Iron Mike has a sense of humor

Here’s one of the more playful uses of “get religion” I’ve seen in a headline: “Getting religion about health,” which is Salon’s Q&A with Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee about his weight loss, his self-help book Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork and whether his health campaign could be related to any broader political ambitions.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this interview is its near-total lack of language about culture wars. Nutrition is one issue that affects families across the usual political, cultural and theological divides, and it’s one that could always use more good-natured and good-humored voices. Those of us with poor eating habits usually feel enough shame or self-loathing without a daily scolding.

Huckabee’s message is a mixture of individuals taking responsibility for their habits and recognizing the cultural cues that can prompt poor choices. He avoids the temptation of blaming any one villain for overweight children:

We want to work with food companies to encourage them to promote healthier food choices. We realize that the food industry is at the mercy of the marketplace, and we’re not blaming them for the fact that Americans are overweight. I certainly don’t blame the fast-food industry for making me overweight. They sold what I demanded.

The second thing is to make more parents aware of how little exercise their kids are getting, and how many calories their kids are getting. Many of the things that parents do to show love for their kids are not necessarily in their best interest. For example, you take your kids to pizza not because you hate them but because you think that you’re giving them a treat. And if a medium pizza might actually meet the nutritional needs of three or four kids, the large one shows that you have no limits to your love.

It’s part of the whole culture of food. We let food become the reward. It’s one of the most important things that I had to learn about why I’d never been successful in getting control of my health. I’ve heard people on talking-head shows chastising parents for overfeeding their kids and making parents feel terrible about it, as if they’ve done an abusive thing. And I want to just scream and say, “Obviously, either you’re not a parent or you don’t understand why parents are doing what they’re doing. They’re not doing what they’re doing because they hate their kids.

In response to one of Katharine Mieszkowski’s best questions, Huckabee expresses a calm distrust of Nanny State solutions to cultural disputes:

What role should the government have in deciding what food advertisers should be able to market to children?

I’m really a First Amendment guy when it comes to telling the media what they can do, because I don’t want the government telling you what you can write. I’m almost a libertarian when it comes to things like that, much to the surprise of many, even though I’m a conservative Republican, and a person of deep personal faith. I am very uncomfortable when people want to start choosing even what’s on the cable channels. Because you know, where does it stop?

There are a lot of things on television that are offensive to me, but that’s why I have an off button. And when enough people like me are disgusted with something and don’t watch it, then they’ll be a different kind of program. The reason some programs are continuing to proliferate is because whether or not I particularly like it or agree with it, there are folks out there that enjoy it. Art typically reflects the culture rather than necessarily creates it.

Huckabee is humorous in brushing aside Mieszkowski’s questions about his political ambitions:

I’m politically astute enough to know that just because I lost weight, started running and wrote a book about it, that’s not singularly enough of a qualification to say: “Yeah, this guy ought to be president.” Otherwise, Dr. Phil would be running; Oprah would be running. Actually, come to think of it, Oprah could get elected.

Katharine Mieszkowski did a great job with this interview. She transformed what could have been just another marketing moment into a real conversation about questions that greet us every morning, especially if we step onto a scale.

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