Today my friend Mary and I went to a new (to me) place for lunch. It’s called 4food. You may not have heard of it, because so far they only have one location and it just so happens to be across from my office building. Their whole thing is to provide a healthy alternative to “junk” or “fast food“. They even have this sweet mission statement on their napkins:
For those of you who don’t have super magnifying abilities in your eyes, here’s what it says: “Our mission is to de-junk fast food (TM) by bring fast, fresh, delicious, and nutritious food, made of local produce purchased at fair prices, to people of all ages, lifestyles, and ethnicities.” Really? How could I not like a place like this?
They have a ton of possible combinations for your meal, so I wrote down what I wanted beforehand, and off we went. Mary placed her order, and shortly thereafter I placed mine and went to join her where she’d been standing waiting for her lunch to be ready. She wasn’t too happy. I asked her what was wrong, and she explained to me that they were playing ads on a loop on one of the screens above the counters and that one of them was really offensive, and depicted a fat man talking rhapsodically about food while on an airplane next to a beleaguered looking thin guy. The thin guy looks disgusted and disinterested, but does start to think about what he’d like to eat. When it comes time to get off the plane, the thin guy leaves while the fat one gets stuck in the doorway. One of the final images is of a flight attendant trying to shove the fat man through the doorway. There was no sound, so this was the story she’d put together based on the images she’d seen. As she told me the story, I grew as annoyed and offended as she was. We both wished we hadn’t already paid. But as it was, we’d each paid about $10 for a burger (a veggie burger in my case) and a small side, and that’s money I can’t really afford to throw away (maybe I should have gone to the register and gotten my money back. I don’t know). We agreed that this was the last time we’d be eating at 4food.
This evening when I got home, I went to the restaurant’s website to see if I could find the ad. It turns out that it’s not an ad, per se, but the “founder’s story”. I can’t link to it, but it’s on their home page. Go watch it now. I’ll wait until you get back.
It’s easy to see how Mary could have interpreted it the way she did even though having the sound on contextualizes the whole thing a little bit. It would be unfair to say that the point of that animated short is “Fat people are gross and all they think about is gross food that will make them fatter!” But I don’t think that having the story behind the animation makes it less offensive.
For one thing, the language and imagery in the founder’s story are far from neutral. How many times have you heard someone say that a person “spooned” themselves into a seat? And would you use similar terminology to describe the actions of a thin person? The founder makes a point of saying that he lost a similarly obese friend at the too-young age of 42, but as Nat pointed out when we watched the animation, any compassion that you might feel for him is quickly lost when he goes for the too-easy fat joke with the airplane door and the struggling flight attendant. The overall message doesn’t end up being that we could all use a healthy alternative to the overly-processed stuff that comes from fast food places; instead, it’s more a condemnation: “Here is the problem with the way we eat in America, and ultimately it’s the fault of these fat people who dream up these 1800-calorie ideas!”
You know what? Everyone eats at places like McDonald’s. Thin people, fat people, and people of every size in between. McDonald’s, and any place that offers an 1,800-calorie (or however many calorie) menu item, is not the problem. And the people who come up with the ideas for those menu items are also not the problem. Sure, all these things contribute to the problem and don’t make it easier to solve, but it’s complex and putting the blame on a fat person is not the right place to start. And you know what else? Selling burgers and a side for $10 is not the solution, and neither is continuing the trend of fat-shaming and fat-mockery. It’s discriminatory, it’s hurtful, it’s unproductive, and frankly, if it were directed at other groups it wouldn’t be tolerated.
Once again, I want to point out that the size of one’s body is not always an indication of one’s health. There are thin people who pay no attention to what they eat, and there are plenty of fat people who eat well and exercise. Health is a serious issue and it should be a priority for everyone. Everyone could stand to learn more about how to take better care of themselves. Everyone could stand to have better resources available to them so that it’s easier to make healthy choices (there’s an entire socioeconomic aspect to all of this that I won’t even get into here because it would make this post about four times as long, but it’s definitely something I’ll come back to). This is a point that can be made without taking aim on people and making cruel jokes.
So enough, really. Come up with a new idea, because this current one is not funny and it’s not clever.