegoria" on June 6, 2005 09:43 AM

A prime example of the decline of even modest physical exertion in our society is the way the sport of golf has largely disappeared, to be replaced by the game - I refuse to call it a sport - of "cartball." What is the only physical activity engaged in by many over-30 suburbanites has now been stripped of most of its physical aspects.

Posted by: Peter on June 6, 2005 09:53 AM

There is a novel by Paul Theroux, Millroy The Magician, that addresses the question of eating habits. Millroy's "mission" is to bring health and regularity and longer life to Americans by bringing "the good news" of fruits and vegetables and whole grains to a nation of "Burgers." Although the book is somewhat marred by the hectoring/bullying tone that inevitably accompanies a message book there is a good deal to be said for this particular message. I say this as one who often backslides into burgers. ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on June 6, 2005 10:50 AM

What I'm surprised by is how blind we all are to the trends as they develop---including psychologists, doctors, sociologists, and media, who, in my opinion, are paid to notice these things as they develop---not just AFTER they develop. Really, with McDonald's, with big parking lots at malls, and no sidewalks, and big-box stores, and endless, endless versions of the latest junk food/chocolate/sugared drink which is EASY, EASY to buy and make---how could weight not have gone up? We all wake up 25 years after the microwave and go---oh, the average weight of americans has increased! Big surprise!

But, I do think there's something else at work. I have a friend who thinks that people overeat on sugar and salt and fattening-just-for-taste foods because they are basically miserable. Depressed, stressed, life is just so tough that if they can't eat a quarter pounder and fries, life is just not manageable. And now its easy and inexpensive---you don't have to bake a cake from scratch to eat something sweet. That happier people need to mindlessly give themselves a "treat" less often. And its soticety-wide. Its the thing that gets them through the day. Which may say something about how "happy" our culture of plenty is really making us.

Additionally---see "Supersize Me", the documentary. It says that the ingredients in McDonald's (and others) junk foods seem to create a metabolic cycle which causes the eater to actively crave them. The more you eat, the more you need to eat it to "feel good." See Supersize Me and see if you think the junk food chains are harmless and so different from the tobacco manufacturers!

Posted by: annette on June 6, 2005 10:56 AM

It's not just Americans who are getting fatter. Europeans are getting fatter, too. Maybe our bodies, used to hoarding fat cells over centuries of deprivation, haven't caught up to the Western way of life. For the first time in history, at least in the Western world, there is more than enough food for everyone and fewer people have to earn their livings performing manual labor.

Posted by: Rachel on June 6, 2005 11:35 AM

PS---with regards to your last question, saying, is it wrong to notice that some people are overweight and comment on it? The short answer is, maybe, yes. "Fat" is a loaded word in our society, and there is little that is "worse". (Divorced six times? Totally self absorbed jerk? Bad hair? Bad parent? Ripping off your customers every day? At least you aren't FAT! I'm someone who has veered from size 6 to size 14 and back down in my adult life. Little is more casually insulted than weight.) Saying it in a casual (and ridiculing) way simply isn't very nice. And you clearly weren't including yourself in the description. You repeatedly point out in your blog that you have no weight problem. It's clearly important enough to you to mention it often. Therefore, there is an implied "superiority" to your first posting. In your second posting, you were more sympathetic, more about common humanity. You clearly weren't establishing yourself on a higher plane---you have your own "jones." That's much nicer and I think seems less ridiculing. You heard what the commenters said---everything else about them vanishes in the shadow of their "weight." I laughed that someone who ever shops at Costco would bother to be superior in tone about anything!

Posted by: annette on June 6, 2005 11:54 AM

Read the ingredients list on any random processed food product in the store and then wonder, as I do, that we're not all morbidly obese. People are being raised to appreciate the taste of sugar, fat, and salt with little intrinsic flavor. To me, the best example of that are the Ben & Jerry's Swirl ice creams. B&J already had fairly complex flavors, so when you start swirling them together, you end up with something that tastes of nothing in particular but fat and sugar.

I assume that this is just a transition period. Fewer people have physically active jobs; families don't have a full-time homemaker to cook balanced meals; the result is increased obesity. We'll adjust.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on June 6, 2005 11:57 AM

Oh, that big bad wolf of corporations, hooking innocent Little Red-Hoods us on obesity - inducing junk!

Really, Annette, isn't it a bit too predictable anti-capitalistic strawman erecting? Those mysterious substances in "Supersize me" are simply carbohydrates and recycled frying oils. If you conduct similar experiment but involving a diet of mostly pastries and sweetened lemonade made from scratch, without the evil preservatives (and not involving that scary invention, the Microwave) - I'm sure you'll get same result, or possibly worse.
Sugars are addictive, it's their chemical nature to be absorbed into your metabolic system much quicker than greens, f.ex, thus leaving your body with renewed sense of hunger after just 2 hours.

Rewards of food shopping, or any shopping at all (including media/art/info goodies, especially when they are free), as easy - achieved (in our country now) comfort are well documented psychological phenomenon. Multiple self-help and such books and articles (like this one, from today's msn) are written on the subject.

Personally, I don't see much harm in occasional "gorging", be it on cheeses, dinner at French restaurant, lingerie shopping (even if I have enough not to do any laundry for a month), blogsurfing binges or spending whole day art gallery hopping. It's when you no longer control your urges and that thing your desire controls you it transforms into unhealthy obsession. [Searchie, "co zanadto to ne zdrovo"(sp?)]

Usually, though, I'm getting to the point of satiation very quickly. Not because I'm such a strong-willed individual, but by getting bored; here's a case when short attention span is a good thing. Also, it's a self-preservation instinct: as my body rejects excess food, my intellectual/emotional/creative core rejects excess art. Someone else's world, however great, be it Nabokov or Ruhlmann, at some point becomes suffocating force to my own modest creative source.

One more tendency about Costco shoppers: they are people with big families or share their shopping with friends and family - or simply do timesaving once-a month shopping.

