Washington Post Op-Ed Likens Obese To Air Pollution

There’s a hilarious op ed piece up at the Washington Post, equating fat people with air pollution. Not the strange gases emitted simultaneously with the obese’s impressive spectrum of farting noises. The fat people themselves.

The author, John Sotos, likens the obese to congealed miasmata of loathsome fat molecules drifting across the American landscape. And he’s deadly in earnest.

Sotos writes: “Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can’t help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us.”

The solution? Sotos suggests government intervention or perhaps some sort of Fatty Kyoto accord to deal with the problem. Ultimately, he wants high calorie products to cost much, much more than low calorie ones.

Think that sounds absolutely bogus, a shocking violation of consumer rights? Sotos scoffs at you:

Some prospective losers would understand that change presents opportunity. They would welcome the program as an impetus to diversify and do the right thing for the public health. Potential losers having a narrower, self-serving vision might resist the program fiercely.

Yes, it certainly is narrow and self-serving to believe in the freedom to do something as simple as eat the food you want to eat without some busybody, hunched over with his entire forearm up his rectum, comparing you to an industrial spill and siccing the Hazmat team on you.

A Modest — and Slimming! — Proposal [Washington Post]


Edit Your Comment

  1. RedSeven says:

    A Fatty Kyoto?
    How about signing up to the real one first?

  2. MrEleganza says:

    I think the real problem – and the one I would like to see addressed although I’m damned if I know how – is sort of the reverse of what he’s suggesting…how can we make health foods cheaper and more widely available? Single mothers in the ghetto (for example) basically have a very limited, unhealthy, Ramen-intensive range of options available to them if they want to maximize the value of their grocery dollar/food stamp. That IS a real problem and one I would like to see some light shed on.

  3. Mary Marsala With Fries says:

    Totally agree with the above, and that the op-ed was hardly high art. But obesity, besides hurting people and families, does cost the government and the taxpayers money in increased health-problems…and we don’t see any problem making cigarettes more expensive for the same reason. This is *food*, however, so you can’t just go raising the prices without providing a safe alternative for low-income families. One of my favorite ideas is the Neighborhood Garden, maintained by citizens and volunteers (I was one for a while), the products of which are freely available to everybody in a several-block radius. What are some other other good ideas?

  4. mariser says:


    the article is bunk and its author a self-righteous jerk.

  5. airship says:

    How about if we fully fund research on obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease? It’s not all just about ‘oh, if you only would exercise and use some self-control’. Fat and sugar are addictive – they trigger brain chemicals in the same way that addictive drugs do. And there are – dare I say it – genes that make some people much more prone to obesity than others. So it’s not ALL just the fat person’s (or even McDonalds’) fault. We need to awaken to the fact that obesity – like depression, alcholism, and other stigma-related conditions – is a DISEASE. The time for finger-pointing and placing blame needs to be over.
    And yes, I’m fat.

  6. “But obesity, besides hurting people and families, does cost the government and the taxpayers money in increased health-problems…and we don’t see any problem making cigarettes more expensive for the same reason.”

    Actually, I jolly well do. That’s the problem with this sort of socialist rationale to outlaw things that may promote risk – all of a sudden, it gives license to people who think they know what’s best for you to portray you as being enemy of the state for doing with your body what you want to do with it.

    Your body is your body. It isn’t the government’s. It isn’t the tax payers’. Want to be a bloated walrus who smokes twenty packs of cigarettes a day? Be my guest.

    The bottom line is if you follow up your reasoning to its logical conclusion, everything is a drain to the government and tax payers, and consequently should be outlawed. Living in cities, walking up flights of stairs, having a drink, walking through a field during a lightning storm, owning a car, not owning a car, paragliding, having unprotected sex, going sledding… those are all just as risky as eating a bag of Doritos.

    And here’s a further point: despite America’s obesity epidemic, despite the dangers of smoking and drinking and benzene in sodas, we live longer than we ever have. What’s more costly to the government or the heatlhcare system? People getting sick and dying? Or getting sick, being cured and living?

    Face it, the motivation here isn’t someone’s honest concern about what’s good for you… the motivation is that some supercilious prick wants to sneer at other people’s lifestyle choices and outlaw what he doesn’t agree with.

  7. QuasiInformed says:

    “Public Health” is far too often perverted into a super nanny that would like to limit our choices. Many researches want to go directly to public policy when they see behavior that might “harm” a person, which is simply insulting. Most everyone agrees that obesity is a major problem, but raising the consumer’s costs for “bad” foods is borderline insane. It is a policy that will be a regressive tax on the poorest and least educated Americans. It may have worked to reduce the demand for cigarettes, but this is food! We need to fully fund research into obesity and associated medical conditions and move towards education. More people have avoided smoking (not me, though) through education than have quit smoking because of price increases.

