Obesity — or fatness, as it used to be called — is the touchiest of topics. From Michelle Obama to Anthony Bourdain, when you talk about America's weight, you talk at your own risk. And a lot of chefs, restaurant chains and food manufacturers face the same quandary. Our feelings are mixed-up at best. Fatness is a thing to be loathed and a condition to be accepted; a medical contagion but also a lifestyle choice; a condition defined by body mass index, or self-esteem, or coercive fashion magazine editrixes, depending on your point of view. At the very least, it is the specter and shadow of eating in the U.S., and as complicated as the great, conflicted, hungry nation that is its natural habitat.
The facts of obesity are well known to everyone. By some estimates, roughly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and over 25% of American children are. There is a corresponding epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and various other life-threatening ailments to go with all this weight gain, to the point that obesity has been called the No. 1 health problem in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health.