I enter a café with my thin and elderly but fit friend who is deeply committed to environmental issues, and he is appalled by the number of fat people. Perhaps he imagines all the bad food they have eaten, the carbon that will be consumed in moving them, the greenhouse gases that will be erupting from each end of them, and the moral decay that has allowed them to become so fat. What to do about them?
My friend has a solution. Everybody entering the café will have their higher and weight measured and their Body Mass Index (BMI) calculated. The fatter you are the higher your BMI. You would then be charged in the café in direct proportion to your BMI: in other words, the fatter you are the more you pay. My friend is keen on “virtuous circles,” and so the extra money the fat people pay might be invested in buying them gym membership, a bicycle, a table where you must stand up, or anything that might encourage them to lose weight.
I see an immediate flaw in the arrangement. Unfortunately fatness is inversely related to wealth: fat people tend to be poorer. So my friend, very much a socialist, would have introduced a regressive tax; but perhaps this wouldn’t matter if the virtuous circle meant that the fat, including the poor fat, would become progressively thinner and so healthier. They would pay steadily less for their purchases in the café.
A second friend also deeply committed to environmental issues has another solution, one borrowed from the Alcobaça Monastery in Portugal. The picture shows the entry to the refectory: it’s so narrow that only the thin can enter. (In the monastery one of the monks read aloud passages of the Bible from a pulpit while the monks ate; the café might offer readings from Public Health England.) The flaw with this proposal is that the café would probably go bust: the fat must provide much of its revenue and profits just as problem gamblers produce the profits for bookmakers.
I’ve had time to reflect and have two more possible solutions. Customers would make their order and the number of calories in the order would be calculated. Those with a BMI of 25 or over (“the overweight”) would have to exercise on a bike or a treadmill to expend some of the calories before they would be allowed to eat. The number of calories could be proportional to the BMI, meaning that the fattest would have to exercise the most, or it might be a fixed proportion of the calories for all customers–perhaps as little as 10%, remembering, as I learnt at medical school, that it would be necessary to walk from Glasgow to Edinburgh (some 44 miles) to expend the calories in one doughnut. (This is one of the few “facts” I remember–and it’s probably wrong, although the general gist is right.) There might even be some sort of incentive scheme–perhaps more calories expended earning a bigger discount. This would mean overcharging the thin (so perhaps keeping them thin) and could be a perverse incentive in that the fat might then make bigger orders.
Another scheme might be to serve the thin before the fat–rather in the way that power gives way to sail on the waterways.
I must admit, however, that a café where the fat had to wait behind the thin or had to expend calories in order to eat would probably not be popular. Maybe the fat will have to stay fat and my friends will have to learn to tolerate, if not love, them. That is what seems to be happening in that “normal” is shifting and now even the thin are fat.