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The Fat of the Land

3 minute read
Calvin Trillin

They’re talking about flab again. It’s that time of year. In January the papers are always full of exercise-equipment ads and articles on how much more our health-care system costs because of widespread obesity. The morning television shows like to kick off the new year with a series on some miracle diet that forbids fruits and vegetables but allows whale blubber in any amount. My old Army friend Charlie says he always spends the first half of January staring at his credit-card bill and his stomach, wondering whether he really has to do anything about either one of them in order to survive until the Super Bowl.

I have heard diet talk in January all my life, maybe because I was brought up in Kansas City, Mo.–a place that in rankings of fattest cities never finishes out of the money. My hometown’s fatness, I finally decided, may have something to do with the fact that it finishes last in surveys of how expensive an average meal is from city to city. As I envision the scene, one of my high school friends who has been presented the check for a huge fried-chicken feed says, “You know, we could order this meal all over again and still not spend as much as we would spend in New York City,” and someone in his party says, “Well, O.K., but let’s go a little heavier on the gizzards this time.”

I won’t say when my family traveled around the country anybody ever took a long look at us and said, “You folks from Kansas City, or what?” For one thing, the organizations that seem to believe it’s helpful (or maybe amusing) to publicize urban poundage comparisons hadn’t yet got into gear. But I think it’s fair to say we didn’t give the impression of having missed a lot of meals. The only nutritional theory I ever heard from my father was that you couldn’t gain more weight from eating food than the food itself weighed–so a person devouring a pound of particularly rich chocolate couldn’t put on more than 1 lb. That sort of theorizing runs in the family and may be one of our problems. When I began to weigh myself regularly during a particularly grim January some years ago, I proposed an industry standard that allowed subtracting 14 lbs. for clothing.

I’m now bracing for another January campaign to stampede us all toward the scales. The Jenny Craig weight-reduction program has just launched a series of commercials featuring Monica Lewinsky. They compete with an already existing Weight Watchers campaign that features Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Weight-reduction programs seem to use only female spokescelebrities, although it presumably wouldn’t be that difficult to find a male who is famous, out of work, in need of a little slimming and known for yielding to temptation now and then even in nonalimentary matters. Helmut Kohl comes to mind. In the “before” shots, Chancellor Kohl could be shown in one of those pig-outs he used to have with Bill Clinton–both of them up to their elbows in sausage and mashed potatoes. Instead of running on Oprah, of course, the male-spokesperson commercials would be aired during time-outs at the Super Bowl, spoiling everything for poor Charlie.

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