Completely OT: Peter, that magazine place on 35th street IS an "Universal news" chain!

Posted by: Tatyana on June 6, 2005 12:12 PM

Hi Michael,

I am reading your excellent blog for some time but this is the first time that I comment something.

I am from Europe and I have never been in the US. From your post and comments America looks like some kind of paradise. People have problems with superabundance like aristocracy of old times, food is easily available in huge quantities, as well as everything else. But you don't mention the difference that gives the advantage to aristocracy and it is that that they did not have to spend whole day doing some tiring, stupid and unfulfilling work to get all this splendor. And going to supermarkets even here in Europe is more like additional work than pleasure. Or maybe I am, as outsider, missing something?

Posted by: nt on June 6, 2005 01:32 PM

Dear NT: and who's forcing you "to spend whole day doing some tiring, stupid and unfulfilling work"? Why don't you try to find something that satisfies you - and pays for the goodies? I know plenty of people who changed their careers many times in life, be it out of necessity, boredom or self-indulgence*.

And if you think "going to supermarkets" is additional work, I'd respectfully advise you to get change of scenery and try to live for a while in a country where it's considered a pleasure activity; plenty of places close to you: just cross that paddle on the south of Europe and go to any of North-African states...

*a good thing, in my lexicon (darn, that footnoting thing is contageous!)

Posted by: Tatyana on June 6, 2005 01:58 PM

Hi again.

I just wanted to pop in and say that I didn't find the *question about* fat & Costco itself offensive. What can be hurtful is that sometimes (okay, every time) when fat comes up in general conversation, people tend to ... er ... jump to conclusions.

I am actually a nutritionist, a fat one, and I work at a hospital. I subscribe to the fairly new, and very unpopular, "Health At Every Size" approach. And I don't disagree that the population has gained some weight in the past couple of decades.

What I do disagree with is any assumption that fat automatically equals unhealthy, inactive, and unfit.

I live in the middle of a large city, I don't own a car, and I do my fair share of walking. I live on the fourth floor in a building without elevators. I don't have an eating disorder (ie binge eating ... which is often assumed of fat people.) My mom is a fat nurse, who recently clocked her daily walking at 10 miles (she works 12 hours shifts.)

I read this website nearly every day, and I love the discussion here. I suppose I tend to a liberal point of view, but I'm very young. I like to read dissenting views, and this is one of the more intelligent sites I've run across.

I'm glad that your reaction to anyone who expressed offense regarding the fat topic has been to initiate more dialogue, and more ideas. Most people, especially on the internet, couldn't be bothered.

I really can't add further to the discussion at present, because, frankly, I'm exhausted of discussing this. It is my career, and in lots of ways, it has become my life ... living as a fat person sometimes feels like a constant defense of your right to exist. [cue the violins]

I will point some more people to this discussion, however. I'm sure they'll have some good perspectives to add about superabundance, the changing landscape of cities, consumerism, etc. And I'll be watching with interest.

Posted by: Peggy Nature on June 6, 2005 02:02 PM

Oh, and:

You might find this interview with Paul Campos fodder for further discussion. TechCentralStation also has a long series of articles about fat by Sandy Szwarc:

Posted by: Peggy Nature on June 6, 2005 02:23 PM

Hi Tatyana,

Your advice about changing careers is not bad, I tried it several times and it can be refreshing for some time. But I am not talking here about my personal issue but about something more general. What I mean is that most people work in some big system where they are only small part of the machinery and they really don't feel that they own their work and their own lives. And workplace is where they spend most of their wake time. Or maybe I am mistaken, maybe such cases are only exceptions?

I did not quite get it about North-Africa. Was it meant to be ironic? I don't know anything about North-Africa, so I can't make any assumptions about it.

Posted by: nt on June 6, 2005 02:38 PM

I didn't comment on your original Costco post, but I just want to say that I wasn't offended by it either. (Then again, I've only been to Costco twice so far and I didn't see anything abnormal so my opinion on that might not count for much.) But I also wonder--are these observations really real or just coincidence, our eyes drawn to particular details because that is what we're thinking about at the time? For instance, what if someone earlier in the day mentions there are an a lot of yellow cars these days and then when you're driving home from work, your eye is naturally drawn to all the yellow cars on the road and then you start thinking, "Yes, there are an inordinate number of yellow cars out these days." But it's only because you're thinking about yellow cars, not because there are any more yellow cars out on the road than usual.

Of course, if there are any real numbers backing up the number of yellow cars on the road, or the type of people who patronize Costco for that matter, then we'd have reason to take everything ultra seriously and start panicking. Otherwise, it's just interesting personal observation.

Posted by: sya on June 6, 2005 03:07 PM

Hi, NT,

No, it was not ironic (ironic? you probably meant sarcastic; reminds me of that great stand-up comedienne - whatshername? commenting on Alanis Morissette's "isn't it ironic?" number - but I digress, sorry). Unless you live in a pre-90's Soviet state where people had to go on a involuntary scavenger food hunt after workday and called it shopping, I wouldn't think going to European supermarket could be categorised under "work".

Regarding aristocracy: first, your assumption of that class consisting of utterly lazy parasites who don't have to work to get all the "splendor" is a bit.. marxist, to me. That is an extensive topic in itself and only tangenially connected to the current discussion, so I'll leave it to some other time.
Second, if your ideal is to get all the goodies not paying for them with hard, sometimes boring work than no, US is not such a paradise.

Not long ago there was a very interesting discussion on who could be called rich and what that implies @Asymmetrical information (an excellent blog, highly recommended), may be it will answer some of your questions. Ah, here, enjoy.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 6, 2005 03:15 PM

I should have said "is not such a paradise as a rule".
After all, I've seen families getting everything theyr need and than some from the society for free...It's called welfare.

No, not a paradise. At all.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 6, 2005 03:32 PM

Thanks, Michael, for your explanation and desire to make things right. There's nothing wrong with discussing the particular topic in a non-judgmental way. But the thing about being overweight is that, unlike people who have other "vices," overweight people carry their sins on their bodies for all the world to see (and laugh at), and given our culture's attitudes, they can be pretty sensitive at times. Making jokes about fat people seems to be just about the only thing people can still get away with in these PC times.

