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Eating Anxiety

Eating Anxiety: The Perils of Food Politics

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Eating Anxiety
    Book Description:

    Debates about obesity are really about the meaning of responsibility. The trend toward local foods reflects the changing nature of space due to new communication technologies. Vegetarian theory capitalizes on biotechnology's challenge to the meaning of species. And food politics, as this book makes powerfully clear, is actually about the political anxieties surrounding globalization.

    InEating Anxiety, Chad Lavin argues that our culture's obsession with diet, obesity, meat, and local foods enacts ideological and biopolitical responses to perceived threats to both individual and national sovereignty. Using the occasion of eating to examine assumptions about identity, objectivity, and sovereignty that underwrite so much political order, Lavin explains how food functions to help structure popular and philosophical understandings of the world and the place of humans within it. He introduces the concept of digestive subjectivity and shows how this offers valuable resources for rethinking cherished political ideals surrounding knowledge, democracy, and power.

    Exploring discourses of food politics,Eating Anxietylinks the concerns of food-especially issues of sustainability, public health, and inequality-to the evolution of the world order and the possibilities for democratic rule. It forces us to question the significance of consumerist politics and-simultaneously-the relationship between politics and ethics, public and private.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3927-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Food Politics in the Twilight of Sovereignty
    (pp. ix-xxxiv)

    In recent years, food has emerged as one of the more pervasive issues in political struggle, popular entertainment, and humanist scholarship. Politically, the media warns of a global food crisis owing to rapidly rising prices and drought-induced shortages, even as the developed world faces a mounting public health threat stemming from widespreadovereating and continues to redirect so much grain toward biofuel production. On television, contenders forIron CheforTop Chefdelight audiences with their spectacular meals and culinary skill, while the contestants onThe Biggest Loserremind the audiences of the perils of indulgence. Academically, the growing interest...

    (pp. 1-22)

    Perhaps the best place to start a study of eating and sovereignty is with the discourse of diet, where food and control converge in an ideological matrix of individual responsibility, self-mastery, and population management. Studies of famines or agricultural labor can reveal some of the ways that the production, distribution, and regulation of food manifest political power at the level of the individual body. But dietary advice and particular weight loss regimens can most clearly demonstrate how the demands of political order are personalized in liberal society. In this chapter, I show how diet trends of the past century have...

    (pp. 23-46)

    While so much discussion of food in the United States is couched in the individualistic language of choice and self-control, characterizations of food as a private or personal issue stand in stark contrast with the anthropological and sociological literatures on the role of food in establishing regional or national culture. Food historian Margaret Visser notes this paradox, and the tendency of food to conflate facile separations of public and private, noting how in rituals of shared eating from family dinners to religious feasts “satisfaction of the most individual of needs becomes a means of creating community.”¹ Of course, cultural critics...

    (pp. 47-70)

    While the scientific, political, and aesthetic discourses of the self developed in the seventeenth century rejected the organic vocabulary of a body politic for a sterile and hygienic model of social engagement organized around ideals of identity and authenticity, political thought turned positively bilious in the nineteenth century. Starting with Hegel’s and Marx’s concerns about alienation and coming to its apotheosis in Nietzsche’s diagnosis ofressentiment, political thought of this period showed an increased willingness to call attention to the crude bodily functions that mediate the subject’s encounter with the external world.

    This turn prefigures the paradigm shift discussed in...

    (pp. 71-92)

    The anxieties provoked by the digestive turn are far from restricted to readers of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. When First Lady Michelle Obama launched a national campaign to fight childhood obesity in 2009, she tapped into widespread American anxieties not only about individual health and national security but also the degree to which individual habits and desires are manipulated by industrial food and marketing machines. Sander Gilman situates the current obesity debates in “a string of moral panics about food, the food chain, and disease which haunt our present age,” as ubiquitous warnings about the dangers of sodium,E. coli,...

    (pp. 93-114)

    Wendell Berry famously declared that “eating is an agricultural act,”¹ and recent trends in food activism have announced that eating is a political, economic, environmental, aesthetic, and ethical act as well. While the obesity debates enact demands for individual responsibility and public health and so stand out as a marker of the cultural politics of blame, approaches to the political economy of food in the United States call attention to the ownership of seed technology and farm subsidies but find their popular support almost entirely around the demand to buy responsibly grown foods. Just as moral and aesthetic judgments about...

    (pp. 115-134)

    The discourses of obesity and local foods examined in the previous two chapters reveal a series of anxieties over individual and national sovereignty stemming from the economic, technological, and political transformations of globalization. In particular, the debates reveal concerns about a powerlessness of individuals to control the shape of their lives and challenges to the institution of national sovereignty that ideally provides a level political representation and self-determination. Both offer routes to the kind of empowerment that is supposedly threatened by vast concentrations of wealth, and both, crucially, invoke a nostalgic version of lived space as a prerequisite for this...

  11. CONCLUSION Democracy and Disgust
    (pp. 135-154)

    The previous three chapters have focused on how discourses of obesity, local foods, and meat have responded to political anxieties endemic to the disruptions of globalization. Those disruptions were identified as disruptions to ideals of self (in particular, ideals of identity, authenticity, and responsibility characteristic of modern liberalism), space (especially the divisions between public and private and the borders between states), and species (the presumed moral gulf separating humans from nonhumans). The ongoing debates about obesity rates, local foods, and meat each appeal to these anxieties and offer fantastic solutions to them via the placating consumerist logic of individual choice....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 155-188)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 189-212)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-213)