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Fertile Ground: Weight of the Nation, HBO? Let's Talk Industrial Agriculture First

promo image for weight of the nation depicting a map of the US with the words TO WIN, WE HAVE TO LOSE above it

Dear HBO,

I've been watching your miniseries, Weight of the Nation, and though you have some good information, I am largely disappointed. Not that I'm all that surprised—the title alone employs the same old fat-shaming rhetoric. "Look at these fat people!" your show says. Yeah yeah, health problems, diabetes, etc., blah blah. LOOK THEY'RE FAT. 

In your minds, the only way to draw people in to a show about the looming health crisis is to place the blame on individual fat people. This person is fat because they eat fast food and sit on their recliners watching TV all day. That person had to get his foot amputated because he let himself gain weight. That's much easier than digging deep into the roots of the issue, revealing all sorts of awful truths about a corporate-owned food system soaked with greed and chemicals. After all, you didn't want to make a show and call it Toxic State of the Union, because no one would watch that. First of all, it would be depressing—who wants to know how many pesticides we're ingesting eating those run-of-the-mill diner fries, or the herbicides we're eating when we munch on those corn chips? Instead, you say, let's touch briefly on those topics and then shift the focus to fat people: Why they can't stop eating cheeseburgers?

The real issue, of course, is our sad, careless food system, run by corporations who care nothing for the land, environmental quality, or the health of our bodies. You could have at least brought up the farm bill, which is up for renewal this year and contains many issues related to the American food system, including those related to organic produce and small family farms. 

I'm sure the corporations that lobby (including those representing the food and advertising industries) and influence Washington's policymaking are grateful that they came out of your series virtually unscathed. Again, issues involving corporate power in our food system are—what? Too dangerous for HBO to delve into? Instead, I suppose it's just easier to make a show about fatness and people wanting to lose weight. You highlight the evilness of soda pop and fruit juice—both evil, I agree—but make it about pounds on the scale, ignoring a zillion other underlying issues (Monsanto and subsidy-ridden, chemical-poisoned corn farms that are responsible high fructose corn syrup, as well as corporate-owned fruit juices that are pure sugar water).

I don't expect a lot from "concerned TV shows" in general. In my mind, TV could be a great medium for discussing serious issues—a way to get out worthwhile, crucial information to a mass audience who are willing to listen—but it rarely is. And don't get me wrong—Weight of the Nation is no The Biggest Loser. There is some information here worth hearing, like the discussion about marketing junk food to kids. So you're probably thinking, "What's your problem, lady? We touched on lots of issues pertaining to what you're talking about!"

Well, okay. But it's pretty half-assed, if you ask me. Why barely touch on the deeper issues, not doing them justice, and pretend this show isn't just some exploitative, body-shaming carnival ride? If you really care, HBO, dig deeper into your material, sink into those roots, and try to make a nuanced series that's actually worth watching?

Or maybe that's too much to ask. Maybe next time I should just turn your show off and watch something else. 

Sincerely,

Alison

Previously: New Ads Say you don't have to be a Pickle-Eating Hippie to Get Solar, Attachment Parenting isn't about being "Mom Enough"

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I am so glad to see that

I am so glad to see that other people view this as fat-shaming too. I grew up having health lectures taught much the way this show runs: Blaming health problems on the victim's poor diet and lack of exercise, not on the way society plays a role (food deserts, poverty, etc). And as an "overweight" woman, it hurt to be constantly blamed. So nice to not be alone.

For whatever it's worth, the

For whatever it's worth, the final episode of the show does focus on food systems, including corn subsidies and urban planning issues, only briefly touching on individual choice. I was surprised and impressed. (I haven't seen the other three episodes, though I was given a set at the screening I attended.)

Both ways

I can see it both ways. I thought they did a good job with showing how our sedentary lifestyle has a major part in our weight. Ultimately I believe it comes down to education. There's absolutely no educational system for children or adults when it comes to proper nutrition, and it leads to the wrong choices. It's amazing how little people know about the food they eat (not to say it's their fault, it's our system that's broken and descreasing to non-existent physical activity).

You should watch all 4-parts

You should watch all 4-parts because they specfically examine the exact things this article claims they don't. Sloppy, inacurate article.

I did not say they did a

I did not say they did a terrible job and didn't touch on any of these issues. However, the main thread underlying this mini-series is fat-shaming. Whether that was a way to get more viewers or not, it seems like a disturbing tactic, in my opinion.

The series is still fixated

The series is still fixated on the "obesity epidemic." It advances America's cultural fixation on and panic over fatness as a catastrophic problem unto itself. That's the problem with it.

Fatness and fat people are not the problem. Even if we were, we're not going anywhere. As is reiterated time and again by fat activists and fat studies scholars, current research is very "bleak" as far as the goal of individual and population-wide weight loss is concerned. 

As for actual health, on the other hand--whether one defines health as holistic well-being or strictly in terms of morbidity and mortality--there is an awful lot that can be done structurally to improve health outcomes for everyone, fat, thin, and in between. We have this fixation on body size, when there's actually no reason at all to center fatness in the dicussion of population-wide health. 

You could have at least

You could have at least brought up the farm bill, which is up for renewal this year and contains many issues related to the American food system, including those related to organic produce and small family farms pure garcinia cambogia