Yet this obsession with obese Americans is about more than body fat. Certainly there is a debate to be had about the extent to which obesity is a problem in America - a discussion best left to medical experts. But a close examination of the popular genre on obesity reveals it is about more than consumption in the most literal sense of eating food. Obesity has become a metaphor for 'over-consumption' more generally. Affluence is blamed not just for bloated bodies, but for a society which is seen as more generally too big for its own good.
It is especially important to examine this criticism of American affluence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. An assumption underlying much of the discussion is that, at the very least, wealth did America no good in its battle with nature. An editorial in last weekend's UK Guardian caught the tone: 'America is the richest and most powerful country on Earth. But its citizens, begging for food, water and help, are suffering agonies more familiar from Sudan and Niger. The worst of the third world has come to the Big Easy.' The implication is that America's wealth is somehow pointless.
A column in the Washington Post went even further, by advocating what it described as a Confucian approach to the question. It argued that Americans 'blithely set sail on churning seas and fly into stormy skies. We build homes on unstable hillsides, and communities in woodlands ripe for fire. We rely on technology and the government's largess to protect us from our missteps, and usually, that is enough. But sometimes nature outwits the best human efforts to contain it. Last week's hurricane was a horrifying case in point. The resulting flooding offered brutal evidence that the efforts we have made over the years to contain nature - with channels and levees and other great feats of engineering - can contribute to greater catastrophes.' From this perspective, the pursuit of economic development is worse than useless: it may be well-intentioned...
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