Perhaps it's just a case of rhetorical blue-car syndrome.
You know: The phenomena in which you buy a blue car, and suddenly it looks like everyone has a blue car?
On The Chronicle's op-ed page the other day, there was a guest column from some whiny liberal complaining about the lack of food here in the fattest country on earth.
The piece used a term I hadn't heard before: "food insecurity." Several handy Internet sources define this as worries about where your next meal is coming from.
The problem is that the term seems to be used interchangeably with "hunger." That was the context used the same day the op-ed piece was published when I read an essay from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. It described Georgia as dropping from 22nd to fourth in national rankings of "food insecurity."
"Insecure?" Georgia ranks 12th place in obesity, according to the Trust for America's Health, with more than 26 percent of Georgians obese.
And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says obesity rates continue to increase, rising 57 percent during the 1990s.
Other CDC research shows a direct correlation between poverty and obesity: The poorer you are, the more likely you are to be fat.
So, are poor people hungry - or "food insecure" - because they don't have enough to eat? Or are they obese because they eat too much?
Adding to this conundrum is a correlation made by several researchers and hotly disputed by the federal government: That people who use food stamps are more likely to be obese.
Well, if the poor are more likely to be fat, and you are supposed to be poor to qualify for food stamps, it stands to reason that any given person using food stamps would be more likely to be obese.
But the researcher, Professor Douglas Besharov of the University of Maryland, showed that poor people on food stamps are more likely to be obese than poor people who don't use food stamps.
The likely reason, says Besharov, is that food stamps can be used only for food. So poor people use them to buy more food than they would if they had an equivalent amount of money (some of which, undoubtedly, would instead go to booze and cigarettes). Because the feds spend so little on diet counseling, he says, poor people buy too much unhealthy food. And get fatter. While being "food insecure."
So: I wonder if Daniel Webb was "food insecure"?
I suppose he could have been worried about his next meal, especially when his enabling wife wasn't around.
Surely you've heard the story. Webb, from Greenwood, S.C., died in the hospital a week ago shortly after paramedics cut the 550-pound man from the recliner he had been sitting in. For eight months. Without getting up.
Webb was just 33 years old, and during those eight months his wife took care of him, including cleaning the chair after he used the bathroom in it. And undoubtedly bringing him food.
Now: Webb couldn't get out of the chair, and wasn't able to walk, so he couldn't get food on his own. Would it have been possible for his wife to have, just maybe, put him on a low-calorie subsistence diet to force him to lose enough weight so he could get up? After all, it's not like he could do anything about it if he was "food insecure."
Most people who are "food insecure," unlike Webb, certainly are able to get out of their recliners and do something about it. As Professor Besharov put it, America's neediest citizens are far more likely to die from diseases caused by chronic overeating than from starvation.
We certainly will see some of those folks lining up this week, as they do each year, to get free turkeys. Many of them might well be described as "food insecure." Most also can be described as obese.
Only in America. We live in the fattest country on the planet; it's also the weirdest.
Happy Thanksgiving. Save me a turkey leg, would you?
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com.)
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