While waiting in the gym last winter for a session with my physical therapist after knee replacement surgery, I found myself eavesdropping on the other patients. I’m prone to being nosy, probably because I have spent so many years on a tractor or out in the field planting or picking with no one to talk to or listen to. When farmers get to town, we’re ready to make up for lost time. I admit it. We’re nosy!
That day, as I sat waiting, a young couple walked in. Both had beautiful faces and rosy cheeks. The man had a sweet and generous smile, although the woman seemed sad and pouty. The man, probably in his late twenties, was having foot problems. One foot was swelling and periodically turning numb. In spite of his sweet smile, he was obviously miserable. Probably as a result of genetics and bad food habits he weighed more than 400 pounds. His dejected companion was also obese, weighing perhaps 300 pounds.
The young man had a New England Patriots cap on. I imagined that maybe he played high school football and beefed up to be a better tackle or defensive end. Looked like he never stopped beefing up, I thought. The young lady looked like she could have been his high school sweet heart.
My therapist interrupted my musings. She reminded me that I had plenty of therapy to do myself and that we should get busy. We spent the next 45 minutes talking about farming, food safety, health, politics, babies, her up-coming trip to Mexico, and my therapeutic needs.
While we were visiting and I was exercising, I watched out of the corner of my eye and listened to the other therapist trying to help the fellow with the sore and numb foot. She explained that his weight and the threat of diabetes should be his and his companion’s worry and that the foot was just a symptom of that problem. I tried to imagine how difficult their lives must be. My therapist put ice on my right foot and right knee.
The next time I visited the health center, my therapist was in Mexico. Instead, the therapist who had treated the heavy client with the sore foot treated me. We began to visit and I mentioned the couple that she was treating. She had advised them to lose weight, but they said that they had tried and always failed. I told her that I overheard that conversation as well as the one where the young man said that he and his companion wished that they could get on Biggest Loser Couples. But they didn’t have any money to get there and none to support an exercise program after they lost weight. They felt that their only other hope at this point was gastric by-pass surgery. She said: “Isn’t that sad. They feel trapped.”
“They are trapped,” I replied. “We have a bad agriculture and a worse food culture that enables and encourages such obesity.” I raved on: (I’m off the tractor now and on a rant) “our farming system has to be fixed before we can fix the diets of all these obese kids. We encourage consumers to gorge themselves on large amounts of meat, cola, fries, and white bread. These are ‘America’s favorite foods’ and they are all terribly fattening. “
If these kids can’t afford to go to Biggest Losers to change their lives, they are probably reduced to eating bad burgers, on bad bread, with fries and a coke. Seeing their beauty, and their diminished hopes, and viewing the fat swollen cage they find themselves in it makes me feel desperate. They are young folks stuck with nearly useless bodies, chronically sore knees and hips, aching feet, a puzzling future, a dicey surgical hope, and always-hungry stomachs filled with shit food. The therapist finishes massaging my knee and puts ice on it, thanks me for my rant, and heads to her next client.
As the ice wears off, I put on my shoes. The plight of the young couple reminds me of a Roseanne segment from the TV show. Her husband had just returned from the market and they were unloading the bags. After a few minutes of pulling cookies, potato chips, cokes, candy, ice cream, more cookies, and a cake out of the bags, she ranted, as only Roseanne could: “You know, at some point we need to grow up and stop eating like our parents just left for the weekend.” That segment really struck me. We are a nation that eats like its parents just left for the weekend!
O.K., time to stop being nosy, indulge my espresso habit, and go back to my tractor.
Will Allen is an organic famer, community organizer, and writer who farms at Cedar Circle Farm in Vermont. He serves as Policy Advisor for the Organic Consumers Association. He is author of the book, The War on Bugs (Chelsea Green books 2008).