News bulletin: Obese man sues fast food companies.
“They said ‘100% beef,’” he says, indicating he always thought that fast food was healthy for him. The 56-year old man is suing McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken, saying he started eating fast food in the 50s because it was cheap and … yes, fast.
I’ve spent the past two weeks convincing my medical sociology class that some of our health lifestyle decisions are not really decisions at all—that they are, essentially, constrained by numerous social forces beyond our control. For example, when chili dogs are two for ninety-nine cents, and a serving of healthier frozen pasta is four dollars, what is the disadvantaged diner going to eat? That’s right, Weinerschnitzel. Aggregate those constraints over entire populations, and it makes sense that the poor are less able to chose healthy lifestyles. As Max Weber put it, their Lebenschancen (“life chances”) impinge on their Lebensführung (“life conduct”).
See, sociology works! But I am conflicted by one simple problem, and that is the fact that this guy thought he was eating healthfully. Did he never get any hints from the bacon-double-cheeseburger that maybe it wasn’t the very best thing in the world? Admittedly, awareness of diet has come a long way since the 50s, and the preparation of fast food has undoubtedly changed, arguably for the worse. It’s quite possible that eating lots of burgers and fries seemed like a good idea in 1950, when the guy suing McDonald’s was four years old. So maybe that perspective just stuck with him, right through the Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Wendy’s years.
Combined with the idea that it’s not always easy or possible to choose healthy behavior, the persistence of habits lead me to buy the notion that this guy may not have had a lot of options in his diet. But to believe, all along, that it was really good healthy food, this guy must also still be asking for extra palm oil drizzled on his popcorn.