Monday, September 20, 2010

Less of me…

As many of you know by now, I am in the process of becoming substantially less. That is to say that the substance that makes up my corporeal essence is decreasing in mass and volume. There are two usual ways that this is noted in popular discourse – in weight (specifically -- kg’s or lb’s) and in size (specifically in the circumference measurement around one’s waist). In honour of these conventions I testify that as of the writing of this I am 70lbs lighter than I used to be and I have dropped 6/7 inches in the circumference around my waist. All this since the first of June.

Dear reader, I know you are tempted to insert your congratulatory notes here or even boldly call me to wish me well in my endeavour. Please refrain from doing so. As you will learn shortly, I doubt that congratulations are entirely appropriate even if they would make me feel good.

Most people want to know what I am doing to lose this weight. So here is the regimen. I am taking a prescription of Meridia which is NOT an appetite suppressant but it works to send signals of satiation sooner to the brain which helps me to eat much less than I routinely have over the years. Those of you with neurotic predilection to discover the damaging effects of pharmaceuticals will within a few click realize that this drug has a controversial history. None of the problematic symptoms have occurred in my case – I have only improved in all of the indicators of health (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) So again your well-intended warnings are largely unwelcome. On its own the drug has been instrumental in causing my weight loss but perhaps not in the way that you might expect. Yes I do feel fuller faster and consequently eat much less food – approximately 750 calories/day (or one small meal). However, the drug has acted in another way. It is an expensive medication even with an insurance plan without which it would be impossible to afford. Realizing that a financial outlay was going to be necessary has motivated me to work at my weight loss more diligently. I spend roughly between an 1 1/2 and 2 hours a day in cardio and weight training. That is how the pounds are coming off.

Not very many people are truly interested in why I am losing weight. I suspect this is largely because they assume that I have chosen one of the common public discourses on weight loss as my motivation (a.)gain a more acceptable body image in conformity with public notions of sexiness, fitness, and other general features of attractiveness b.) reduce my weight to reduce my risk of serious health problems in the future c.) some variation on the theme of mid-life crisis) For me the public discourse on weight loss seems to reflect both the superficiality and neurosis of our popular culture. That is not to say that is a weak or meaningless discourse at all. Quite the contrary it is very powerful and provocative. I can already tell that acquaintances treat me differently. They predictably speak about my improved looks and then in more extended conversations they move toward reinforcements of health concerns. So predictable have these topics become that it has become a veritable annoyance to be in public. However, I have begun to treat this experience as a social/sociological experiment. So now these predictable responses serve as a fascinating outline of how the public discourse around weight loss is reinforced. I may speak more on this in the future as it is a potential topic for my term paper this semester…

My actual motivation for losing weight is to prove a point. Namely, that I cannot eat the same way most people eat and maintain an acceptable body weight/figure. I was not eating anymore food than an average person eats. In fact I know that my wife routinely used to eat more than I did (before I started losing). Many of my friends ate much more than me and ate a diet that was substantially less healthy. Sure I probably ate too much right before bed etc – but compared to other around me I could not usually be accused of over eating as far as others are concerned. The only time I was able to maintain a healthy weight was when I was 19 years old working 14 hour days in construction and eating basically one small meal a day. I have made that claim for years and yet for the most part I don’t think that people believed me. The reason i was gaining weight was that I was eating an average amount of food according social conventions and was not nearly active enough to take any weight off. So now I am proving my point. Obviously, the most difficult part of this task has been to break out of the social conventions that typically form around the consumption of food. Thankfully Char has stopped asking me if I am sure I don’t want more to eat. But then she can already see my point. It is hard to go to someone’s house for a meal and not participate in the social aspects of food. But that too has been a unique opportunity for me to reflect on some of the social conventions that exist beneath the surface of our interaction with food.

Obviously, it has been great to be able to be more active, to fit into clothes I thought i never again would and be able to do things I had not been able to do. These are all awesome benefits of my weight loss – ones I would like to maintain.

There is a surreal aspect to all of this as well. I am still whole and complete (several caveats could be discretely mentioned here but…). There is the equivalent of a fourth grade student missing from my physical form. That is substantial yet it almost feels like I should have some residual evidence of the weight that has gone  - but it is as if it has disintegrated. So that in many ways the bathroom scale forms the main way that I can measure my own achievement. This too becomes an interesting place for social evaluation since there is clearly a connection between the abject known as a scale and one’s ability to measure the decreasing body size that might otherwise be virtually imperceptible.

So there you go. We’ll see where this experiment ends up. I appreciate your encouragement and would love to hear from anyone else who has any reflections on the way weight has affect their social interactions.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Communism of Wal-Mart

Up front I have a revulsion toward the idea of walking into a Wal-Mart. So it was that my stomach was dancing a slow waltz with my uvula as I stepped out of my mini-van and approached the doors of said establishment. My repugnance is based largely on how Wal-Mart has come to represent the iconic evils of corporate capitalism. I know that my own aversion to this particular retailer is over-drawn in light of the myriad of corporate retailers who employ similar if not worse practices. Nevertheless my feelings are not appeased in anyway by the clear evaluation (in my ever so unrefined sense of taste) of their goods as largely being subpar in quality. (When’s the last time you heard someone say, “boy that ___________ that I bought at Wal-Mart has sure lasted a long time”)

It was precisely at the moment when all those ideas were flooding my mind in the gleeful criticism that I was revelling in, that a curious thought approached the waiting line of my elucidatory mental rollercoaster thrill ride. As I watched what seemingly mindless dupes giving in to their most base carnal materialism, I was struck by a conviction of another sort. Scanning the blank-eyed senior in the blue vest at the door it occurred to me that perhaps I was entering the beguiling bastion of communism itself. You’d be justified in noticing the incredible irony and even ludicrous nature of this idea.

Wal-Mart consistently finds favour in the annals of Fortune 500 as a respected company. It is lauded as one of the few global corporations that has not suffered in the blustery winds of recession. It likely that my mutual funds are deeply invested in Wal-Mart (as are many investment vehicles). Clearly this company is a wide representative of the glory of the free-market system entrenched in capitalism’s doctrinal evangelism. This company has managed to garner a meagre 60% of market share in many retail domains. This without succumbing to the pressures of unionization of it employees.

So how does the communist label fit? We’d like to believe that because under one expansive roof we can such a wide variety of products we have the opportunity to exercise democracy over our purchasing choices. But when this one corporation can negotiate pricing and production deals with manufactures that are un-paralleled in the rest of retail. When its retail dominance can not only influence the price but the brand and constitution of the products being produced and then is successfully able to market these products to consumers in such a way that any other competitor must account for the price and type of good that Wal-Mart produces – is that not essentially what a successful communist system is able to do? When the this store can enter a community a displace other viable enterprises in months – is this also not the same sort of conformity of service and access that is typical in communist ideals? If a corporation can dictate to its employees the terms of their employment in such a way as to keep them needing the welfare funding of governments (average Wal-Mart yearly wage is 15000) is that also not precisely the kind of state-dependence that Lenin and Stalin wanted? And if this corporation has the ability to reach beyond its head office to dictate the terms of production and manufacturing in developing nations controlling development of manufacturing and production technologies and systems – do we also not see the grand agenda of communist control that history reminds us of in the soviet project…?

Now not only was my stomach upset but my brain was hurting as well. Ding ding ding ding beep beep beep beep bing bing bing…..