The connection between weight and wealth is ancient and can range from the personal to the global context. There are always four variables to the grand equation, FAT, THIN, PLENTY, SCARCITY and through the course of history the relationship between these 4 has changed.
In the beginning… the first currency was salt, a mineral nutrient without which we die. To measure wealth you sat on one side of the scale and salt was used to balance the scale. You were very wealthy if you could balance your weight with salt in your possession. As WoMan ‘progressed’ and his/her ability to amass resources became great enough; the first use of ‘disposable income’ arrived when gold could be used to buy salt and replaced salt as a measurement of wealth. A wealthy person now became ‘worth his weight in gold’. This was the primordial disconnect between directly consumed resources as wealth as they were replaced by inedible/non- life sustaining resources like…gold. Think of it this way…if you were stranded on a desert island…what is more useful, a directly useful food/resource… or gold?
From history we will move to the global relationship between weight and wealth and finally to the personal aspects of the weight and wealth relationship.
Globally, as time went on it became obvious who was wealthy and who not, only rich people could amass enough resources of any kind, including food, to become fat. In many cultures from Africa to Tonga and always during wartime in any culture the wealthy and sought after ….are fat. The patricians of Rome invented the vomitarium, the ultimate excess. Therefore, by the ‘natural order’ FAT and PLENTY went together and THIN and SCARCITY went together. Many gods and goddesses are portrayed as fat because fat implied prosperity and fecundity. Below a certain weight, women cannot reproduce.
Enter the mores of the modern Euro-American world and this relationship between the 4 variables is pitched on its ear. Now it’s ‘in to be thin’ in this culture (give or take the fact that you should still have big boobs and a fat rear end…after all, we must still have our signs of fecundity!) After WWII when America, full of goodwill and the best brains on earth, decided that none should starve, all manner of well intentioned farming and food producing machinery and the beginnings of agrarian genetic manipulation took off. Now many people could pay small amounts and eat well again and it was still very good food.
People no longer had to grow resources to be able to eat and eventually there was enough amassed wealth to again pay top ballerinas, jockeys and female athletes to make livings by becoming ‘barren’ as they kept their weights to aerodynamic requirements. I say ‘again’ because just before the war during the Depression, this kind of fast life ‘beauty’ became connected with disposable income and for the first time, those living in scarcity had the strange paradox of going hungry and being emaciated because of it, while the wealthy OPTED TO BE EMACIATED.
Then something really sinister happened, the agro food industry discovered that all food could be grown and processed more cheaply and that the easiest foods to grow and manufacture cheaply were ‘the staples’ …sadly, our main sources of energy …the sugars and starches. Fruit and vegetables are comparatively difficult to grow and process on a mass basis and fall by the wayside as fortunes are made speculating and genetically manipulating grains. But wait! Fruit and vegetable farming can be optimised, manipulated into hardier varieties …with less nutrient value. So now everybody can be fed inexpensively with food that is cheaper to grow and manufacture and thus the agro-industry profit margins soar. The increased profit margins and amassing of cheap grain allow us to further concentrate food production into rearing animals we can eat. This new food malnourishes the population, especially as those experiencing income scarcity go for cheaper, sweeter food and the fat rendered from grains and animals. The governments of the ‘developed’ world also learn that you can even manipulate crops and food as a way to control the ‘developing’ world and keep it supplying the ‘developed’ world with resources that allow the wealthy to become wealthier. Here we now have a bizarre switch; FAT is related to SCARCITY and THIN is related to PLENTY because those who can afford it are now eating expensive, healthy organic food and less fat. These wealthier people are more educated and read about what is good for them and use their resources to buy the best for themselves. The dieting industry now takes off as fat poorer women look at thin wealthy models and treat their weight and health like yoyos.
So where does this leave us personally? First, food is always a part of celebration, next and wrongly, it is used as an incentive by many to get what they want from others. Rich countries to everyday mothers resort to it. Plenty of food and variety is still associated with wealth, though not necessarily the eating of it. One of our primary survival reflexes is the suck reflex, related to the comfort and warmth of the breast when we are babies. ‘Food’ (really, cheap fuel in most cases) is very easily available now and it all pans out as follows. The natural order was that under stress the animal’s appetite decreased, it lost weight, true for human animals too. NOOOOOT ANYMOOOOOOORRRREE…now, in the ‘developed’ world we can use cheap food to soothe our suck reflex when we feel deprived. In years gone by you couldn’t very well feel depressed and then run up the nearest honey tree 30 miles away, 40 feet in the air, fight swarms of stingers and then sit there sucking honeycomb! Now we punch the coin into the snack machine in the hall and start ‘sucking’. Have you noticed that when you of the ‘civilised’ world are happy, fulfilled, have lots of happy sex and rest, hugs and massages and plenty of social life and stimulation generally, including easy access to a variety of healthy food…you lose weight? I did.
