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Eating Like Our Parents Just Left for the Weekend

While waiting in the Gym for my physical therapist to come help me rehabilitate my knees after replacement surgery, I always become totally nosy and find myself snooping into other patients' and therapists lives. This is 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 we get to town, most farmers I know are eavesdroppers. I admit it, we're nosy!

One day, as I sat waiting, in walked a couple. Both had beautiful faces and rosy cheeks, the man had a sweet and generous smile, 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 also was obese, weighing perhaps 300 pounds. Both seemed trapped in a bad food and bad life nightmare over which they had no control.

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. Pretty face, even though she was pouty, probably a knockout if she lost 150 pounds.

My therapist, interrupted my imaginings about the handsome couple and how they ended up in the therapist's gym. 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. Her care had been irreplaceable in my recovery.

While we were visiting and I was exercising, I watched out of the corner of my eye and listened to the neighboring 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 am too nosy! I try to imagine how difficult their lives must be. My therapist puts ice on my right foot and right knee. I continue to listen to the quiet conversation between the couple and their therapist until the ice no longer has any cold.

I have a double espresso and head back to the farm. It's spring and that means long days.

The next time I visited the therapy 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 answer. We have a bad agriculture and a worse food culture that enables and encourages such obesity. I go 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 the 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 a farmer, community organizer, activist, and occasional writer who farms in Vermont. His website is the farm website is