Peggy, thanks for mentioning the "health at every size" notion -- I've taken aerobics classes from a woman whose weight is 240, she teaches 6 or so hour-long aerobics classes a week, is in terrific shape, and does *not* significantly overeat. That's just her body type. But I know she's had to struggle with the "fat girl" image, all her life. I'm not suggesting that every overweight person is fit, far from it, just that such a thing is possible, and that being a large-size person does not necessarily equal having a character defect.

Annette, I don't think your point about the addictive quality of junk food is at all wrong or setting up a straw man -- two books, The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure, make an excellent case for what you're talking about.

Posted by: another obviously anonymous on June 6, 2005 03:55 PM


I am not native speaker of English, so yes, I probably meant sarcastic.

Regarding aristocracy: maybe I have read too much Russian classics.

My ideal is not to get all the goodies, only the ones that I need. And to work only for that.

Good post behind that link. I liked the comment: "Rich isn't when you stop worrying about money, it's when you never have to work a day in your life again." Then you have the real wealth: time of your life for yourself.

Posted by: nt on June 6, 2005 04:05 PM

Costco is not about fat people shopping, I go there about twice a month and I'd say there are less "fat" people there than on an average city street. The issue with Costco is who is getting cut out of the process and how far removed can we get from the items we purchase before things get unsustainable. It's the unbelieveable cheap prices that frighten me, not the size of the packages or the hrodes of people there. We will pay for our savings one day soon, in one way or another, I'm afraid.

Posted by: sac on June 6, 2005 04:10 PM

nt: what if you like your work and you like to work? Hmmm.......:) (as I do. Well, most of the time).

Posted by: MD on June 6, 2005 07:04 PM

charles barkley on fat people :D

Charles Barkley: "I'm so sick of fat people."
Kenny Smith: "Why? You can't live with yourself?"
Barkley: "First of all, they killed Oreos. You know they can't make the Double-Stuff Oreos anymore because fat people can't keep their mouths shut. Now they're killing the McDonald's super-size. Can you believe that? Just because fat people are lazy and don't work out and can't keep they're mouths shut, they have to ruin it for everybody. They'll probably kill ice cream next! Is that my fault they can't stop eating? I'm so sick of these fat people suing these companies. Stop eating!"
"Colonel Sanders is the greatest white man that ever lived."

Posted by: glory on June 6, 2005 10:34 PM

Anyone offended by Michael's post should really stay away from Paul Fussell's classic pop-sociological tome "Class". His physical description of Minnesota State Fair-goers is positively cruel, and the drawings are worse. These farm-folk must weight two to three times what their third cousins back on the fjords do. Maybe that's why we don't have Costcos in Minnesota! (Then again, maybe it's just the power of homeboy Target, who also kept Wal-Mart at bay for years.)

The trend in new foods at the Fair is hard to generalize from. The "bloomin' onions" from Australia are a nutritional Hiroshima, but the teriyaki-ostrich-on-a-stick is pretty lean and shouldn't cause too much damage.

As for Costco, if they're the ones who bribed a city council in California to condemn a functioning church just so they could have a bigger parking lot, then I don't think I'll ever set foot in the place.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on June 7, 2005 04:23 AM

MD: Just go on doing what you like. You are already rich.

Posted by: nt on June 7, 2005 04:37 AM

it's pretty good to have a society where the biggest problem is too much food rather than too little. people will always find something to complain about...even abundance...

Posted by: obs on June 7, 2005 10:29 AM

What I do disagree with is any assumption that fat automatically equals unhealthy, inactive, and unfit.

Yeah, but most of the time it automatically equals aunattractive. You don't find too many guys panting over 200+ lb women...

Posted by: obs on June 7, 2005 10:34 AM


Being a thin person, I wasn't offended by your comments about Costco and fatness, though I don't think that the people shopping there are any fatter than the citizens of your beloved NYC. I shop at Costco bimonthly. With three kids and three cats, I stock kittyfood and kiddyfood.

I'm bugged, though, by your often unstated, but assumed, presumption that urban life is superior to other "lifeforms" such as mine in exurbia. Today you extol urban walking while jabbing at those who drive their SUVs into big box parkinglots. Fair enough. I can see why you think this way.

But you are blind, dear. There are people who prefer to live in quiet, isolated communities a far drive from the sorts of amenities to which you walk. It is a trade-off, I suppose, between urban convenience and exurban peacefulness -- you choose urban convenience and urban culture; I choose exurban peace and nature. I was in NYC a couple days ago, and as always, I love-hated it. I visited a few of my fav art museums, caught a play, ate one of the best bagels in the universe … and then returned to beautiful desert solitude. The price of solitude is an SUV and shopping at Costco. A bargain. For I'd rather reduce urban exposure, in my case Phoenix, by taking my huge SUV (diesel Excursion) a good 20 or 30 miles to Costco, and filling my freezer, than live “conveniently” in a city.

The myth you perpetuate is an urban one: people in cities walk more than people in exurbia. I doubt it. Yes, there are stats that support your claim, but I still doubt it. In the exurbs, a cult of exercise parallels the cult of nature. At dawn, walkers emerge from their walled enclaves, small weights in hands, absorbing the beauty of saguaro in rare bloom. They walk for the exercise, true, but they also walk for an entrancing, relaxing experience. It’s a fearless walk, Micheal, a plunge into a crime-free mentality with plenty of space left for thought. Few have the ubiquitous ipods I saw glued onto urban ears. Exurban minds are free to wander in silence. (I honestly believe that isolation and silence are preconditions for creativity, but that’s another topic, sadly.) Compare this to urban walking. City dwellers walk defensively, avoiding weirdos, traffic, other nice people, etc. Cityfolk walk to get somewhere and don’t seem to enjoy it.

