Friday, December 12, 2008

It's In Our Nature


I don't get the whole "let's dump on America for being fat" craze that seems to be a universal constant by citizens of other nations. Heck, by citizens of our own country, too. After all, unless you're living in an impoverished 3rd-world country, chances are your own people are not all that light in the loafers either, if you know what I mean.

Take the U.K. and Germany, for instance. Both on the fast track of actually *surpassing* the U.S. in tubbiness over the next two decades. It's ludicrous to think that the fat gene is somehow isolated to Americans only, when in fact every country showing favorable increase in their GDP has had to contend with an equally rapid increase in national waistlines. It's not just one people, but ALL people who suffer from this.

When you give folks nearly unlimited access to food (processed or otherwise), it is in our nature to eat to fulfillment. And to then eat a little extra "just in case." It's a survival instinct left over from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. When game was not plentiful, we died. When it was, we chowed down like there would be no tomorrow. Because back then, you know, there might not be!

And it's not like this is even just a human thing--it's prevalent all throughout nature. Most animals, if given a chance, will eat themselves into a stupor. Because that's what nature wants. In the wild, you never know where or when your next meal may be. So if you've managed to snag some food, eat more than you can possibly digest in one sitting. The extra fat reserves will fare you well during leaner times.

Just look at our pets. If we don't regulate their food (and some owners shamelessly don't) cats can get as big as beach balls! Yes, part of it is the TYPE of food that's being consumed. But that's not the whole picture. Most of it is because of their (and our) hard wiring.

No one can know exactly how true this is unless they grew up poor and hungry most of the time. While my mother was not destitute, we were on public assistance. And let's just say that Welfare back in the 70s and 80s was not as generous as it is these days. They literally only gave families just enough allowance to not wither away into dry husks of starvation. Oh, and they gave us free 5-lb blocks of cheese every 3 months in case we wanted to, you know, go crazy and throw a celebration or something.

So while I wasn't "save the children" or "hunger aid" starving, my brothers and I only enjoyed maybe two meals a day -- breakfast and dinner. And no snacks of Cheetos and Ho-Hos to tide us over in-between.

However, when my psycho stepfather came into the picture, sometimes we would get less if we were being bad. One such punishment had me missing meals for an entire day. I was always underweight as a child (I was born preemie), so I probably was feeling it worse than most would on this occasion. I clearly remember thinking I was going to die. Looking back, it seems almost silly. But as kids we tend to exaggerate life experiences, right?

Anyway, I was saved that evening by a neighbor rushing over and inviting us all to her kid's surprise birthday party. Since this was a predominantly hispanic neighborhood, this meant the party was really for adults in terms of the time, food and copious amounts of alcohol present. I remember hoping that my stepfather and mother would not remember that I was on punishment, and lo and behold -- they didn't!

So I did what any self-preserving human animal would do in such a scenario -- I scarfed down everything I could get my hands on (in case they realized the oversight). I mean, seriously, my body went into a full-out Jack London "Call of the Wild" feeding frenzy. I think the neighbor's dogs howled upon recognizing a kindred spirit. All I remember is a sort of haze going over my eyes and completely ignoring all sense of decency and protocol and just attacking EVERY SINGLE dish on the table. Fuck the cake and ice cream -- I wanted the MEAT and RICE and VEGGIES. Butter that biscuit, grandma, and I'll take the rest of the pan, thank you very much!

Needless to say I ate long, and I ate good that night.

Afterwards when the red haze and blood-curdling howls subsided, I sat back and surveyed the damage I had wreaked. Adults were staring back at me in shock, complimenting my mother on having such a skinny kid with such a man-sized appetite.

If only they knew.

Ever since this incident, however, I always remember the way instinct took over and basically bitch-slapped the rational, civilized portion of my mind aside in pursuit of what my body thought was self-preservation on the line. I was only 7 yrs old, and maybe the situation wasn't as dire as all that, but the basic lesson I learned was the same:

Don't mess with someone when survival is in doubt.

No matter how much civilization we put between us and our cavemen ancestors, we're still barely restrained animals at heart. When push comes to shove, we WILL fight to survive. And nothing is more basic to survival than eating. No country and its people are immune to this.

So instead of bashing other countries when yours is really no better, take a moment to stop and think what overeating is really saying about people in general. Some people, for whatever reason, simply cannot shut that instinct down. Even when they know better. I'm not trying to excuse all the fat-asses out there. You have a problem, and you need help. But at the same time I know where they're coming from. When you have a surplus, it's hard not to think it might some day vanish and to indulge while you can. We wouldn't be so successful on the food chain if we didn't behave like this.

The real problem, of course, is in distribution. We need a better way of distributing that surplus evenly across the globe. Then maybe we would all eat within our means.

But if I knew how to make this happen, I would be High Prince David, Overlord of Earth . . . and not writing this blog right now.

What do you think?

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