Monday, March 27, 2006

Chief of the Fat Police: Bill Clinton's new role

On Fat Tuesday, repentant sinner Bill Clinton declared war on cheeseburgers, fried oysters, fudge, and other tools of the devil. Identified by the Associated Press as "a reformed overeater," Bill, looking quite ghostly when compared with the robust figure he cut in his glory days, warned the National Governors Association that America has "a huge cultural problem and unless we change it our children may grow up to be the first generation with shorter life spans than we had."

The problem, according to Clinton, is that Americans are serious chowhounds whose love of grub is a major threat not only to themselves, but to the national economy. According to the Associated Press, Clinton noted that if the U.S. could reduce health spending - now 16 percent of GDP - to 11 percent (in line with what other countries spend), the savings would be $700 billion. But it won't be easy. "No matter what else you say, no matter what different studies show, you've got to consume less and burn more," Clinton said. "To do that you've got to change the culture." The governors, many of whom support anti-fat school programs, responded with thunderous applause.

It is clear to some of us that this drastic turnaround in Clinton's viewpoint is the result of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by that ill-advised investigation of his romantic life, capped by impeachment. Back in the day, he preferred a little plumpness: Monica, let us recall, was only a few corpuscles shy of being renamed Lulu. Now he's become yet another leading American who believes it's his duty to tell us what we should and should not be eating.

Clinton's warning was no doubt welcomed by the health authorities, especially in light of a recent study indicating that eating less fat late in life does not lower the risk of cancer and heart disease in women. That $415 million investigation "showed no difference in the rate of breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease among those who ate lower-fat diets and those who didn't," according to a press account. This wasn't what researchers were hoping for. "These results do not suggest that people have carte blanche to eat fatty foods without health problems," snipped Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital and co-author of the study. "The results, of course, are somewhat disappointing."

Yet we should take Clinton's transformation seriously, especially the part about changing the culture. Whenever an American icon says "change the culture," it's time to fix bayonets.

The message Bill and his ilk hope to pound into the public consciousness is that every time we order French fries we do damage not only to ourselves, but to the nation's economy and our children's future. This same argument holds that we commit sin against the earth by driving cars and running weed eaters, etc., etc. Each individual act is measured against the common good - and is generally found wanting. Only dangerous sex is exempt from this wide-ranging scowl.

This is a major turnaround. To our ancestors the current state of culinary affairs would represent paradise. To be able to walk into a Kroger and purchase, at very reasonable prices, French wine, Swiss chocolates, cow tongues and filets, ,clairs, massive bags of ginger snaps, rivers of honey and thick crSme, butter and pretty much whatever else the taste buds crave - that could hardly be imagined.


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