The melancholy of dieting while sitting, chewing, thinking

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August 31, 2007

2:14 PM

In exurban America, “moving through lots of incompact space” entails the licensed operation of a registered motor vehicle. I was in mine one day when I passed a guy on a bench who was contemplatively eating an enormous hoagie.

p. This simple sight reminded me of the most depressing television commercial I’ve ever seen. I’m thinking of is Jared Fogle’s first-ever advertisement for Subway, which aired in early 2000.
Thus the “Subway diet” was born, making Jared practically a household name. The commercial even has that quintessential infomercial shot in which the dieter holds his oversized trousers to his markedly trimmer waist, demonstrating how miraculously successful his weight-loss regimen has been.

p. That’s not what made me inexplicably sad. What did was a shot of the newly slim Jared sitting on a park bench, chewing a bite of his foot-long Veggie Delite sandwich — his daily lunch for a year — with a very sober, attuned, introspective look on his face.
Passing the guy in my vehicle that day set into motion a chain of memories, sort of like Proust eating the Madeleine cookie — except instead of waves of nostalgia I had waves of sadness. This makes me sound far worse than Proust, sort of like a Romantic poet or just a shoo-in candidate for anti-depressants, neither of which I think I am.

p. I remember thinking when I first saw the commercial, “Wow, I think that’s really sad.” I then forgot about it for seven years. I’m willing to toss out a few guesses regarding its dolefulness. They mostly concern fringe images that the sight of Jared sitting, chewing and thinking (hereafter JSCAT) generated in my malleable brain tissue. JSCAT first got me ruminating on the monotony of his moving through space, of his being a body — a morbidly obese body — pushing through air and arriving at that bench and plopping himself down and chewing and pondering, every day, ceaselessly. Anyone with self-image issues — which, circa 2000, was me and probably you, too if you’re currently an undergrad — could instantly empathize. The idea of an extremely fat man simply maneuvering, his every thought fixated on when he would next be able to stop maneuvering for a few minutes, struck me as grade A mood-sinking material.

p. This brings up the object of the T in JSCAT, that is, what the poor sap was thinking about every day on that bench. I imagine the commercial’s director instructing Jared to relive his “fat days,” to consider whatever it was he often considered while munching on a 12-inch Veggie Delite. Well, Jared was probably thinking about what his dad, a physician, purportedly told him at the peak of his obesity: “If you don’t get in shape soon, you could be dead by 35.” His meditative expression in the commercial really drives this home. Jared Fogle is probably a shit actor, but in the stoic-and-unflinching-facially-emoted-recognition-of-the-fact-that-this-Subway-diet-when-abetted-with-a-ton-of-walking-may-save-my-life department, he’s Oscar-worthy.

p. When I drove by the real sub-eater and recalled this commercial, it all coalesced perfectly for a moment, my problems and his: Its central tenet was almost certainly that of occupying space and its shadowy connection to mortality. Even though Jared’s medical issues were only peripherally related to his hugeness, he must have thought his death would be the direct result of his failure to efficiently traverse America-sized slabs of land. I told you, it’s depressing. And not particularly well thought out.

p. This should not be construed as any sort of commentary on America’s obesity epidemic, nor do I want it read as an indictment of the dieting industry. All I’m saying is that there’s a lot of sorrow, to me, in someone eating on a bench, particularly when the object of that eating is to lose weight. Perhaps it’s only due to the fact that thinking while chewing inevitably makes us look like Neanderthals. Perhaps it’s the exposure, appearing unabashedly superstitious and goal-oriented in such a public place. Whatever it is, it occurred to me while driving and mandated that I share it.
Dan Piepenbring is a Confusion Corner columnist. He dreams of starring in his own commercial.

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