I guess I’m trying to say that walking in exurbia is a wholly different experience than urban walking. Its therapy. Relaxing. Spiritual. This is why I’d drive to Costco. I don’t shop there for the bargains, though I appreciate low costs. I shop swiftly and expediently, to have time and energy for living.

And then I walk.


Posted by: Kris on June 7, 2005 11:01 AM

Coming in to work, I have my favorite Lyle Lovett with Delbert McClinton CD spinning and I am digging on this tune, so much fun to sing aloud with:

Big house, big car, back seat, full bar
Houseboat won’t float, bank won’t tote the note
Too much stuff, there’s just too much stuff
It’ll hang you up, dealing with too much stuff

Hangin' on the couch puttin'on the pounds
Better walk, run, jump, swim, try to hold it down
You're eatin' too much stuff, too much stuff
It'll wear you down carrying round too much stuff.

Hundred dollar cab ride, fogged in can't fly
Greyhound, Amtrak, oughta bought a Cadillac
Too much stuff, too much stuff
It'll slow you down foolin' with too much stuff.

Wel it's way too much, you're never gonna
get enough
You can pile it high, but you'll never be satisfied.

Rent a tux, shiny shoes, backstage big schmooze
Vocal group can't sing, won awards for everything
Too much stuff, too much stuff
They just keep on going rollin' in all that stuff.

Got hurt, can't work, got a lotta bills
But the policy don't pay less I get killed
Too much stuff, too much stuff
Just my luck, countin' on too much stuff.

Runningback can't score till he gets a million
Quarterback can't pass. owner wants his money
Too much stuff, too much stuff
You know you can't get a grip when you're slippin' in all that stuff.

Women every which a way messin' with my mind
You know I fall in love every day three or four times
Too much stuff, too much stuff
It'll mess you up, foolin' with too much stuff.

Yeah, too much stuff, too much stuff
Too much stuff, too much stuff
You never get enough cause there's just too much stuff
You know you can hurt yourself foolin' with too much stuff.

However, I might add, one cannot get enough Delbert or Lyle.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on June 7, 2005 11:23 AM

Kris -
Without getting into a discussion on the overall merits of urban vs. suburban/exurban living, I'll say that with respect to the exercise factor the opportunities indeed exist in the 'burbs - but most people fail to take advantage of them. In the suburban area where I live, which I have no reason to believe is atypical, one occasionally sees people (more often women than men) out for walks or jogs or bike rides, but it's hardly a frequent sight. Some people, me being one of them, are regular gym-goers, but in most cases gym membership drops off after age 30 or so, at least among men. Lastly, while there are many sports leagues in the area, almost all except for a few softball leagues are for children rather than adults.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that for most adult suburban men, "exercise" consists of changing the channels with the TV remote and *maybe* an occasional round of cartball. Women seem to be slightly more active. Contrast this with urban life, where people at least end up doing considerably more walking even if they don't engage in regular, purposeful exercise.

Posted by: Peter on June 7, 2005 12:03 PM

Peter: "It's hard to escape the conclusion that for most adult suburban men, 'exercise' consists of changing the channels with the TV remote and *maybe* an occasional round of cartball."

While I'm sure those are common*, it's yardwork, housework, and shovelling that expend the most energy in my experience. Mow and rake 7000 square feet of lawn, weed the garden, clean out the gutters, check the attic for roof leaks, then the next day, ....

Suburban life has its own exercise sources that are mostly not an issue for urban residents.

* Somehow I thought they were common among city-dwellers too, but perhaps I was wrong. (Does the entire audience for Will and Grace live in Ada, Minnesota and similar towns? Who would have thought it!)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on June 7, 2005 12:29 PM


You said, "Yeah, but most of the time it automatically equals aunattractive. You don't find too many guys panting over 200+ lb women..."

That's patently false. In your mind, 200+ lb women are probably unattractive. That's totally your right, your preference, your prerogative. But to assume all other men (or even most men) feel that way is incorrect.

My husband (a thin man) finds me plenty attractive. In addition, there is a whole sort of 'underground' of men who prefer fat women. Some subscribe to the label of "FA" or "Fat Admirer"; others, like my husband, just happen to think that fat women are just as attractive as other sorts of women. I also know that many men feel pressured to only express attraction for 'the right type' of female, and if they are attracted to, say, girls with big butts, they're not about to admit to it in this good-old-boys, men's-locker-room atmosphere we have going right now.

I think the attractiveness issue is purely subjective and based on personal preference, though of course people often make the case about genetic preferences of beauty, certain waist/hip ratios, etc. ... I'm not going into all that here.

Some cultures also find bigger women more attractive. A case in point is Jamaica, according to what one Jamaican dietitian told me of her personal experience growing up there.

All I can say is that some people find fatness attractive, others don't. For what reason, I don't know for certain, and I don't think anyone can claim to. But it's a-okay with me.

What's not okay is to 1) assume everyone shares your ideals of attractiveness and 2) to engage in name-calling, harassment, or discrimination against people you, personally, find unattractive. Not saying you did, but others regularly do.

And it just ain't attractive, if you will.

Posted by: Peggy Nature on June 7, 2005 01:01 PM

"You don't find too many guys panting over 200+ lb women..."

Ah, but you do. Peggy is right -- you just don't know who they are. My partner wouldn't look at a skinny woman -- they just don't look good to him. He likes a woman whose attributes are lush and soft. My ex-husband didn't have a problem with it either.

It's all in the mind, anyway. I'd rather be with a paunchy, follicularly-challenged man who's strong and compassionate than with some asshat with a sixpack who has an impoverished view of what's attractive and nothing but scorn for those who don't fit his limited view.

Posted by: another anonymous on June 7, 2005 01:35 PM

I wonder if this is the right or the wrong time to put in a plug for the great (and near-pornographic) Jerry Lee Lewis song "Big Legged Woman"?

Probably the wrong time.

Posted by: J.W. Hastings on June 7, 2005 02:32 PM

Hey, I know that song! Jerry Lee Lewis aka 'The Killer' rules.

