Why are gastric bypasses so popular? Why does America have such an obesity crisis? Sure, fast food, and Coke, and white flour, and Doritos designed to be more potently addicting than crack, and spending 95% of one’s time on one’s ass. Those are factors.
But for a group of folks who were asked if they could pinch an inch in the ’70s (now doesn’t that sound quaint? A campaign like that wouldn’t exactly click today), I’ll tell you what turned that generation’s mild thinner-wishers into crazed bingers who traded Weight Watchers meetings for a date with a surgeon:
Weight Watchers Recipe Cards, from 1974, specifically. Diet food so disgusting that made people want to throw themselves in Hannibal Lecter’s way–or rebel by eating the most indulgent and junky food they could find.
Diet food so disgusting and presented with such confused cultural syntax, that reviewed today, it’s accidentally spit-take hilarious. Especially after being captioned by Wendy McClure of Candyboots.com. (Thank you so much, Kathleen Chambers, for sharing this with me.)
I touched on the dieting culture of the ’70s in Licking the Spoon, while talking about observing my mother’s fad diet adventures when I was a child. Here’s a passage that you won’t find in the book, as it ended up on the cutting room floor (I blew past my word count to the tune of a scandalous 50,000 words!).
Potato salad always reminded me of this story from a Christian diet book my mom had when I was a kid. It was called Free to Be Thin, and it contained narratives by women who had lost weight through the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the story, this woman (let’s call her Madge), who had a history of being seriously overweight, felt so confident that she made a huge bowl of her famous potato salad for a party and didn’t eat one bite. Everyone enjoyed it. Then, that night, after everyone went to bed, she made another equally huge batch and ate the whole thing. It made her so sick that she had to have her stomach pumped. And that’s when she realized she wouldn’t succeed without God’s help.
The pathos of that story stayed with me. How embarrassed she must have been in the emergency room as all of that potato salad was sucked out of her. How her vain glory, as she said, led to that moment. The deadly sin of gluttony, too. But because, at the time, I thought nothing of making myself throw up if I felt too full, I also thought that she probably could have saved herself the trip to ER if she just knew how to make herself boot.
In 20 or 30 years, I’m sure people will look back and laugh at our current dietary obsessions, but hey–you have to admit that the healthier meals we’re choosing now at least don’t resemble things Oscar the Grouch plopped onto a (rope/tiki/dancing Dutch lasses-decorated) plate.