I was wary, watching “A Distant Star” (the fourth episode of season two of Babylon 5) when Dr. Franklin started instituting “food plans” for our three protagonists. I’ve been reading a lot about fat acceptance these days and really oppose the idea that thin = healthy and that therefore doctors (and everyone else) should shame people into losing weight.
Now, with Garibaldi, Dr. Franklin had a legitimate concern– being shot in the back tends to be hard on a body, and it’s quite possible that fatty foods, spicy foods, anything “exciting” would be hard for his system to handle. But then Sheridan comes by and Dr. Franklin prescribes him a diet (oops, “food plan”) as well, on the basis of nothing more than ten pounds. “This is rabbit food!” Sheridan cries. I was worried the subplot would end up reinforcing some pretty negative ideas our society has about dieting– that anyone can be thin if they just discipline themselves, that thin people are automatically healthy people (and virtuous people) and that healthy food can’t be yummy.
BUT THEN! The show completely surprised me. Ivanova comes in for her physical, and the doctor says, “Oh, I have a food plan for you too!” and Ivanova says, “I eat well, and I exercise every day, even though my foot is broken– I don’t need no stinkin’ food plan!” And the doctor says– “You’re missing some important nutrients, like calcium and iron. You need to eat more, especially dairy and meat.”
“But I’ll gain weight!” Ivanova says.
“Yes, you will.” says Doctor Franklin. And that is that.
I couldn’t believe it! A doctor admitting on a TV show that being thin isn’t inherently healthy, and that in fact, gaining weight is sometimes healthier! A doctor giving out a “food plan” that recommends eating more, and more of those “evil” meats and dairies!
The subplot played out really well overall, actually, especially one scene where the three of them are eating together. They have three different plates in front of them, representing three different dietary needs: Ivanova has a big plate of pasta with a creamy sauce, and some pale rectangles (bread? meat? something alien?) because she needs more, especially fatty foods; Garibaldi has a mix of plants and what I’m pretty sure was bread, because he needs bland food but still enough to fuel his healing process; and Sheridan has a huge salad, because he’s been overindulging after several years without fresh food available, and his body’s aching for some plants.
Naturally, they all swap– Garibaldi gets Ivanova’s mess of pasta, Ivanova takes Sheridan’s salad, and Sheridan gets Garibaldi’s balanced meal. Of course, they also swap back when Dr. Franklin sees them, but it was still a great moment. It showed that there are different kinds of diets that are healthy, depending on who is eating them, and also that there are different kinds of diets that are desirable. (I’m using the word diet here to mean simply “stuff you’re eating” as opposed to “bizarre rules about what you can’t eat because you’re trying to lose weight”)
It drives me crazy to see the “typical” healthy foods, tofu, fresh fruits and veggies, and so on, presented as if no one actually likes them. I adore tofu– I think it can be delicious, and much better than meat. Not “rabbit food” at all. So I appreciate seeing Ivanova reaching eagerly for that salad, not because she wants to lose weight, but because she genuinely prefers it to pasta.
It also drives me crazy to see “typical” healthy foods (especially salads) being presented as automatically the healthiest thing for a person to eat. It completely fails to take into consideration what our bodies actually need– a person who exercises every single day like Ivanova needs more calories. (I mean, Michael Phelps would probably die if someone tried to restrict him to salads.) So I really appreciated seeing Ivanova being told she had to change her diet for her health, and looking glumly at her big bowl of pasta. It was completely not what I expected from an old sci fi TV show (not generally bastions of feminism) and it really brightened my evening.
But then, I always end up loving Ivanova.