As far as I'm concerned, it's ALWAYS the right time for pornographic songs about fat women (kidding.)

Posted by: Peggy Nature on June 7, 2005 03:19 PM

Darn. I was hoping everyone would find obs such an idiot that his comment didn't even warrant reply.

Posted by: annette on June 7, 2005 03:32 PM

Unfortunately, annette, obs' viewpoint is a pretty popular one, idiotic though it may be, and in that sense I felt obligated to reply.

But I'm glad you seem think there are many people who know better without needing an explanation. I certainly hope you're right!

Posted by: Peggy Nature on June 7, 2005 03:56 PM


Without hijacking the topic, I'd like to point out that it's possible to have isolation and silence in an urban environment. My example for today is the Chinese Garden in downtown Portland. It's a city block right in the middle of the town. Quiet, peaceful, the whole works. You can walk there on your lunch break. The point is not that every town needs a Chinese Garden, but that the morphological character of that garden enables it to be a place of repose. You could design an urban dwelling where you have all the isolation and silence you like. This can be applied to dwellings in little towns, small cities, medium cities, and big cities.

I live in a city of 70,000 where we have a walking path that connects houses and businesses on opposite ends of town. It's heavily wooded, passes by ponds, streams, open fields, and allows plenty of peace and quiet while it's simultaneously part of the urban fabric. There's also a very pleasurable boardwalk along the waterfront. A leisurely walk downtown feeds your inner anthropologist. Does this all sound good? Is it something that should be repeated elsewhere?

Walking around a good urban environment is an entirely fearless experience. I grew up on eight acres of rural Illinois with all the horror stories of "The City" and have felt perfectly safe walking around Manhattan, Little Italy Chicago (next to the Cabrini projects), Portland, Bellingham at any time of day or night. Got mugged in early afternoon in front of my apartment in Jersey City by a couple teenagers with knives because there were no eyes on the street. The Death and Life of American Cities, Jane Jacobs.

Of course, the big problem with "exurbia" is not the subjective aspect of lifestyle choice, it's the objective fact that it relies completely on petroleum; a quiet morning walk in St. Charles, Illinois these days requires quite a few exchanges of morning gunfire in Baghdad. That the sub-urban development pattern is also responsible for damaging a great number of Americans' health is just another strike against it. Certainly everyone needs peace and quiet, so please give the thumbs-up to those of us who are trying to incorporate it into a sustainable living environment.

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on June 7, 2005 04:21 PM

Morning (or any time) walks anywhere don't require any gunfire in Baghdad, - or anyplace else, Rob.
Amazing, after tubs of virtual ink spent on rebuttal of that primitive leftist propaganda there are still people who talk about "oil wars" as if it's a proven fact!

I didn't expect "blood for oil" and all that jez noncense from these quarters...although I should recall to put it mildly...missionary zeal on the topic of vegans.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 7, 2005 05:18 PM

I feel more peaceful in a crowded city than I do in "nature." I'm sure there are many others who feel the same. And while the "blood for oil" argument is, well, arguable, the fact that suburban life does depend on a steady and cheap supply of petroleum is not debatable. Granted, almost every aspect of modern American life depends on that, as petroleum is a crucial ingredient in almost every product we buy, but automobiles use up the bulk of the oil we import.

Posted by: sac on June 7, 2005 05:39 PM

Obs: Actually there are tons of guys who know plush gals are far more sexy, and I'm proud to say I'm one of them:) Preference for skinny gals is almost always socially conditioned. If you'd bothered to do a quick google search you'd know there are countless porno sites devoted to thick chicks...

Back on topic and toward what Kris was saying, yes, you _can_ get exercise in the burbs, but the way there set up it's harder and people on _average_ get less, with very visible results in American waistlines and health.

Exercise as something _extra_ you go out of your way to do just seems incredibly inhuman to me. You should be able to intergrate it as nautuarlly part of your day. Now I can symphathize with not wanting to live in a full blown metro area, but mid sized cities with intergrated housing and commercial areas like where I live (50,000, w/ two similar cities side by side) is great; From my house I can bike to work and the store, getting my exercise without any extra effort and not having to put up w/ all the hassle of a car. I can't imagine giving that up for hardly anything.

Honestly, I think a lot of people would love to live in the cities if it weren't for the librel policies which caused crime/housing prices (they're much linked) to shoot up and make them unlivable for many of us.

Posted by: zetjintsu on June 7, 2005 06:49 PM


Hey, I'm no expert on oil, that's why I listen to people like Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and Matt Simmons. Jim Kunstler's a popular guy 'round these parts, it'd be fun to discuss his new book that talks about oil and urbanism.

The reason I like 2blowhards so much is that it dissolves this silly left/right liberal/conservative idea. You're either making yourself useful or you're not. I may not agree with all of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett's voting record, but I have a lot more respect for him than someone who leaves home with all the lights on, the heat cranked to 75, three TVs going, and drives an inefficient vehicle (VW Beetle gets about the same mileage as an Avalanche) 30 miles down an expressway that mutilated the city to attend a war protest where, wearing a nylon rain jacket, they wave a plastic-coated sign drawn with a plastic magic marker that says "No blood for oil."

I apologize for coming across as a missionary regarding diet! (A lifetime as an infidel cultivates a real distate for evangelism.) It's something I rarely bring up to people, but at least one diabetic has stopped the needles and lost a bunch of weight (back on topic!) after talking with me. So where I feel it's relevant to the discussion here, I throw in my two cents, the stuff other people might not know about. Figured that's what the whole "post a comment" thing's all about.

Zetjintsu, where do you live? Sounds like my day.

One other on-topic thing regarding weight and exercise: You can be thin and very unhealthy. You can be not-thin and very healthy. Body shape is one thing, health is another.

Posted by: Rob Asumendi on June 7, 2005 07:46 PM

I like to eat, walk, and shop at Costco.

