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Feminism Didn't Fuel The Obesity Crisis, Capitalism Did

By Emily Cutler | Politics | June 2, 2017 |

By Emily Cutler | Politics | June 2, 2017 |

Before anyone jumps immediately into the comments to complain about the headline, let me clarify a couple of things:

1) I don’t actually believe there is an “obesity crisis.” Or, I should say, while I understand that there are growing numbers of people who qualify under the medical term of being obese, and, that in some cases, being obese is tied to health issues, I don’t believe anything is solved or addressed by offering up “simple” solutions to what is clearly a complex issue with many causes and results. Fat people don’t need others to step in an “fix” them with bullshit remedies. Further, anyone trying to fat shame or scold in the comments is getting bounced immediately. We don’t stand for that shit.

2) I’m not arguing that capitalism is the singular and exclusive cause of the increase in obesity levels. I’m responding to one stupid argument. Specifically, this argument. Basically, yet another person blamed feminism for yet another one of the world’s problems. The interesting thing is that this time the person doing the blaming is a feminist. That and she’s wrong. Very, very wrong.

Rosie Boycott is the chair of the London Food Board, which “consists of 19 individuals who advise the Mayor of London and the GLA on the food matters that affect Londoners.” And yesterday at an art and literature festival, she tied feminism to a lack of home-cooking, which in turn has lead to less healthy diets and increased obesity.

Ms Boycott said she felt “partly responsible”, having co-founded the seminal feminist magazine Spare Rib in 1971. “I said ‘don’t cook, don’t type. You’ll get ahead.’ We lost it. Schools gave up cooking. Everyone gave up cooking.”

Asked at the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts if the obesity crisis was an unintended consequence of feminism, she said: “It’s certainly been fuelled by the fact women work and that we have changed things and we have allowed this huge change to happen.”

And this is how we end up with covfefe, people.

I’m going to ignore for a great, big second the logical inconsistencies required to believe the single or even largest contributing factor in increased levels of obesity is a lack of home-cooking (in the words of my friend and future co-writer Ursula Scully, “Has she ever even seen an episode of Paula Deen’s show? I’m pretty sure the workforce isn’t to blame there…”), and instead focus only on who would be responsible for the current lack of home-cooking. Boycott insists feminism is to blame because it forced us to give up cooking. By why hasn’t there been anyone there to pick it up?

Because capitalism fucked up. The meals to which Boycott is referring/imagining were high quality and low cost because they were wildly labor intensive, and we didn’t have to pay women for that labor. In economic terms it’s called an externality, a hidden cost that isn’t properly reflected in the price of a good or service. And now that we don’t have the benefit of free labor in producing food, most of us are unwilling or unable (because capitalism fucked up again in the depressed wages over the past forty years) to pay for higher quality food.

All of this, by the way, could also be remedied if we were properly applying capitalistic principles again. Assuming that low-quality processed foods are leading to increases in obesity and that those increases in obesity are leading to higher heath care costs, we could internalize that cost for food manufacturers. We could, with enough time and information, determine exactly how much each McDouble costs taxpayers in health care services, and add that cost to a burger. Or we could subsidize healthier foods and food processes in order to increase people’s ability to eat better and then reduce the associate healthcare costs. But we don’t because it’s easier to rant about personal responsibility, and how ladies killed everyone with their unwillingness to bake right.

Which leads me to my last couple of points. In her defense, Boycott does say that she wishes both more men and women would start cooking again. Her apparent goal is to get more home cooked meals on the table. It’s just that she missed entirely the fact that women still do the majority of the housework right now. So no, feminism didn’t kill cooking. Men refusing to do their fair share killed cooking. Also responsible for women not making as many home-cooked meals? Processed foods. TV dinners, boxed mashed potatoes, bake and serve pies? Those were all available well before the obesity epidemic and second wave feminists who caused it. It was started way back when capitalism realized women were working their asses off to put food on the table, and didn’t need to be.

Emily Chambers understands that “capitalism” is not animate object, and doesn’t care for the corrections to her artistic licenses you’re already leaving in the comments. You can follow her still-somewhat-fledgling Twitter account here, or email her directly.

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