Elwood 5566

I Don’t Mind Fat People – I Have a Fat Neighbour!

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Health care, podcasts by 노강호 on March 29, 2011

Currently, Korea has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the world, but things are rapidly changing

podcast 77

I’m a fat arse and not particularly ashamed of it but then it’s much easier being fat if you’re male. This week I’ve had a difficult time being large as I’ve injured my knee and with the snow and ice have had to take taxis to work. I only work three or four minutes from where I live but I’ve noticed a pattern with what is probably a case of tendinitis in that if I rest it gets better, if I walk it aggravates it and hence I am trying to rest as much as possible. The problem is compounded because constant hobbling has already put strain on other muscles and joints and they too have joined the rebellion.

But the hard time I am currently suffering doesn’t just concern the extra pressure that weight puts on the joints but the extra pressure that you incur socially as a result of being fat. I haven’t bothered to go to the hospital as I immediately know their first response will be to tell me to loose weight. Frankly, an obvious response but one that is usually made and which is both a euphemism for attributing you with the blame and also a means of gloating over your predicament because you’ve taken too much pleasure in food. I see much of the attack made on fat people, especially in Britain where the debate is front page news, as a form of schadenfreude and largely media induced.   Even two pharmacists have very kindly told me I should eat less.

Many people simply have no grasp of the problems involved in being overweight and are apt to make the most asinine comments. Fat people know they should loose weight, they know they should eat less, and they probably know more about healthy eating than many professionals and probably more than you. It should be clear to any sensible person that the trends in weight gain witnessed in numerous countries with diverse cultures between them goes deeper than individual lack of will power or not knowing that a stick of carrot is healthier than a pack of lard, and is rooted in an array of social factors.

Most kids would prefer this to a quarter pounder and fries!

There is a concern with obesity in Korea, but fatness is still very much in its infancy. However, the number of fast-food establishments grows and the number of convenience foods available in supermarkets rapidly expands. McDonald’s plan to have 500 restaurants situated in Korea by 2015 (Korea JoongAng Daily March 2010). Worse, they intend increasing the number of schools participating in their ‘after school program’ which includes lessons on healthy eating. At this stage, I want to tear my hair out because parents actually send their kids to these programs, schools and politicians actually help facilitate their dissemination and teachers actually deliver their content. Any parent who allows a corporation like McDonald’s to take a hand in the ‘education’ of their kids needs arresting for child abuse and subsequently requires sterilization.  As for the politicians, schools management and teachers… shame on you!  In Britain, parents who are overweight or have overweight kids are slammed and ridiculed by the media and a moronic public who fiddle with themselves over the ‘successes’ of celebrities who have lost weight by undergoing expensive gastric surgery but ignore how McDonalds, (and others companies such as BP, Sunny Delight, Flora, etc) get a foot in schools with after school clubs, painting and story competitions, promotional goods or school equipment etc, etc. Yes, it might be innocuous, but as innocuous as booking a paedophile for a kid’s party. I know McDonalds encourage healthy eating but that’s the ploy to get the kids in the restaurant.  Have you ever taken a hungry kid in McDonald’s and then satisfied them with a couple of slices of bagged apple? The ‘apple’ gimmick works all round: it’s the passport for McDonald’s to get a foot in the door of schools, for parents, politicians and those loco parentis it absolves them of guilt and shame and for kids it’s a ticket into a McDonald’s store where they will quickly demand burgers, fries and milkshakes with the apple dipper bag either discarded on the tray with the wrappers or taken away as a snack.

McDonald’s – where foods are transformed into toy-like things in the attempt to secure future consumer loyalty

This week, my boss and a friend were excitedly talking about some shopping they had bought in E-Mart which included a new range of microwave meals such as bokkumbap and black noodles. The line in microwaveable fast food has been almost nonexistent and I was immediately reminded of supermarkets back in the UK where a substantial portion of the store is devoted to gargantuan freezers providing an enormous range of microwaveable food.   Unlike convenience stores in Korea, UK versions such as Tesco One Stops provide a large range of unhealthy foods: frozen burgers, burgers ready to microwave, frozen curries, rolls and sandwiches, various pies, pasties, pizzas, microwave French fries and sausage rolls. I haven’t even mentioned the fast food available in cans! I can only snack in my local GS25, there are only ever one or two sandwiches, a few kimbaps and the remainder mostly crisps and drinks and you certainly couldn’t furnish enough to make a meal. There are no mega pound bars of chocolate and biscuits come in piddly little packets and/or are individually wrapped – which sort of kills the fun! However, I could eat very unhealthily on a daily basis on the junk from my local Tesco One Stop. In terms of supermarkets, the same differences exists except greatly magnified. In a western supermarket there are plenty of unhealthy options to lure me and they are usually instant or at the very most require bunging in a pan or microwave. In Korea, there are plenty of goodies available but only if you assemble them with a recipe – which if you do is healthier because to produce the item requires physical activity. And in Korea I don’t even have a can opener!