Posted by: Kram on June 7, 2005 08:47 PM

Speaking of Fat People and Costco, have you heard the one about the skinny folks and the Natural Food Co-Op?
How about the techno-geek and the Comp-USA/Circuit City/Best Buy Troika?
There's enough consumers and their particular leanings to keep these half-cocked assumptions going for a while.

Posted by: DarkoV on June 7, 2005 09:07 PM

Michael, again a great post. You've been a wise man to stay out of the comment fray.

Posted by: DarkoV on June 7, 2005 09:08 PM

Rob, I live in Richland in the Tri-Cities area of eastern WA. The more I learn about the world, the more I realize how lucky I am to be here, w/ out the souless sprwal of the burbs or the claustrophobic crowds and crime of a super sized city. There seems to be a real sweet spot for cities in the 30000-80000 range, where you have enough density to make things interesting w/out the problems of a big city, like cost of living getting out of control. I was able to buy a 5 bd house here for around 1/3 of what a studio goes for in New York. Richland's an anomaly though, the only reason we have it so good is because of the government work cleaning up after the bomb injects ton of money and brought lots of high income white collar jobs to the area. Eventually the work will be finished and our comfy city will decline... *sigh* (wow, that became a self indulgent post, sorry:)

Posted by: zetjintsu on June 7, 2005 10:20 PM

Rob, nowhere in your links Bush or Cheney connected peak oil production=energy shortage=war in Iraq. Your sources are just spin on fragments of their actual speeches: Cheney's link is using quotes from his speech of 1999 and in case of your supposed Bush link, the quote's not even there - it talks about history of "independent energy policy" thru decades of different presidencies, including Carter's and Clinton's, and there is no mention of proved link between US military interventions and energetical deficit).
I would agree to take your argument seriously if, for example, to support it you'd show me in solid statistics what part of purchased abroad oil comes from Iraq and that this percentage jumped up since the beginning of war (under accompaniment of "gunfire on the streets of Baghdad", in your words) significantly enough to supply all the gorging-on-gasoline-SUV's. So far, as I recall, we've been using other mostly sources,long before the war, during and after.

On the other hand, if you need something to feel guilty about, this "imperialistic exploitative US" theory works just fine.
You can subscribe to any fancy, it's your right; come to think of it I object more on aesthetic grounds - preachers of "war-for-oil" take me for an idiot, and idiots don't look pretty. And I like to look pretty.

As to vegan diet...Please, spear me the stories of diet as a miracle cure for diabetes. Yes, it's important to keep balanced input of nutrients, but diabetes is disease of hormonal disbalance, as well as other endocrinological diseases. To treat it with cabbage and canola oil is like treating cancer with green tea - useful, but nowhere near the desired effect.

There is a family history of diabetes and other endo- diseases in my family, and I know for sure - to claim you can stop diabetic from "needle" intake of insulin by changing his diet is naive at best.

Which brings me back to the current discussion of obesity.
I (and my diabetic mother, unfortunately) found a very strange view in America on obesity as CAUSE of diabetes and other endo-diseases. It's exactly the other way around! If a patient with severe hormonal disbalance (thyroid problems, let's say) eats only lettuce, lifts tractors for exercise and runs 50 miles every morning he will still weight 300 lb if he doesn't attempt to supply missing chemicals artificially since naturally his sick body doesn't produce them.

Very strange, also, that there is seems to be a... miscommunication between two logically connected medical specializations: endocrinologist tells my mom she can eat everything she likes as long as she takes the pills; and nutritionist tells her exactly the opposite.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 7, 2005 10:39 PM

Rob, There is quiet … and there is silence. Big difference. You can find relatively quiet places in the city, or put in earplugs or noise eradicators, but that’s not the same as silence. Or isolation.

Silence stills the soul. It is intimately connected with aloneness. Solitude. I simply do not believe that silence is possible among others.

I have lived in cities, suburbs and now, exurbs. Even here, sometimes I feel trapped.

In my wee opinion, solitude is far more important than exercise, but they often dovetail. At least twice a week I walk deep into the desert, just to get away from human sounds. For me, walking away is walking toward solitude. Silence is my destination. I walk until I’m calm. Until I can think clearly and linearly. Until the still, soft voice of my creative muse is whispering to me again.

I can’t imagine this happening in a city. Sorry. (St. Charles, Illinois grew far too fast, didn’t it? Now its just the last, or near last, of the continuous Chicago burbs. Sad.)

And Peter, I have to say that there are plenty of exurbans who trot up and down streets, golf courses and easy trails. They get exercise. The gas they spend going to the grocer or wherever is the cost of living peacefully. And there are a rare few, who like me, walk many miles, not for exercise or life needs, but for those inner intangibles.

Also, I disagree with you that exurban men walk infrequently. Or women. In fact, city people seem far less toned than in places such as Colorado or Arizona where people love the outdoors. When I was in New Orleans a few months ago, a clerk told me that the people in the city of New Orleans were the fattest people in the fattest state in the fattest country … with a laugh.


Posted by: Kris on June 8, 2005 01:36 AM

While you have interesting comments, this is one of your first posts that really smacks of a "New York-centric, upper-class" attitude, if I can generalize in the same way you did about fat people at Costco. I'm not a fan of Costco, but many people go there because they can buy in bulk (cheaper) and store those 30 rolls of toilet paper or cans of tuna in the garage. I do know of several young families who live in Manhattan who drive to Costco just to get cheaper diapers, which they store behind the couch of their tiny one bedroom.

Many shoppers go to Costco to buy for large families, or they get products for their small businesses, or they split the bulk items with other families. Yes, the shoppers tend to be fatter, mostly because they are not as wealthy (where thinness is associated with wealth and success). I think you'll find heavier people in most chain stores, including Home Depot and Walmart. That includes the outlets in New York, such as the Costco in Queens. In fact, I think you'll find fatter people outside major urban centers which tend to the younger and wealthier (except the poorer areas).

