On French fries
As someone who has no quantifiable health training as of yet, I cannot tell you what to eat or what to avoid eating. But I can tell you not to take everything The New York Times says as truth.
In a recent article, the Times suggested that people who participated in a study who ate “fried potatoes two to three times a week were at a higher risk of mortality compared with those who ate unfried potatoes.” This is an example of yet another study, and batches of misinformation, designed to make humans feel bad about the food choices and turn to dieting.
It is likely no coincidence that this article came out in the middle of the holiday season, a time when we are told to enjoy ourselves but not too much. Ever wonder why so much shame and stigma is placed on enjoying food with your family around this time of year? Because it’s conveniently located before the diet industry’s busiest season: New Year’s resolutions. But that’s for another post.
French fries will not kill you. Being associated with a higher risk of mortality is something “health” researchers assign to foods that are more fatty, salty and less nutritionally dense than other foods. Just because a food has higher fat or salt content than another food doesn’t mean it will kill you over time. This, dear reader, is an example of the blatant fat stigma we’ve all been shown our entire lives. French fries, or fast food in general, is typically associated with fat people in pop culture; sometimes, perhaps, it’s shown next to thin white models to prove they’re “real people” or that they can “be bad, too.”
In most diseases that are blamed on weight, i.e. heart disease, diabetes, weight is not the actual cause of anything. Social determinants play a statistically higher role in our health. By focusing on someone’s weight, we’re ignoring many other factors of that person’s life: chronic stress, empowerment in their life, poverty, racism, etc. (You can read more about these expanded studies, and many other health myths, in books like Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.)
Perhaps it is not too bold of a stance to take, but maybe Americans who work a stressful job and suffer from income inequality, who are potentially also dealing with local, state and national political problems, who only have time for a quick meal (that will ideally also emotionally comfort them) turn to fried foods. When a body is consistently dealing with multiple types of stressors, that can lead to health problems. Weight, alone, is not a determinant of health.
Certainly, society would benefit from having more fresh fruit and vegetable choices at fast food restaurants. That is not the reality we live in, unfortunately.
But the notion that French fries are causing higher risks of mortality is insinuating that gaining weight is a direct causation of death which, in turn, insinuates that being fat is unhealthy which continues the cycle of fat shaming that America, and the world at large, has been spinning for quite a few decades.
Diet culture will kill you long before French fries will.