A friend tipped me off to the blog of Dr. Joe Wright, writer-in-residence for the William B. Castle Society of Harvard Medical School, and I'm glad she did. The jumping off point for this post is Jamie Oliver, the young-ish chef cum nutritional crusader from Britain.
He makes several points, many of them really cogent. Such as...
"Big change comes from changing big systems." His context is that instead of trying to get each family to start sending healthier lunches to school, activists should focus on changing the food that's served at the cafeteria: Change one thing, instead of beseeching individuals to change their behavior.
How this registered with me was in my other interest, sustainability. People who, say, start to recycle are doing something positive, but they're hardly going to stop the world from frying by doing so. They could move entirely off the grid, change to vegetarianism, and never fly again — and still not save the world. But if that guy worked for a utility and helped spread smart grid technology, for example, he'd have far greater effect.
This isn't to say that what individuals think and do isn't important. Those are, in fact, Dr. Wright's second and third points. He says that a structural change works only if a large number of people believe in it. If I become a vegetarian, I might be healthier and would have a negligible effect on animal agriculture. But look at the rise of organic agriculture — it's grown only because lots of people with changed attitudes are voting with their wallets.
In his prelude, Dr. Wright talks about he usefulness of the world "obese," because it "has become so loaded with moral judgment," and on this point I part with the good doc. It's not like calling someone a "fat pig," which I concede could turn out to be counterproductive.
I don't know what's wrong with using an accurate word, especially a word that has power. Obesity is a serious health issue, and I don't see how soft-pedaling it is in a patient's interest. I don't know I would use such a word to wound, or to shock, but he evidently would be quite a bit more chary.
Almost certainly, this means I would have lousy bedside manner.