As a former Queens resident, I can assure you that residents of Queens are fatter than those in Manhattan. Does this really have anything to do with walking? Maybe. Although I think economics (and class) plays a big role in it, and I think that's why your comments touched such a nerve.

Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to live in Manhattan, and I doubt most Manhattanites would want the rest of fat America living next to them. But what can I generalize about Manhattan residents who shop and buy overpriced products at Zabar's? Materialistic? Selfish? Would rather throw away money than go to Costco?

Posted by: Neil on June 8, 2005 11:00 AM

Neil, I think you might want to take a look at the cars in a Costco parking lot. Costco is not WalMart.

Posted by: David Sucher on June 8, 2005 11:47 AM

Normally we blog around here about movies, art, and architecture. It turns out that what Americans really care about is cars and weight. Maybe it's time to reconceive the themes of this blog. Great topics, anyway. And, actually, coming up shortly is a terrific posting by Donald Pittenger about car design. So stay tuned.

A coupla points/responses/etc?

* Kris -- I'm not sure how I've given the impression that I've got anything against non-city living. I'm a big fan of noncity living, and often find city living to be a pain. I'm anything but a natural-born city dweller. Although I take pretty well to Portland-sized cities, really big cities are kind of a struggle for me. On the other hand, it isn't a diss to notice that it's easier to walk in NYC than it is in most suburbs, is it? It's a simple statement of fact. I think Peter's point is the key one: in Manhattan, there are many, many reasons to walk: shopping, getting to work, meeting friends, all of them involve walking. You don't have to think about it. In the country or in the 'burbs, "doing some walking" usually involves having to put your mind to it -- ie., a conscious effort of will.

* One of the reasons I'm a fan of New Urbanism is that one of their goals is to create suburbs that incorporate many opportunities for walking and biking. Sounds nice to me, and apparently to many people. Polls routinely show that majorities -- when asked about it -- would like their neighborhoods to offer more opps for non-car getting-around.

* Come to think of it, one thing that really strikes me when I visit the town where I grew up is this: there's a lot less walking and biking going on there than when I was a kid. I think it's because the place was largely a small town when I was there -- kids and adults walked and biked around town pretty routinely. There was a real town center, and the big roads weren't yet four-lane and traffic-engineered to death. These days, my ol' hometown is about 3/4 a standard-issue suburb. Pods of big-barn houses, with arterials hustling people to and from shopping and work. And it's really rare these days to see people out on foot or on bikes. Coincidence?

* I'd thought that part of my point in the posting was to take note of a new kind of fat. Growing up back in the '50s and '60s, there were certainly lots of bodyshapes around, and some of them were chunky, and some we considered fat. But I don't remember anyone at my school, for instance, who was fat in the way that some people are fat these days: big, billowing, growing-up-drinking-quarts-of-Pepsi and playing videogames fat. Waddling around in stretch clothes and pymaja-style outfits fat. Multiple generations of huge people never without food in their hands fat. This really does seem to be a recent development. Where'd it come from? What's it about? Are we pleased by its new presence in our lives?

* Hasn't anyone ever heard of Chubby Chasers? There are guys who adore fleshy women; there are guys who find ultra-fleshy women a super turnon. Are there women who prefer heavy men in the same way? I have no idea. But then women don't seem to have ideal physical/sexual types in quite the same way men do ...

* Did a commenter say there are as many fat people in Manhattan as in the general run of America? Um, I don't often flat-out disagree about things on this blog -- art-stuff is mostly a matter of opinion, and it's a lot more fun and rewarding to compare notes than it is to do battle. But it's nuts to contend that Manhattanites are as heavy as the general run of Americans. Fat people are rare in Manhattan. (BTW, this has nothing to do with good or bad, just fact.) People in the NYC boroughs -- Queens, Brooklyn -- are often heavy in the typical US way. But people in Manhattan rarely are. Manhattanites walk, and they're often neurotic, narcissistic, and wired up tight. The fatties you see in Manhattan are generally 1) from the boroughs and in for the workday or 2) Puerto Ricans. The other big group of fatties in evidence are tourists from the heartland. There'll be a family on the corner wrestling with a map, and they'll all be fat: they're tourists. It's really striking when you're used to Manhattan standards to visit the heartland -- people out there are generally much, much heavier than Manhattanites are. Again: not a judgment-thing, just a fact-thing.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 8, 2005 12:27 PM

Somehow I doubt we'd be in Iraq if there wasn't oil there.

I'm a media-gorger too. I'm spending way too much time surfing and reading blogs, Fark, Wikipedia, Boing Boing, 100 different things. (Unemployed = lots of free time. Not that I didn't surf a lot when I was employed. At work).

I go to bed and reflect on the hours spent surfing and think it might be time to disconnect the cable modem. Think when I'm on my deathbed I'll wish I spent more time reading blogs?

Posted by: Brian on June 8, 2005 01:07 PM

I doubt we'd be in Iraq if there wasn't poppy there.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 8, 2005 01:27 PM

I meant in Afghanistan. [preview!]

Posted by: Tatyana on June 8, 2005 01:29 PM

A special delivery for NT: see what I (positively not-ironically) meant by shopping in supermarkets being a pleasure trip, not work?

Posted by: Tatyana on June 8, 2005 03:20 PM

I was grumpy yesterday, Michael. Truly sorry.

Still, your lenses seem telescoped to NYC and similar big cities, even though your childhood was spent elsewhere. But Michael, so much of culture “happens” outside of urban settings, where old media rarely ventures. Cities do have unmatchable galleries and museums, but many artists – perhaps a rapidly increasing percentage? – actually DO art elsewhere.

I just love to hear about small to medium communities openly courting artists, self-consciously remaking themselves into artist-friendly communities. Just one example may suffice: Cave Creek, Arizona. It’s a very small town full of funky western art (which I despise, but …) and iron sculpture. Jerome or Bisbee Arizona are also towns with a real mix of dreadful and pretty good art. Not all exurban art is commercialized or sanitized by wealthier patrons. In my opinion, Sedona and Scottsdale, in spite of all their natural beauty, have less interesting arts climates than Cave Creek, Bisbee and Jerome.

