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Corona Diaries: is COVID the great wake-up call for those of us who waddle?

June 18, 2020

Were it not for the fact that it likes consuming people with man-boobs and beer-bellies, COVID would be manna from heaven for white supremacists. What better example of the genetic superiority of the white race than a virus that disproportionately picks on people of colour?

Even better if you happen to be a God-fearing white supremacist, because then you can claim that the Almighty has sent the virus to demonstrate the weakness of other races.

Unfortunately, the fact that fatties of all ages and races are dropping like ninepins punctures the genetic argument. But it does give rise to another theory: that God has sent the virus to punish those of us who abuse the bounty of the good earth by eating too many pizzas, cookies and Pringles.

While taking God out of the equation, that seems to be a theory espoused by Bill Maher, an American comedian and chat-show host who berates his fellow citizens on a weekly basis for their unhealthy diets, and argues that if they’d spent lockdown changing their eating habits, they would have emerged with better metabolisms and consequently greater ability to survive the virus. This week he interviewed an nutritionist who made exactly that claim.

He may be right, but I’m afraid that as far as the American public is concerned, and certainly us Brits, he’s pissing in the Californian wind. He makes the perfectly plausible claim that nutritionists in the 50s and 60s, who had witnessed the effect of malnutrition in wars, famine and economic depression, were fearful that the growing population around the world would lead to increased food shortages and malnutrition. Therefore they were determined that America would have the vitamins it needed.

This led to the industrialisation of processed food, which in one way or another led to an obese population. I won’t go into the details, but that’s the gist.

But if Maher thought that we would all start restricting ourselves to nuts and quinoa as we sat at home worrying about our jobs and being quietly driven mad by the solitude, or loudly driven mad by our proximity to bored offspring, he surely had another think coming. In times like these, most of us reach out for comfort food, and that means the most sludgy, industrially-extruded crap that we can find.

Speaking only for myself, I don’t mind being confined to a hermit cave, but if all I was given to eat was lettuce and root vegetables, I’d quickly find a cliff to jump off.

I like Bill Maher. He has interesting guests, and I love his weekly tirades against Trump. He’s right to raise concerns about the food industry and its relentless self-interest in prioritising efficient factory production methods over public health benefits. He’s also right in saying that it will take a generation or more to get us to align our eating habits to current science.

But the problem is that in the light of the pandemic, we’re more sceptical about scientific advice than we’ve ever been. For that, we have to thank the politicians and media “experts” who have been manipulating the diversity of scientific views this way and that to suit their political agendas.

Who’s to say, we might legitimately ask, that after the next 30 years or so in which we make dramatic changes in the way we eat, a new scientific orthodoxy might arise that will trash the current version of the truth?

Even today, you could argue that there’s no such thing as “scientific orthodoxy” on the subject of diet. Only opinions. Fatties will gleefully seize upon studies that show that being fat doesn’t necessarily mean being unfit. Depending on who you listen to, cholesterol’s good and cholesterol’s bad. Same for butter, burgers and broccoli. And I can’t see the point in dwelling on the absurd variety of diet fads, nutritional theories, fitbits, exercise regimes and therapy techniques, most of which are purpose-built to extract dollars, pounds and euros from us terrified dupes.

But let’s rise above the chaos of theories and counter-theories, and take a look at our bodies in 50 years’ time, in anticipation that the human race still exists by then. Let’s assume that by wiping out fatties in huge numbers COVID gives us a wake-up call. Is it likely that we will respond by weaning ourselves off our harmful diets and turning ourselves into a population of wizened skinnies?

More likely that we’ll do what we always do – take the easy way out. Our scientists will come up with gene therapy techniques that will turn off our fat-producing processes and transform many of us into replicas of those annoying bastards who can eat like pigs and never gain weight. That way the food industry will be able to keep stuffing us full of chlorinated Dorritos and we’ll still be able to prance around looking like Olympian gods. Those of us who can afford it, that is. The rest of us will wallow around in an underworld of obesity and poverty, to be carried off in large numbers by each successive pandemic.

I have to say that I would prefer not to live in a world ruled by skinnies with their lean and hungry looks. There probably weren’t many porky hunter-gatherers, but fatties have been around ever since. Where would we be without them? Where would mothers be if they couldn’t warn their kids that they’ll look like Donald Trump or Mr Creosote if they keep eating Oreos and Custard Creams? What would life be like without our stereotypically jovial, funny fatties to counterbalance our mean and miserable skinnies?

Would we be enhanced or diminished if fat wasn’t a feminist issue, and if the formerly obese no longer had to present a facade of good humour while crying inside?

Speaking as someone half-way up the fattie scale, I wouldn’t mind waking up tomorrow morning looking like an Olympian god. But I can’t help thinking how boring it would be if everyone looked the same as me.

And I also can’t help thinking that if we all looked like Apollo and Aphrodite, we’d find something else to be unhappy about.

  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Speaking of Aphrodite, we live in a place called Port Venus. What a shame that the French pronunciation sounds like Porc Venus 🙂 Less exercise in lockdown has led to lower appetite thankfully !

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