Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fat & Happy?

Yesterday was B2's ninth birthday. Each year, the children have the choice of either a trip or a party. We've gone through the Louisiana swamps to see alligators, horseback riding on mountain trails... trips which are about the journey, instead of the destination.

This year was all about the destination. Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. There's a Six Flags 30 minutes from home, but Carowinds has a Nickelodeon theme, so Carowinds it had to be.

The kids had a great time. We were soaked, sunburned, and generally worn out on the way home. B2 and DD are tall enough now for a few of the big kid rides, so they were able to do more with B1. And B1 was thrilled his little sister no longer insisted on dragging him onto the Dora the Explorer Train, and was instead going for the medium roller coasters.

I enjoy amusement parks for my own reasons. Sure, I like the rides, and having thrill-a-minute fun with the kids. Amusement parks are also fantastic for people watching. And people watching is what I did.

I could go into all the lurid details of the number of faux-hawks I counted, the church group made up of overweight teens, many of which were sporting t-shirts which stated "it's about something bigger than me". The women pushing children older than my daughter (7) around the park in strollers. The smoking pregnant woman, with a sleeping toddler on her hip....

What stuck with me throughout the day was the idea of "fat and happy." This led me to thinking about all that is right - and wrong - with this statement.

Fat and happy is good, right? It's how we describe babies who are healthy, alert, thriving. It's the evidence that all the basic needs are being met, and then some.

In Learning Economics, Arnold Kling has a section "Growth, Technological Progress, and Decentralized Innovation." Kling opens the section with this quote from Brad DeLong
The 7,500 calories in today's bag of flour would equal the diet of a four-person peasant family for a whole day; the difference is that it would take three days of medieval work to afford.

...By the bags-of-flour standard, we are some 430 times wealthier than our typical rural ancestors of half a millennium ago.
Three days of work, just to survive 500 years ago. And now? For far less than three days worth of work, the families at the park were able to pick up those same 7,500 calories, and more, in all manner of batter dipped, deep fried, sugary goodness, in between hurtling around corkscrew roller coasters and getting soaked on the log flume. Those people weren't just "getting by." They were celebrating, relaxing, bonding with friends and family. Sounds great, doesn't it?

I know there's an argument to be made here about the numbers who were paying with money they don't have, for things they don't need. That, and the over consumption of calories are the dark side of my fat and happy thoughts.

Eating lunch from concessions was a bit tough. It's also a testament to how ingrained my diet changes have become. The portions were huge, the vegetables almost non-existant. I ended up splitting a corn dog (foot long-ugh!) with DD, and sharing a few chili cheese fries. She wanted a soda, so we split a 20 oz. (Rest of day was water for both of us.) I couldn't finish my food. The heavy batter and oil content, along with processed meat sat in my stomach like a lump. Other than my teenager, I don't think anyone finished a full lunch.

Looking around at other tables, I think we were one of a handful of families with that sort of trouble. Most of the burger, corndog, pizza, etc. wrappers being tossed were empty, and the cups were not of the 20 oz variety. They were 32 oz. and up.

During the afternoon snack rush, the ice cream, funnel cake and candy stands were packed. (The line for frozen lemonade was short, which suited us just fine.)

Some of the families lined up for snacks were looking fit and healthy. Most were on the heavyset to overweight side, many well on the way to morbidly obese. I understand the biological imperative we have stored away in our genetic programming. Eat. Save up the fat stores you need for the when there isn't enough, for the lean times.

Given the abundance of cheap calories available, how big a fat store does the average American really need? With the rise of obesity-related health issues and all the money being made in the weight loss industry, "fat and happy" isn't all that happy anymore.


Jett said...

One of our most important jobs as a parent is to educate our kids about good food choices. The amusement parks do make good counter-examples!

mappchik said...

I agree. The amusement park is a contrast in other ways. I noticed so many season ticket holders. Carowinds or six flags is great in small doses - we'd rather be out hiking (or biking) most Saturdays.
I'll take PB&J and Peter T. Dog by the river with the kids any day, and I'm hoping they'll make the same choice when they have kids.