published Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Kennedy: Is food the new tobacco?

At my age, 53, standard portions of food no longer metabolize to produce a reliable weight. Like a jelly doughnut, I'm getting soft in the middle.

Every year at my annual physical, my doctor tells me that losing a few pounds would fortify me against middle-age health risks such as diabetes and heart trouble.

I think overeating is to the 21st century as smoking was to the late 20th century. Something tells me that a generation from now people will look back and be repulsed by how much we ate.

I tell people that the decline in smoking is the No. 1 cultural surprise of my lifetime. (No. 2 was the Macarena.)

Some of us old-timers at the newspaper were eating lunch the other day, and we started reminiscing. When I went to work at The Chattanooga Times in 1981, working at a newspaper was like living inside a chimney. You could count the nonsmokers on one hand. (As of this month, the Times Free Press building and surrounding grounds are smoke-free.)


Re-created lunchroom discussion (December 2011):

Mark: Dave, do you remember when nearly everybody in the newsroom was a smoker?

Dave: Sure. I was in a meeting once, and the managing editor, who was smoking a pipe, told me I needed a vice because I didn't smoke. (Laughs.)

Mark: I remember smoking at school board meetings. Heck, when I was a kid, adults smoked in movie theaters. Can you imagine being in a movie theater now with 100 smokers? And airplanes. People smoked on airplanes. Unbelievable.

Dave: I remember kids smoking at my high school. As long as you were 18, there was a place in the woods you could smoke legally.

Mark: I remember waking up at night and searching through every pair of pants I owned hoping to find one cigarette. What a nasty addiction. I quit smoking about 20 years ago, and I don't even think my two sons, 5 and 10, have ever seen a person smoke a whole cigarette.


Imagined lunchroom discussion (December 2031):

Employee No. 1: Do y'all remember back in the old days when people would bring big platters of desserts into work every day in December? Can you believe we used to eat cookies and cake every day for a month?

Employee No. 2: Oh, and remember those vending machines we had in the newsroom that had about five kinds of potato chips. It cracks me up. There were cheddar-flavored chips and sour-cream-flavored chips and barbecue-flavored chips.

Employee No. 1: What about those foot-long deli sandwiches? Remember: "Five-dollar, foot-loooooongs." I could eat one at a sitting.

Employee No. 2: I remember my mom and dad would buy those 48-ounce soft-drink cups at the convenience store when we drove to the beach.

And remember those tubs of buttered popcorn you could get in the movie theaters? Can you imagine 100 people in a movie theater all eating bushels of popcorn soaked in melted butter? I think the smell would make me pass out. Yuck.

Employee No. 1: How could anybody possibly pass their health insurance weigh-ins back then?

Employee No. 2: They didn't have weigh-ins, silly. But then not everybody expected to live to be 100 then, either. Those baby boomers literally ate themselves to death.

Employee No. 1: Yeah, the boomers just kind of exploded, didn't they?

(Nervous laughter.)

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Facebook at or on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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ThinBlue706 said...

Yes, and just like tobacco the government is going to make it illegal to "over eat". There WILL be "fat" taxes and "overweight" taxes and "fat camps" for those that do not comply, or "fat jail" for those that refuse. Don't think so, they already have these in Japan. Just another sign of socialized medicine and socialized government.

I am for the restrictions on tobacco and for safe food. But, how far are we going to allow the government into our homes and our lives? Next, regulating how many children and what sexes they can be to insure proper male to female ratios? How about racial quotas on children to promote a "healthy" diversity in the communities? My question is where do the regulations stop?

No more bootleggers and moonshiners its going to be the illegal "sweetshops" and sugar "dealers". How about a federal crime of "Illegal position of 10 pounds of pastries". Third offense is "life at the fat prison".

January 1, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.
sage1 said...

Passing new laws.....Yep. That's what government does. It's called Job Security. And at every level I might, county, state, federal. I'm sure they'll get around to all those you mentioned if not sooner, then later and all "for your own good!!".

January 4, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.
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