Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Julie Guthman

Language: English

Pages: 248

ISBN: 0520266250

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Weighing In takes 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.

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individual choice to the need for stronger regulation. First, though, I want to show why prevailing explanations don’t suffice. tipping the energy balance model Are people bigger? Oh yeah, absolutely. Even my children. I mean. We are not, uh, garbage eaters, for the most part my children would rather have fruits and vegetables than garbage, well, more so my older son than my younger, but still they like fruits and vegetables and that kind of stuff. And both of my children are big, and it’s like,

and water pollution, exposures that are so ubiquitous that they cannot be avoided by purchasing, say, an organic apple (Szasz 2007). (Paula Baillie-Hamilton, the woman who first made the claims about environmental toxins and obesity, encapsulates that contradiction in her book [2002b] on how to avoid toxic exposure through diet.) It is surely striking that the organic farming movement has failed to curb the use of agricultural chemicals in any significant way. Although it may be true that organic

actively contributes to the bifurcation of the food system (Allen et al. 2003). Put another way, too many carrots (incentives) and not enough sticks (regulations) has meant that some people have come to eat fresh, organic, local carrots while others eat cheap, dangerous, and fattening sticks (Harrison 2008b). Of course there is crossover: Trader Joe’s and Wal-Mart sell organic food; Whole Foods sells “healthy” snack food. Nevertheless, the “true” alternatives of local, seasonal, and farmdirect

political economy of bulimia, as it were. It also puts a dent in the rhetoric of obesity alarmists and public health professionals who urge us to simply follow the money to determine where blame must lie. It is true that the big players in the food industry—from Tyson to Coca-Cola to Jack in the Box—have profited tremendously from selling poor-quality food, but they are not the only ones. If you’re really going to follow the money, you might find yourself taking a long, circuitous journey through

sustainability. And those who have fared best in the neoliberal economy—those who are the main beneficiaries of neoliberal capitalism that others’ borrowing and consumption habits have kept afloat— have a broad range of ways to resolve the contradiction of spending more and showing less. They can buy houses with nearby walking trails, hire personal trainers, spend hours exercising (especially if they are stay-at-home spouses), and eat at upscale restaurants where the presentation and taste of the

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