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Weighing In

Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism

Julie Guthman
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Weighing In
    Book Description:

    Weighing Intakes on the "obesity epidemic," challenging many widely held assumptions about its causes and consequences. Julie Guthman examines fatness and its relationship to health outcomes to ask if our efforts to prevent "obesity" are sensible, efficacious, or ethical. She also focuses the lens of obesity on the broader food system to understand why we produce cheap, over-processed food, as well as why we eat it. Guthman takes issue with the currently touted remedy to obesity-promoting food that is local, organic, and farm fresh. While such fare may be tastier and grown in more ecologically sustainable ways, this approach can also reinforce class and race inequalities and neglect other possible explanations for the rise in obesity, including environmental toxins. Arguing that ours is a political economy of bulimia-one that promotes consumption while also insisting upon thinness-Guthman offers a complex analysis of our entire economic system.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94975-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: What’s the Problem?
    (pp. 1-23)

    This book begins with me, even though starting this way makes me profoundly nervous. Over the years I’ve learned that just about all scholars have autobiographical connections to their research, although the connections don’t always matter. I have an urge to come clean with mine, because I do have a personal stake in my arguments. Here at the outset I’m going to admit that I’m a foodie, and I’m going to have to convince you that I’m not a hypocrite. I’m going to admit that I’m not very thin, and I want to convince you that the current public conversation...

  5. CHAPTER 2 How Do We Know Obesity Is a Problem?
    (pp. 24-45)

    In the opening paragraphs ofThe Fat of the Land: Our Health Crisis and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves(Fumento 1997: xv–xvi), one of a raft of popular books that have fed hysteria about America’s obesity problem, Michael Fumento recites a series of claims. First, he asserts that obesity “is the most common chronic health problem in America” and “its incidence is skyrocketing and the number of illnesses it appears to cause is increasing.” He adds, “It boggles my mind to know that in the two years I took to write the book 600,000 of my fellow countrymen...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Whose Problem Is Obesity?
    (pp. 46-65)

    I open this chapter with a student’s journal entry from a course on the Politics of Obesity I first taught in 2005. I developed this class to supplement a course I regularly teach on food and social justice that prepares students for full-time field studies in related fields. Noting that many of my students aspired to “teach people how to eat” or “increase access to healthy food,” I was especially keen to push students to be more reflective about bodily difference and missionary-like interventions. Truth be told, I also wanted to work through many of the ideas that would would...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Does Your Neighborhood Make You Fat?
    (pp. 66-90)

    “Data Show Manhattan Is Svelte and the Bronx Is Chubby, Chubby” read a headline in a July 2009 edition of theNew York Times.The story reported on a study that had just been released that had compared obesity rates in the Bronx and Manhattan boroughs of New York City (Chan 2009). As might be expected, Manhattan’s rates of overweight and obesity were far lower than those in the Bronx, and “the prosperous swath of Manhattan from the Upper East Side down to Gramercy Park had the lowest obesity rate (less than 15 percent) in the city.” As reportedTimes,...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Does Eating (Too Much) Make You Fat?
    (pp. 91-115)

    In 2003, I attended a symposium at UC Berkeley called “The Politics of Obesity: A National Eating Disorder.” It was organized and hosted by Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle, Kelly Brownell, and Joan Dye Gussow, all highly respected figures, were the featured speakers, chosen because, as Nestle put it that day, they were “the only ones addressing the obesity issue from a food system perspective.” Early in the presentation, she paused to punctuate a point: “It’s simple,” she said, “obesity results from too many calories in and too few calories out.” I’ve heard this repeated many times at the at...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Does Farm Policy Make You Fat?
    (pp. 116-139)

    Since the mid-1970s, farm productivity in the United States has grown tremendously (US Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service 2009). Corn and soy, major inputs to food processing, have seen especially dramatic increases in yields per acre. Between 1974 and 2007, corn yields rose from about 73 bushels per acre to 155, while soy yields rose from about 23 to 41.4 bushels per acre (US Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service 2007). The aggregate food supply rose from 3,300 calories per capita per day in 1970 to 3,800 per capita in 1994, although in 1994 about 1,100 of...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Will Fresh, Local, Organic Food Make You Thin?
    (pp. 140-162)

    This chapter begins with another set of quotations from my students. Although they range in tone and analysis, they share an idea that indicates an important rhetorical move that has taken hold in the obesity conversation—one that first motivated this book. It is the idea that education about and access to fresh, local, and organic—or simply “real”—food offers an antidote to the obesity epidemic. Those who adopt a food system perspective are particularly apt to take this position.

    Apparently, the idea is catching on. A report released by the Organic Center in 2009 details six ways that...

  11. CHAPTER 8 What’s Capitalism Got to Do with It?
    (pp. 163-184)

    On October 14, 2009, theColbert Report(a faux news/comedy television show) featured Amy Farrell, a contributor to the newly releasedFat Studies Reader.Before introducing his guest, Steven Colbert warmed up with a monologue that, among other things, poked fun at Senator John Ensign for his proposed amendment to what was then the still-being-formed health care bill that would have mandated lower premiums for those who lost weight. To that Colbert said, “The government is really sending mixed messages here. First, they subsidize corn, making it so cheap we can gorge on subsidized corn syrup, and then they charge...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion: What’s on the Menu?
    (pp. 185-196)

    Upon assuming the role of First Lady in 2009, one of the first things Michelle Obama did was to plant an organic garden on the White House lawn. This was not too long after Michael Pollan (2008a) had written his open letter to the president-elect, whom he dubbed farmer-in-chief. The letter provided a long list of recommendations for food and farming policy reform to reduce the use of fossil fuels and wean the US food system off the logic of cheapness.¹ For this, Pollan was himself informally crowned farmer-in-chief, and a huge swell of grassroots support arose to name him...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-200)
    (pp. 201-220)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 221-227)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 228-230)