Someone should nominate Frank Bruni for the Thomas Friedman Bad Writing award.
Here’s how Bruni opened his last column:
I was steering my cart through Costco the other day, wondering whether to waddle to the aisle where they sell cashews by the quarter-ton or to the one with thousand-piece packs of chicken thighs, when an epiphany pierced the fog of my gluttony.
Apparently, the New York Times does not have editors any more. You might overlook the silly reference to a “quarter-ton” of cashews or to the “thousand-piece packs of chicken thighs” and call it a failed attempt to be clever.
But, going from steering to waddling is to mix a metaphor. If that did not suffice to kill your appetite, Bruni closed his paragraph with a perfectly idiotic metaphoric mélange: “an epiphany pierced the fog of my gluttony.”
Since Bruni is going to make Costco emblematic of America’s sin of gluttony, why would he call himself a glutton? As a former restaurant critic, Bruni is certainly an epicure, but, by the evidence of his picture, he is not a glutton. I cannot imagine why Bruni’s gluttony is fog-like, and you can't either.
For the record, gluttony counts among the seven deadly sins. Blaming it on Costco or on America counts as an evasion of responsibility.
You may not have noticed, but Bruni is trying to make a serious point. He is saying that Costco, like other big box stores, is contributing to America’s obesity problem by offering larger sizes of whatever it sells.
Here is what Bruni calls an epiphany:
Costco as much as anything else is why the land of the free and the home of the brave is also the trough of the tub o’ lard, our exceptionalism measurable by not only our G.D.P. but also our B.M.I. That’s body mass index, and our bodies are indeed massive.
More than anything, this sentence shows that Bruni should never, ever try to be witty.
Presumably, Bruni has discovered the cause of America’s obesity epidemic:
I don’t blame Costco per se. I blame what it represents: an American obsession with size, with quantity, that manifests itself as surely in supermarkets and restaurants as it does on our highways. We drive minivans and sport utility vehicles; we rip into veritable feed bags of potato chips and wedge our steroidal Thanksgiving turkeys into refrigerators more capacious than some European cars. This doesn’t redound to our benefit.
As I said, Bruni does not blame the gluttons. In fact, he happily calls himself one of them. He does not blame Costco, even as he is blaming Costco. He blames America because America is obsessed with bigness. And I thought it was only Texans who were obsessed with bigness.
By making a mockery of American exceptionalism Bruni is following the path taken by both President Obama and, more recently, by Vladimir Putin.
Bruni fails to notice that our dear leader, President Obama has been doing everything in his power to make us smaller. In that he has had some considerable success. Around the world people think less of America than they had in the past. Does Bruni think that Obama going to put Costco out of business?
If anything, America is suffering from waning national pride. In fact, America's concern for bigness might well be a symptom of a loss of pride.
As for Thanksgiving, let’s stipulate that it happens once a year. And let’s understand that indulging in a feast once a year does not, in and of itself, make you morbidly obese.
As for what Bruni clumsily calls Costco’s “bloated grandeur” he himself has become so drunk on his insight that he missed the obvious. People shop at Costco because it’s cheap. In fact, it’s very cheap.
Gluttony may be a sin, but thrift is not. Unless Bruni knows how Costco shoppers consume their victuals he does not know whether they, in particular, are gluttonous or thrifty.
Besides, people who buy foodstuffs in large quantities economize on the time it takes to shop.
Bruni misses the obvious point: people shop at Costco because they are thrifty. The same applies to WalMart, which does not, to my knowledge sell forty-pound boxes of cereal.
James Taranto explained Bruni’s error:
After all, those massive packages of nuts or chicken aren’t portions but ingredients, sold in bulk for storage and gradual use.
No human being, not even a human family is crazy enough to buy a thousand or even a hundred chicken thighs and eat them all at once.
As Taranto noted, Bruni, a former restaurant critic, must eat most of his meals in restaurants. He has no idea about portion size and economizing on food intake.
But still, the question of America’s obesity epidemic remains.
I would suggest that Americans overeat because they are trying to use food to overcome the sense of being diminished.
Clearly, America is losing status and standing in the world. The loss of pride feels like a demotion and causes stress.
Actually, schoolteachers and other educators, to say nothing of the media have been peddling this message for decades now. Children today are not taught to be proud of their country. They are taught to feel guilty for all of the harm it has inflicted. They are taught to find fault in every American achievement.
Since pride is a group feeling, diminishing group pride will diminish individual pride.
The demoralizing and depressing teaching is covered over by an obsessive interest in promoting false pride, that is, self-esteem.
You are allowed to speak no good of America. You are not allowed to feel pride in your country, lest someone else feel bad about their country.
But then, everything you do must be counted as a success contributing to your own personal self-esteem. You might say that false pride is better than no pride, but when you have nothing but false pride you will not know why you are feeling depressed and will not be able to address it effectively.
They might treat it with Prozac but they might also try to treat it with junk food.
Robert Sapolsky recently explained that much of America’s obesity problem lies in the fact that we eat when we are not hungry. We eat when we feel unloved and we eat when we feel stressed.
One of the best-understood examples of non-nutritive eating is the fact that stress tends to make us eat more. It makes sense psychologically, in that the people most prone to stress eating are those most actively restricting food intake the rest of the time: When the going gets tough and they need to be nice to themselves, this is how they ease up. They prefer to eat fats and carbs.