One good thing about living in the fourth fattest state in the US is that I look normal. According to our local newspaper, more that 75% of Tennesseans are obese or overweight. That means that obesity here is the norm. When we see someone who isn’t fat we assume they are ill.
According to a variety of scientific studies, we Tennesseans are fat because we are poor. Lucky for us we don’t value science all that much (Darwin is the Devil reads one bumper sticker), and when we look at people in poor countries they don’t look fat—they look like they’re starving. That’s why we send them money. And Jesus.
Just the other day I walked into one of our town’s two yogurt bars. The yogurt comes out of huge kegs like beer. You can sample all the flavors and then make your own yogurt treat. There are over a dozen toppings to choose from to help disguise the fact that you are eating yogurt in the first place. They charge you by weight—the weight of the yogurt and toppings, not your own weight.
Anyway, I walk into the yogurt bar and work my way through the samples. A gaggle of tween–age girls are doing the same. By the time I’m done I’m full, and don’t feel like eating any more yogurt. The girls feel the same and leave without buying anything. The clerk, a high school girl, is disappointed and a bit disgusted. She looks at me hoping I will not follow in the footsteps of the tweeners. I want to, but I’m too old to think eating this way is cool, so I buy a cup of yogurt. It was a bit bland, so I add some peanuts to it. Then some coconut. Then some hot fudge. Then some whip cream. I’m still not hungry, but I make the clerk happy, sit myself down at a table, and eat it all.
By the time I’m ready to leave, I’m feeling really bloated. I notice that the clerk is thin, and probably never eats the stuff she sells. I am feeling very fat, especially when compared to this young woman. My salvation lies outside.
As soon as I step out into the street, I’m surrounded by my obese fellow Tennesseans. As I walk the two blocks to my car the people seem to get even bigger, and I start feeling thin—hey, it was yogurt I was eating, not ice cream; and I probably walked off the calories by now anyway, and—my God!—how can these people let themselves get so fat? Have they no self-respect, no self-control? Maybe they are poor and just can’t afford to eat more healthily. Maybe I’ll send them some money. And Jesus.