The boy discovered http://thisiswhyyourefat.com the other day and said, ‘Hey, look what I found.”

Anyway, I’ve known about This Is Why You’re Fat for a while, and I didn’t share that link with him on purpose, because it would link into some sort of segue into a rant about fat Americans, because, after all, no Europeans are fat. Except for Germans. And his dad. (I didn’t say that. That’s what he said.)

So I told him that it was good old fashioned American ingenuity that paved the way for the deep-fried Twinkie Cheez-Whiz hot dog and he was just a wuss.
Twinkie Cheez-Whiz Hotdogs

This is technically a lie, because people have been doing questionable things to food for ages, especially in Europe. The Romans had a recipe for an ox stuffed with a pig stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with something all the way down to a songbird or a wine-drenched baby mouse. I hear it’s kind of dry but I still would like the opportunity to eat a peacock.

Anyway, four pages into the site and the turbaconducken later, he asked why all the food photos looked so incredibly bad.

The truth is that most food (particularly food I make–last night’s lemon salmon zucchini rice tasted pretty good but looked like slop) doesn’t look particularly good. And home photography isn’t great, and most of the pictures you see on TIWYF are taken with the now-ubiquitous phone camera.

But the real issue is that most of the food images that we see today are designed to look pornographic; the lighting is set high, the sides built from plastic, and the accessories carefully chosen to evoke particular looks. Much of the food is fake, and even the ones that are real are given the movie star treatment–even home food bloggers stage their shots to recreate their home-made images in the shape of food pornography.

TIWYF shots are unstaged. If anything, they’re like the paparazzi shots of celebrities on the beach: unedited, makeupless, and picked to focus on the fatty bits, to show that real life is nasty.

Heart Attack Sandwich

I hesitate to say it’s more real than Mark Bittman or Martha Stewart, because it isn’t. Most people — and most fat people — don’t go around eating the McGangBang (a McChicken sandwich between a Double Cheeseburger). I’m not quite sure whether people actually ate the Jello fruit cocktails from the Gallery of Regrettable Food in the 1950s.

If this were, in fact, reality — it would lose its power to shock. TIWYF is like a car wreck on the highway: compelling, terrifying, disgusting, all-too-common, but statistically rare.

And yet it’s busy asserting its own reality. The fact that it exists makes people believe in it, the way the unstaged camera focuses in on the drooping, oil-dripping fried egg makes it authentic. There’s a perverse and pornographic lust it’s playing on, with the link between food, sex, desire, and disgust half-spelled out–this is BBW porn, lemonparty.org, wet-and-messy, the uber-pierced Suicide Girl to the blonde plastic Barbie. It makes me hungry and sick at the same time. It’s not real either.

No media really is, particularly media that attach to a different sense from the one it describes.

You know what’s real?

The things in the refrigerator right now.

Name the last five meals you ate.

Gouda cheese on Melba toast; salmon-rice leftovers rolled inside a nori wrap; oatmeal and muesli with whole milk, lemon salmon zucchini rice; an orange and an apple turnover

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