But it gets weirder, in today’s world, we can feel so crazy we can feel like we lose control of our lives and everybody and everything around us, but there is still one thing we can utterly master …ourselves…even punish ourselves and starve ourselves into anorexia and bulimia to prove ‘we still can’…but ‘can what’…? Control the fact that your mother was alcoholic and you have bad relationships because of it? It’s a terrible mess at this point and the poor self-esteem creates the worst habit of being stingy with yourself – to the point, even, of starving yourself to death. Keep in mind companies that want a wealthy profile don’t hire fat people. Finally, weight is being connected to health in a non-judgemental and scientific way and some hospitals are considering not hiring overweight staff in order to set an example and cut down on the increased sick days of unwell, fat people.
So for a good life, in our somewhat complicated developed world, try to stimulate and allow yourself to feel prosperous by affording yourself good company, enjoyable recreation and fun, enough rest and quiet and work at something you like. When you prepare food, take the Japanese approach; make it look gorgeous and ‘wealthy’…lots of colour and variety. Be Spanish and take 2 hours to eat it…i.e., take time to eat and do this and nothing else in good company. Make sure you buy yourself a ‘sugar bun’ now and then (my term for a literal sugar bun or that glass of champagne, good meal at a restaurant, the dress you know will knock them dead, etc., etc.). Appetites and drives get mixed up in the ‘civilised’ world…we feel deprived or stressed, we have the ‘luxury’ of ‘sucking’ bad food…we’re too tired…we eat, we’re sexually inactive…we eat, we feel worthless…we eat. Try to separate your wants and appetites and satisfy what’s really ‘eating you’. Buy the dress; go for the walk; drink coconut water; buy the fancy wine; get the physical stimulation – sex, hugs & rock & roll; go and rest, tell the bad relationship to naff off… What you feel is often not hunger so don’t give it food; learn to feel what your body is really saying. It is deprived of something, it feels scarcity of something …rarely is food the right answer in providing the ‘wealth’ you need. When you do feel hungry eat and enjoy …never scarf down due to hunger, stress or panic, realise there will be more when you need it… Time teaches you this and I learned it.
My own passage went something like this; I met a skinny, funny little man when I was fat due to sexual and social discontent. He thought he looked wonderful at his end of the scale so I decided I looked wonderful at mine. Next came the business of exercise; I found ‘luxury’ swimming and feeling light and then the ‘wealth’ of a free sauna in the student sports complex and a walk home in the soft snowy night all bundled up. Then I plateaued, I still ate too much unhealthy food. Then came work at a hotel when everything under the sun, healthy and unhealthy was available 24 hrs per/day. I found I loved the healthy food and ate only that in small frequent amounts, 5 small meals/day. The weight peeled down… there was a ‘wealth’ of choice and amount never ending. Finally, as a med student, I discovered pro-biotic, organic, SLOW food (as organic as possible and as near home grown as possible) and never looked back. For our ‘convenience’ generation, it is not cheap re time or your pocket and it is the main standard by which I judge my immediate income situation and also take into account that I help the planet when I eat SLOW…you might have a different yardstick. Take into account the ironies that as we come full circle, the wealthy, including Obama and Prince Charles have staff who grows their private organic kitchen gardens and whereas Castro once cut down the majority of Cuba’s fruit trees to ensure ‘communism’, Cuba has now discovered the fortune to be made in organic farming (but they cut corners!) and Dominica has declared its entire island organic. When you ‘eat your own’ or ‘SLOW’ you reclaim your wealth so if you can, grow a kitchen garden with heritage seeds (not Monsanto’s GMOed stuff which is now 90% of the world’s saleable seed) or eat from the wild plants and trees around you. …There is a connection between weight and wealth…
Below is the knock out, drop dead, gourmet, SLOW food, ‘amuse geule’ menu of a restaurant which, except for some haute cuisine & foreign bar items, uses home-grown/made food as organic or near organic as possible and found within at most a 4-hour drive from the premises.
ISLAND GOURMET SLOW FOOD ‘amuse geule’ MENU & ACKEES OFF THE TREES BELOW