Imperial Tesco – the One Stop

Living in Korea makes you more aware of the unhealthy nature of western eating habits and trends which the obesity debate in the UK generally overlooks. There is a stupid assumption that the nature of how we shop, what is available, and the impact of advertising haven’t changed in the last hundred years and that all that has happened is that people, the weak willed or working class,  are ‘eating too much and exercising less.’ I very much suspect that not only has the production and consumption of food radically changed, but what foods contain, what fillers and padding now adulterate them, are recent exploitations.

the ultimate in ersatz, Hershy’s chocolateless chocolate

I  love chocolate, but rarely buy it in Korea firstly because it is often that shite American type Hershey’s chocolate which  in comparison to Belgian or Swiss chocolate, is totally chocolate-less and ersatz and secondly; it looks like chocolate, smells like chocolate, but there’s hardly any chocolate in it at all (and I know there are exceptions). Secondly, the bars are too small and thin. Crunchy for example is wafer thin. Other brands come in small packets or involve unwrapping each piece. In the UK, where chocolate is one up from Hershey’s but still pretty crappy,we now have bars of chocolate that are so big you could knock  someone out with one, bludgeon them to death and the little bars of chocolate I remember from my childhood, Mars Bar, Kit-Kat, Twix, Marathon, etc, are now enormous bars that you eat single-handed. The  accusations manufacturers were promoting obesity by producing such enormous bars has been rectified by dividing the bar into two segments,  each the same size as the original single bar, and wrapping it in one wrapper. Divided or not it still amounts to twice the amount of chocolate!  And burgers have increased in size. I remember when a Whopper or Big Mac was the ultimate burgers. The Big Mac was so big it had to be sold in a box. Now it’s in a wrapper and though it still looks big it’s not the dead weight of a double quarter-pounder let alone a triple quarter-pounder. A double quarter-pounder is almost one-third more calories than a Big Mac. I also remember when the Whopper, now known as the Original Whopper (710 calories), was the largest Burger King had to offer and was provided in a box with a fold down side so you could slide it into your mouth. The Original Whopper, a massive burger in the 1980’s, is now small compared to the almost 1000 calorie-laden Double Whopper Sandwich.

I have to admit, this is clever

If I was to be able to see the size of meals my family ate when I was a boy, I’d probably be shocked. I’m sure I eat as much meat in one UK meal now as my entire family ate  in one meal when I was young. Of course, what one eats is an individual choice but if I buy a bar a chocolate that has two segments, I find it hard not to eat them both. However, if there were only one segment in the packet, I’d have been content. If you put a pound of meat on my plate I’m probably going to eat it or at least I will eat more than I would have if you’d only given me 4 ounces.  I know it’s my individual choice that makes me consume but I don’t need help to do so. I have eventually come to the conclusion that I am overweight largely because I’ve been a single person in a family orientated consumer society. The packet of biscuits for a family of four are the biscuits I buy for one and it’s the same with most food that is packaged. However, it’s much easier food shopping for one in Korea as biscuits, chocolates and even tins of tuna are available in smaller portions. (Ironically, with toilet paper, washing-up liquid and washing powder, it’s the opposite). Meanwhile, the enormous Snicker bars, containing two segments, have arrived on Korean shores as has it’s cousin, the Snickers ice cream bar.

Welcome to Korea!

So, when I ask my pharmacist for some pain killers for a sore knee, she very kindly tells me I should lose weight.  She almost whispers it with an accompanying smile. I want to call her a ‘fucking nosey bitch!’ but I like her and her lack of tact is cultural.  However, the audacity catches me unaware and momentarily transfixed, I stare at her gormlessly. There is a sudden mellowing of my mental processes; lose weight? Why hadn’t I thought of that before?  Such snippets of professional wisdom, the result of years of intense study, woke me to my senses.  I never realised that people within normal weight parameters never suffer injured knees! Have you ever seen a skinny person limping or a grey-haired skinny requiring a walking stick? No!  Knee problems only ever affect fatties and clearly injuries such as ‘athlete’s knee’ and ‘tennis elbow’ are sarcastic terms for anything but a sporty person’s ailments.

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

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3 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on April 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

    “Fat people know they should loose weight, they know they should eat less, and they probably know more about healthy eating than many professionals and probably more than you.”

    So… why aren’t they? You talk about social factors, but i just don’t get it. Are people so damn brainwashed by subversive business that they just look to blame others instead of really doing something about it?

    • Nick said, on April 1, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      I think the evidence is very clear that obesity can be attributed to lifestyle and lifestyle is socially influenced. I think there are a range of factors, social and psychological, a few of which I suggested, which influence the waistline of a nation.

