Leonard Pitts Jr.
Posted on Mon, Dec. 02, 2002
Have it your way -- and take blame
I offer you today a column for the season of holiday feasts when, for most of us at least, stomachs are pleasantly taut and we wander about with that sense of warm contentment that comes of appetites indulged, that sense of well-being, good cheer and rightness with the world that is unfortunately followed, as naturally as sun follows moon, by insidious guilt, crushing remorse and solemn self-promises to henceforth eat only carrots and tofu and to hit the gym hard and regularly beginning at dawn on Jan. 1.
A column, in other words, for the days of bloat. Fellow fat folks, I bring you good news:
It's not your fault. Blame your jumbo-size thighs on the host who offered morsels too tasty to resist. Blame the stomach that arrives five seconds before you do on the restaurant whose menu was just too darn appealing. Blame the backside that's spreading like an oil spill on the big bones you inherited from your mother.
Blame anyone and everything, in other words, except your own utterly blameless self.
This is the tempting and inescapable implication of a lawsuit wending its way through the federal court system in New York. The class-action suit, filed on behalf of several children, seeks to hold McDonald's legally culpable for making its customers fat.
Life-threatening fat, in fact. One plaintiff, a 15-year-old Bronx boy, is a McDonald's regular who is said to be five feet six inches tall, to weigh 400 pounds and to suffer from diabetes.
So let me get this straight: A regular diet of Big Macs and fries will make you fat and wreck your health? Wow. I mean, who could have figured?
Apparently, not these kids or their parents. It's all news to them.
Yeah, right. And if you buy that, I've got a magic weight-loss pill you're going to love.
Hey, I like seeing a huge conglomerate get soaked as much as the next holder of a shrinking 401(k). But I have to side with the Golden Arches on this one. It's not even close.
The nascent move to hold fast-food restaurants responsible for the obesity of their customers is obviously inspired by last decade's crusade against the tobacco industry. Cigarette makers were forced to -- pardon the pun -- cough up billions of dollars to recompense decades of death caused by tobacco. Granted, the states seem to have applied the windfall to every use but the promised one -- healthcare -- but, still, there was a certain logic to the lawyers' argument that Big Tobacco was at fault.
Big Fat is another matter entirely. After all, tobacco companies lied for years, disputing the proven scientific link between using their product and dying early. They also designed that product to be as addictive as crack, so that people who tried to quit found it maddeningly difficult to do so.
By contrast, McDonald's has never pretended it was selling health food. Nor have I ever seen anyone need an arm patch to facilitate their withdrawal from Big Macs.
I also find it hard to believe that a kid who was eating at McDonald's several times a week was dining on steamed fish and brown rice the rest of the time.
So how is it that Mickey D gets tabbed to bear responsibility for making the kid fat? Maybe I'm just the suspicious type, but I'm thinking that nearly $15 billion in annual revenue might have something to do with it.
There is a reeking cynicism to this suit, and while that's galling, what's truly obnoxious is the message it sends to its young plaintiffs, a message that is unfortunately ubiquitous these days.
Namely, that you can do whatever you want and never be held accountable for it. That you can always find somebody to blame.
What happened to those kids, lamentable as it is, happened because they -- and, more important, their parents -- failed to exercise control and moderation. It's their fault. You think they'll ever accept that?