  8. Lars says:

    Airship is correct in saying that an individuals genetic background plays a large role in the amount of weight they gain. Airship should also know that a major intiative of the NIH is focussing on obesity. I just graduated from a lab that had a large NIH grant supporting our research on the connection between the fat produced hormone leptin and it’s regulation of the hypothalamic hormone TRH. This circuit is one of many regulating not only how much food we eat, but what our body does with it once it’s ingested.

    That said, the Post op-ed is offensive elitist clap-trap. The link between obesity and health problems is tenuous at best. Additionally, the way in which we meassure obesity is deeply flawed. The Body Mass Index (or BMI) is just a crummy chart plotting together weight and height and making an assumption about obesity. That’s not good science. And lastly, some would argue that the proportion of obese people is not largely changed from several decades ago. Rahter, people with a propensity towards obesity are putting on more weight due to the greater availability of cheap and quick food. Jeffrey Friedman, the scientist who discovered Leptin, argues this cause and makes many other good points. Read them here: http://runews.rockefeller.edu/index.php?page=engine&id=104

  9. KevinQ says:

    Brownlee said:

    That’s the problem with this sort of socialist rationale to outlaw things that may promote risk

    Hey, nobody’s talking about outlawing fatty foods. But if a certain behavior is going to have a higher cost for society, why shouldn’t society charge a higher price on it to discourage such behavior, and to cover the cost when things go wrong?

    Careful with your straw-men. Mary Marsala was talking about making healthy food cheaper, not outlawing unhealthy food.


  10. Papercutninja says:

    I think more accessability to healthy foods at cheaper prices are the key. It’s much cheaper and easier to eat fatty crap foods. There needs to be more gov’t support of healthy foods, instead of just revamping the stupid “Food Pyramid”. I mean really, who has looked at that in the past 20 years?

    P.S. Obese people are inconvenient to the public.
    P.P.S. Many obese people do not believe that they are obese.
    P.P.P.S. My sisters classmate once did a report on obesity and pronounced it “Obeast”, and was not trying to be funny. She actually thought it was pronounced that way.

  11. Anabelle says:

    Lars, thanks for the Friedman article link. It makes a ton (heh) of sense.

  12. megan says:

    So does that mean that we should make cell phones more expensive because those annoying loud cell phone talkers are contributing to noise (air) pollution? Nah, let’s make it illegal.

  13. airship says:

    Yes, thanks Lars, for the link to that article.
    There are also studies that show that the link between obesity and type II diabetes is more complicated than the old belief that ‘if you let yourself get fat, you’ll get diabetes’. The belief now is that there may be a combination of genetic factors that leads to both obesity and diabetes. So they are not cause and effect, but both effects of the same genetic predisposition.
    A friend of mine who is obese and diabetic recently began injecting Byetta, a new diabetic medication based on gila monster spit. (Yes, gila monster spit.) Not only did his blood sugar become regulated, he instantly began losing weight. In a little over two months, he has lost over 60 lbs., while suffering no adverse side effects.
    This medication most likely targets the genetic component that causes him to be both obese and diabetic. Research continues.
    As an aside, I weigh over 400 lbs. and am diabetic, but my blood pressure and cholesterol are both normal. So my thirty-plus years of obesity have not lead to any heart-disease related conditions, which flies in the face of what ‘everyone knows’ about obesity and heart disease. These things are much, much more complicated than we once believed, and only research will show us what’s really going on, not old biases and suppositions.

  14. Ben Popken says:

    Lars, Mariser, the article is satire. The title, “A Modest – and slimming! – Proposal.” references Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay of 1729 which opined that the best way to mitigate Ireland’s overpopulation was to feed starving children to England’s absentee land-owners.

  15. Bubba Barney says:

    This reminded me of this Derf cartoon. About obese kids.


  16. RaginCajun says:

    Fatty foods don’t make people fat. Burger King does! I saw it the other night. The King himself holding down some chick and cramming whoppers into her mouth.

    Brownlee’s got a point though. This is simply a logical extention of socialized medicine. After all, if the government has to foot the bill, why shouldn’t the government be able to make the rules about food? While they’re at it, maybe they could mandate 20 minute workout periods every day. After all, the government does such a bang up job with collecting and redistributing taxes, why shouldn’t they be the ones to decide how you should stay healthy and how you should get healthy if, for some strange reason you STILL get sick after eating a low-calorie diet.

    Bottom line is this… individuals should be responsible for their own damn diets. And anyone who says the goverment–which, aside from being an incompetent bureaucratic nightmare has entirely too many ties to both food AND healthcare lobbies–should get involved in passing “sin” taxes or “fat” taxes on food is a fool.

    And a Fatty Kyoto? Yeah, cuz the real one worked out so well (see also, U.S. and New Zealand).