      The most significant evidence is that there is a correlation between the weight of a nation and fast food consumption. In nations with the highest rates of obesity fast food outlets, canned, microwaveable, food etc, are all well established hallmarks. In the UK, most people now do their shopping in one location driving to and from the supermarket. When I was a boy you would have to have walked from one end of town to the other carrying your shopping and then walked a substantial distance to the car park or bus to go home. I would imagine modern day shopping significantly saves on calories, where these accumulate on the waistline. The nature of jobs have changed from those involving high calorie expenditure to ones where most of the day we sit on our backsides and much the same can be said for how we spend our spare time.

      Ten years ago in Korea, fat kids were an exception and without doubt I remained the proportionately fattest person I ever saw in a bathhouse until about three years ago. Now there is generally always some one was proportionately as fat as I am and often they are a child. Now unless Koreans have suddenly become lazy, I would say this has something to do with the development of western style eating patterns which has encroached itself in the area in which I live (McDonalds, Lotte, Baskin Robbins, Pizza outlets, fried chicken, Dunkin Donut, etc, etc,) and which are increasingly preferable choices to healthier Korea options (not including sam-kyop-sal).

      Then there is the amount needed to satisfy us. I can remember eating in a downtown Baskin Robbins some eleven years ago and it was customary for two, three or even four people to share the smallest pot of ice cream. Koreans were always shocked when I bought one pot for each person and thought it terribly greedy. Hey, now everyone eats their own pot and often it’s not the smallest and when they share its usually from the one of the larger pots.

      Then there is the way in which food is adulterated and packed out with soya and corn derivatives (which are substantially high in calories). The movie-documentary ‘Food Inc’ does an excellent expose on this, suggesting that one reason why obesity is so prevalent in western societies is due to the use of corn derivatives which are used to ‘pad out’ almost everything we eat and which significantly increase our calorie consumption.

      It is not about people being brainwashed! Is it about the fact that it is increasingly difficult to make healthy choices until ultimatley every choice you make is one between good and bad. I think research has already been conducted that demonstrates that when a fast food store opens in an area, the weight of individuals creeps up. You no longer use as many calories in your daily life and you eat bigger portions of food not just cooked in fat and topped with cheese but that the cheese itself, and the sauces and everything else are loaded with added calories. And it’s available on every street corner. Ultimately it is a personal decision to eat such food and in such quantities but we are only human and I can guarantee that if I open a restaurant I am not going to make a lot of business selling calorie free crudites but the mega burger with cheese and mayo… that’s going to go down a treat!

      I have often thought that the plate, as used in the West, as opposed communal eating from shared plates, is one of the first means by which we are socially indoctrinated to perceive of food as property. The plate teaches you that what is on it belongs to you and is yours to consume and others do not have a right to take food from it. Communal eating however, teaches you to consider others and makes you much more aware of being greedy. .

      The fact is countries like Britain and the USA have a problem with obesity and as western trends and fashions are adopted in other countries, so they to start to notice the increasing waistline. Have you noticed in Korea how pop groups are all associated with pizza or fried chicken advertising and not samgaetang or chobap? The future is fat and while it is an individual choice what one consumes, the outcome is very predictable. The right to have consumer choices, the need to increase profits at every opportunity, the right to free trade, all conspire to ensure that ultimately, poor quality, high calorie options are univerally available and one of the options at every point one is required to make a purchase. In a rather ironic and amusing way, our ballooning bellies are a reflection of our political and social practices. I would imagine there are fewer fat bellies in fascist regimes and dictatorships though I am not advocating such structures. The enormous gut is a symptom of advanced capitalist practices and while it might be deemed unhealthy to some, to others, the overhanging belly and sagging arse are a sign things are doing very well.

      I suppose I was trying to say that we are human and don’t always make the right choices but that certain social factors, not necessarily malign, make choices more difficult. I think one thing that certainly typifies the western lifestyle is that one is overwhelmed with choices to such an extent that in the end every choice is between something healthy and something less healthy. I read a post by Qi Ranger recently who said he’d lost considerable weight in Korea (and indeed my weight is lower here than it would be in the west and it is easier to control), and this can be contributed to the fact it is easier to make healthier choices here. Shopping healthier in my E-Mart isn’t that difficult but doing so in a supermarket back home, with a decision to make on almost every items you buy: low calorie, low fat, high omega 3, organic, free range, low salt, vitamin enriched, GM modified, value vs quality brands, free trade co-operative, result in so many purchases involving multiple decisions as regards health, cost, convenience, ethics and politics. And businesses aren’t necessarily subversive, they are just out to make profit which in the words of one of the leading exponents of the infomercial, involves ‘giving people dreams and selling them shite. unfortunately, that is what we are often choosing to eat!

  2. yakuri said, on October 6, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Hahahaha in Korea, if you’re fat (especially a girl) you are a criminal. You better not show up anywhere, damn! lol (sadly it is kinda like this)

    I find it ironic to see idols promoting alcohol and junk food when they themselves go through many pains to maintain their figure. In my opinion it’s unfair to take advantage of the fans’ love and make them fat lol, try to make us skinny Girls Generation and SHINee!


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