Havamal 20: When Misinterpretation Turns Toxic

Content Warning: Weight Shaming


Havamal 20:
A greedy bloke, unless he curbs his bend,
will eat himself into lifelong grief:
he's often derided when he comes among the wise,
a man who's a fool in the belly.
Translation - Andrew Orchard - Penguin Classics

The AFA's podcast recently decided to attempt a discussion about one of the most complex and personal topics affecting society today: obesity and weight. It went about as gracefully as you'd expect...

"A" for effort tho...

The first clue was the title, an elegant foghorn to the listener that a holier-than-thou lecture was incoming: "No Fat Heathens." Leading in with several Havamal verses, including the one above, the presenter somehow felt it was wise to dispense questionable dietary/medical advice on a podcast ostensibly dedicated to religious topics.

I don't see a benefit to a full point-by-point breakdown like some of my previous rebuttals, but there are some salient quotes that I think speak well to one of the more problematic sides of modern Heathenry.

Our old friend: dismissal of complexity.

"You don't have a problem with bad genes, you have a problem with a bad diet." (07:50)

Obesity, it has recently been posited, is more like cancer than a cold, with diverse factors from environmental to genetic to microbiome behavior to random chance impacting individuals in vastly different ways. Ignoring anything that isn't personal self-control leads to unnecessary frustration and self-shaming that doesn't help anyone.
"They need to be told they're fat and obese in order to improve themselves. [...] Do it from the standpoint of a community caring about somebody. [...] You need to love them." (05:35)
Not sure if he's aiming for some classic Christian "Love the sinner hate the sin" action or some kind of 'tough love'-type "caring," but none of that is helpful. In today's image-conscious and appearance-focused society, does anyone honestly, truly believe that everyone is not hyper-aware of their "rating" on the arbitrary appearance/fitness scale?

I don't care how "nicely" you say it, it still sounds like this.
"Odin put these things down in the Havamal: A gluttonous man who guzzles away brings sorrow on himself. At the table of the wise, he his taunted often. What makes him unwise? Mocked for his bloated belly. Odin. Everybody talks about Odin all the time, but it's okay to have fat acceptance in the Heathen community? I fucking don't think so."(15:00)
I wasn't aware the AFA was going in for orthodoxy these days. Nevermind that there's a more historically logical interpretation for that verse than using it like a fat-shaming cudgel.

Back in the day, it goes without saying, food was ridiculously scarce. One bad harvest or livestock illness could wipe out half a community or more once winter rolled in and food became even more scarce. It follows that anyone who ate more than their "fair share" was not only rude, but an actual threat to the community in lean years. What obesity represented in Heathen times was not simply a lack of self-control, but rather a selfish disregard for community. Any visitor who would threaten their own community via over-consumption can't be trusted not to over-consume and possibly threaten the host's stores and supplies as well.

But that's not what is being argued in the podcast. The solution isn't portion sizing or even attempting to reconstruct that historical worldview in modern times. No, what we get is...
"You wanna eat until you're full and enjoy what you ate. You can do that by eating a freaking potato. Why do you think the British Crown persecuted the Irish people for so long? Why do think the Brits introduced freaking potato blight to kill off the Irish?" (13:30)
Wut.

So it's not about self control or historical accuracy, but just doing the diet that the host advocates, because of course one diet works for everyone, regardless of genetics, financial capability, environment, locale...

On top of that, notice the Havamal refers to coming to the table of the wise. This is not (just) talking about someone in their own home, but a visitor. There were strict rules for both visitor and host back in those days, with a host expected to offer food/water/warmth to any traveler. When that traveler shows up with evidence of their tendency to overindulge in a land of scarcity, that "the wise" would mock them for their bad behavior seems a bit more logical, doesn't it?

Fast forward to [Current Year], and society has shifted significantly. We, in America and Europe (the podcast's target audience), are not living in a land of scarcity, but of overabundance. We live in a world where foods are quite literally crafted to create addiction and advertising is focused on high-calorie "snacks" that are more dense than anything our ancestors could have conceived of.


We all have those days.

That's not to say that a measure of self-control isn't one among many factors involved, in either case. What the argument about this interpretation of the Havamal leaves out is that the other factors that impact this issue when it was first written are vastly different from the environmental factors that exist today. Nothing in life is simple, and everything from individual self-control to economic forces to genetics can, and should, be taken into account.

Our intrepid podcaster doesn't want nuance or even acceptance of complexity, though.
"I don't think there's any place in our society for people that are promoting being obese as okay." (04:55)
"Fat acceptance is a dangerous, deadly, and bad philosophy to give to our young people." (12:00)
"You shouldn't listen to those folks. Nor should you listen to people who are telling you it's okay to accept yourself for being fat and overweight. They're not on your side. They're your enemy." (14:45)
The thing that really sticks in my craw, though, is the fact that in a 20+ minute podcast with a 15+ minute follow-up, there's zero mention of what the actual problem is with obesity. He flirts with it when he starts dishing out diet advice by claiming that his diet can fix some versions of diabetes, but that's all.

This isn't about getting healthy for it's own sake (what should be the goal of every individual), because being "healthy" has specific markers: heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and so on. Those are the things your doctor looks at when evaluating your health. None of that gets mentioned in this podcast. Funnily enough, there are "skinny" people with perfectly good diets who are medically "fat" (high BP, terrible cholesterol, etc). Recognizing that would require...you guessed it...nuance.

Near the end of the podcast, though, the host tips his hand. All of this "concern" is couched in recognition on some level that it's necessary to be 'nice' (as he defines it) to overweight people because so many Heathens are (in his opinion) obese, because if it wasn't the case...
"If 80% of us are buffed freaking bronzed out freaking Norse Gods, by all means, we should make fun of them for being fat." (17:45)
There's your threshold, people. Anyone in 20% or less of a group is fair game for shaming and mockery. What kind of community is this supposed to be again?


There's plenty more to pick apart in this podcast for it's toxicity, but that'll have to wait for the next post.

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