Regarding Costco: most snitty comments about Walmart, Costco and other such stores are usually made by holier-than-thou, lefty urbanites accompanied by a pointing finger and jeering commentary. Mockery from “on high.” So wearisome.

Walking and/or taxiing are compulsory in cities, optional elsewhere. I prefer choosing, in your words, “a conscious effort of will,” and not to walk as duty or imposition. That’s another way of looking at it. “Freedom to …” v. “freedom from.”

I love your blog.


Posted by: Kris on June 8, 2005 04:12 PM

Tatyana: It's disingenuous to critique the "blood-for-oil" argument by narrowly focusing on Iraqi oil (and American blood, for that matter). While we may not be in Iraq for Iraqi oil in particular, we in the West are so dependent on petroleum to make our economies run that we will do nearly anything to ensure a steady supply of it, even when that means supporting corrupt dictatorships and enemies of "freedom". The money behind the power in petroleum countries allows brutal regimes to maintain their power, to repress their domestic enemies and attack their foreign ones. Without oil money, do you think we would even have to have given Saddam a second thought?

(not that this is directly related to the original post, but still.)

Posted by: MDS Chill on June 9, 2005 09:38 AM

Mr. Chill (you ARE a Mister, aren't you?) - you're absolutely right, this isn't related to original post.
And, as I said, tubs of ink are spilled on this subject.
So I'll save my breath (and already overstretched patience of our host here) and not say a word myself - just direct you to this specific answer to your specific question. Note the date, please.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 9, 2005 10:14 AM

"there are guys who adore fleshy women"

Based on people I've known over the years, it's definitely my impression that when it comes to opportunities for dating and marriage, it is much worse to be a nerdy man than it is to be a moderately overweight woman. In theory men usually claim to want "hot" women but in practice are much less choosy. But few women are interested in a man who is, for example, a Star Trek nerd.

Posted by: Peter on June 9, 2005 11:02 AM

A 1000 apologies for monopolising the comments, but I just couldn't keep this to myself.
Makes totally adorable addendum.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 9, 2005 05:21 PM

Some of your observations are absolutely spot on: especially living in NY and keeping fit from walking. I lived in NY and walked everywhere or took public transportation and always had low blood pressure and a good weight for my body (though I was considered about 20 pounds "over" weight according to the arbitrary charts). I was quite healthy. I moved to TX where things are simply more spread out (which can be a good thing coming from the sardine can feeling of NY) and I gained about 30 pounds and also my blood pressure went up. Now this is simply a product of not walking and walking is something MY body likes and works well with. This again is MY body, not something that is right for everyone. But driving and the towns we live in can contribute to our weights, that is a fact. It is not that we're lazy and eating more.

The thing about fat is that people are told it's ugly, and God forbid we tolerate anything we deem "ugly" in our lives. Judy Molnar is extremely fit, runs marathons and more and is what most people would call "fat". Fat does not equal unhealthy. Fat does not equal lazy. And I have seen my share of thin people who are lazy, who do stuff their faces with comfort foods and McDonald's and aren't attacked as fat people are. Thin people are *allowed* to do what they want with their bodies and it's all about what is, if I may quote someone else, "visually repulsive."

Pro choicers say, "My body, my business." Yet some of the same people do think that fat people have no right to be fat.

Many people are free with their sexual selves and advocate having sex when you feel like it. If you dare suggest they abstain, they say there's something wrong with you or you're not comfortable with your sexuality. Yet if you advocate letting fat people decide what they will and won't eat, you're somehow advocating suicide? I always say, "You put what you want in your mouth, I'll put what I want in mine."

If you enjoy sex you're a "slut", and if you're fat and enjoy food, you're a "slob." If you're THIN and enjoy food, no one CARES. And if you're fat and you enjoy sex, you're disgusting, apparently.

If a thin person has high cholesterol and blood pressure and doesn't exercise and has a body that remains thin through what they eat or if they are ill and do unhealthy things to themselves to stay thin, it's ok. As long as they are thin, it doesn't matter how unhealthy they are. It doesn't matter if they're hurting themselves to GET and STAY thin. It only matters that they are thin and "visually pleasing." As if we owe it to each other to be decorations? I think not. We're people, not ornaments.

I am tired of hearing about how fat is so ugly. It's only ugly because someone told you it was and you bought it. So much for "thinking for ourselves."

Posted by: Mena on June 9, 2005 08:39 PM

PS -- You're right about being overstimulated by media, but if we don't pay attention to media, we're deemed ignorant. We can not win and we're never good enough.

Posted by: Mena on June 9, 2005 08:43 PM

The money behind the power in petroleum countries allows brutal regimes to maintain their power, to repress their domestic enemies and attack their foreign ones. Without oil money, do you think we would even have to have given Saddam a second thought?

Pardon me for inferring this, but doesn't this seem to be an argument to NOT pay brutal regimes money for their oil?

Posted by: JM on June 10, 2005 02:38 AM

You know, Costco doesn't make us fat. If there were no Costco, people would just buy their food in smaller quantities per trip - or buy multiple packages.

We have been Costco and BJ's customers. You know what? It's all what you buy. We buy in bulk: stir-fry vegetables, tuna steaks, certain produce (Bing cherries!), light bulbs...

Yes, the warehouse clubs are about convenience. It's not so much about price as it is about time. We have so little of it these days - if I can make 1 Costco trip every 4 weeks instead of 1 trip every week to Stop 'N Shop, it saves me oodles of time, which I can then spend with my family or working on hobbies.

BTW, I was fat once, too - as was my wife. When the weight scared the pants off of me, I went on Weight Watchers and dropped 80 lbs in 9 months (less than 10 lbs. have come back on in the 4 years since). And I exercise regularly. But I make choices - hard ones about what's important - that most Americans just don't.

Posted by: Eric Sohn on June 15, 2005 07:31 PM

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