Looking to the past for answers

I visited Cuba about 15 years ago, when most people needed to grow their own vegetables. I didn’t see one fat person there, not one, and although it was a poor country, the people appeared healthy and (to my eye) far happier than people in the U.K., where I’m from.

I grew up in the 1970s, when it was very rare to come across someone who was overweight. In 1970s Britain, and in pre-Westernized, pre-sanctioned Cuba, they just weren’t there. Do you know why? Because the environment in Cuba, and that of the U.K. in the ’70s, was different from the environment we live in now.

In the 1970s, grocery stores closed at 5 p.m. and didn’t open on Sundays. We didn’t have a freezer, petrol garages just sold petrol and my father grew vegetables in our garden.

In the 1970s, grocery stores closed at 5 p.m. and didn’t open on Sundays. We didn’t have a freezer, petrol garages just sold petrol and my father grew vegetables in our garden. There was always a sack of potatoes stored next to the kitchen, and my mother cooked with them every day. We sure did eat a lot of potatoes, often chipped and fried, but no one was fat.

There were no snacks at home and no eating between meals. There were no ready meals, no giant bags of potato chips; no chocolate, ice cream or fizzy drinks stored at home; and there were no fast food outlets like McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).

In those days, and when I visited Cuba, it seemed that the poor ate well and were healthy, and now in the West, it’s the poor who are the fattest and most unhealthy. This has to be due to environmental causes, doesn’t it?

Alongside mass-producing food corporations, advertising agencies and governments are motivated by serving their own interests, not ours, and if their interests and ours ever happen to be the same, that’s just a coincidence. Corporations sponsor those in government, and in turn, they’re backed by those that govern us. Those who have created the conditions that have caused the problem are the same people who are now trying to solve it, while at the same time they continue to maintain it, for there’s money to be made both ways.

We can’t wait for corporations to care

Slim person wearing loose pants - Making fatAdvice-giving slim people who haven’t experienced the problems and challenges of being overweight will never understand why fat people struggle so much.

It can’t be explained by a lack of self-care, self-love or self-esteem, because people of a normal weight don’t always love themselves more, and each one of them will have their own list of things they really shouldn’t do. Let he or she who has never harmed or neglected themselves in some way, by thought or deed, cast the first stone at fat people.

We all need to feel cared for and loved by ourselves and others, and by society in general, including corporations and our governments. But if we wait for profit-making corporations to do that, unless there’s money to be made from it, we’ll be waiting a long time. For them, it’s profits-first always, for that’s their priority, and they were created to function that way.

Perhaps, collectively, we all need to judge ourselves and others less harshly without blame and shame, and instead, love and care more. I know it’s easier said than done, but perhaps when we can do that, things will improve.

As with all change, it has to happen first within ourselves, and then we’ll see it in others and in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What’s not so well-known is that Gandhi said that after a mother asked him to help her son stop eating sugar. Gandhi told the mother to come back in two weeks, and he would then speak to the boy. After two weeks, both mother and son returned, and he spoke to the boy.

The boy’s mother asked Gandhi why he didn’t speak to her son before, and asked them to return in two weeks instead. Gandhi explained that he too was eating sugar, and first needed to stop, so that he’d become the change they wished to see in the boy.

The change I want to see in the world is one where there is more understanding and compassion for overeaters. I see that this needs to begin with more self-understanding and self-compassion directed towards my own overeating self, for if anyone should know better, it’s me.

If you’re critical and disparaging towards fat people, that’s your mental choice. But I know the way you think isn’t your fault, so I won’t be telling you how you should change, what you should think or how you ought to be.

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image 1: Wikimedia Commons; image 2: Pexels; image 3: Wikimedia Commons; image 4: Pexels

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