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Just Breathe

November 12, 2010

Taking it down a gear for the weekend – my birthday is coming up and mom has had what is hopefully a temporary health scare, so with me pushing 50 and her pushing 80, spending some “quality time” sounds like a good idea.  I got all my paperwork in at UNR, proving that I’m a resident and don’t have rabies.  I had to laugh – registration is broken up into 76 online sessions, and a “non-degree student” last name Outland is in session 75.  However, the very nice woman at the admissions counter told me that, even if the class is full, barring enough people already in the classroom to cause a fire code violation, I can probably just show up to the first class with a form she gave me which I can get the teacher to sign to get me in.  “A lot of people drop classes the week before they start,” she said.  “When they get their bill.”

And what a bill it is.  $170 per credit!  Thank the FSM I make good money now.  Our new Republican governor is eager to cut education, as Republicans are wont to do – after all, gotta keep ‘em stupid if you want ‘em voting Republican.  (“You just need yer Bible and yer McGuffey’s reader, it was good enough for grandpappy.”)  Republicans are always loathe to raise taxes and fees, except of course when raising those costs in the form of college expense might prevent you from educating yourself to the point where you, as a Liberal Elite, could resist their undulant rhetoric.  (More on that in a minute.)  Intelligence, like reality, has a well known liberal bias. 

His plan is essentially to turn the university system into a white-collar trade school, getting corporations to sponsor those schools and programs that will train the employees they need for leveraging synergistic quality excellence into the next century blah  (“Good morning, class, and welcome to Statistics 101, brought to you by the Three Initial Corporation – ‘Building Today’s Better Tomorrow Today.’”)  So I’d better get in my art history classes before they’re slashed for lack of corporate interest.

As I make serious “lifestyle changes” (having lost 15 lbs. so far, yay) I just finished reading David Kessler’s The End of Overeating, and it’s really a keeper.  I think most of us are turned off by that “Center for Science in the Public Interest” approach to health – every time they come on TV to denounce popcorn or Chinese food they put up one of their learned staff members, all of whom have a dour, sour, pinched, starved, ascetic look that says, no fun for you – their appearance doesn’t just say food isn’t fun, but that fun itself is bad; they all look like 19th Century New Englanders, good-intentioned and heaven-bent on keeping you from Demon Rum.  Marge Simpson in her “ban Itchy and Scratchy” mode couldn’t hold a candle to them.  I’m sure in their own minds they think only, well, here’s our best expert, so this is of course the face to present to the public.  No, jackass, it’s not.  People are looking as well as listening, and what they see is a killjoy.  Shallow as it sounds, CSPI needs more telehotties if they want people to eat better.

What I loved about Kessler’s book is that it’s completely non-judgmental – he comes right out and says, I’m an overeater, too.  I wrote this book to figure out why I do it.  He writes about bad food as an addiction, which it is – Big Food engineers their processed foods to be just as addictive as the product from Big Tobacco.  It’s the hardest addiction to break, because you can’t just stop eating, and every time you watch TV you’re going to be bombed with messages about food as “fun.”  I forget where I read it, but there was some…need another German word here, for “asshole-in-need-of-punching,” who worked for Frito-Lay PR and was quoted as saying to a reporter, “As you know, Skip, Cheetos are about fun.”  As you know!  As everybody knows!  Junk food equal fun!  Plus good, double stuff good!

Kessler’s book really works for me because his approach is so…secular.  There’s no 12-step hoo hah about “letting go and letting God” or any such.  He figures, if you’re reading this book, you’re looking for practical steps you can take to deal with an everyday problem.  He redeploys strategies from addiction treatment – i.e. “euphoric recall” is as much of a problem when you relive the joy of pecan pie in your mind over and over until you finally break down and eat it, as it is when an addict recalls their best high over and over, reliving the rush until they run out and get loaded.  The counterstrategy of “playing the tape all the way through” is the same, recalling not only how you felt when you first put that pie in your mouth but also how you felt that night when you had GERD and how you felt the next day when you got on the scale, and the day after that when the skinny person looked right through you while obliviously patting his flat stomach as if to reassure himself you weren’t a mirror.

Honestly, I’d recommend the book to anyone fighting any form of external or internal persuasion.  It struck me as I finished the book that its strategies for resistance could apply not just to food or drugs, but to “undulant rhetoric” as well.  Kessler talks about “hot stimuli,” the psychological buttons the food industry has researched ruthlessly all the better to push you with my dear.  (“Choosy moms choose JIF!  Are you a choosy mom…or a BAD MOTHER!”)  And it occurred to me that Fox News and Limbaugh and the rest of the noise machine are doing exactly what the junk food industry is doing – like getting a rat hooked on cocaine, it’s hooked its viewers on rage, terror and excitement.  (“Is that mysterious contrail…a TERRORIST ATTACK OBAMA HITLER GAY MARRIAGE END OF DAYS?”)  Like a form of junk food, you can’t stop eating it – just as Food Inc. has convinced you that you can’t have “fun” without Cheetos, Fox Inc. has convinced you that something awful will happen if you aren’t watching, something only Fox can tell you about.  It creates and then feeds a “rage addiction” that will put its consumers in an early grave just as surely as as a steady diet of Cheetos will.  If we were to begin teaching young people how to resist all messaging, how to think critically about advertising and politics, we would have a healthier, saner population…but of course, that’s the first program a Republican government would cut from our corporate sponsored schools.

See you Monday.


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