4.03.2015

Problem? What problem?
Food Issues Book Club - Weighing In, Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Weighing In, Chapter 1: Introduction - What's the Problem?

Summary:

Obesity has been erroneously linked to global warming by a number of researchers in the past decade.  The connection hinges on neo-Malthusian ideas that appetite drives food production, and that hunger is a result of insufficient food production.  These notions are flatly false.  As with global climate change, solution-seekers attempt to oversimplify the problem of obesity in order to provide a simple solution: in both instances, one of personal behavior change.  And in both instances, changing or even addressing the underlying cause(s) of the problems is avoided.

To address obesity, we must understand its internal and external ecologies, and its cultural context, in addition to the roles played by corporate behavior, state regulation, and the political economy.  We must also pay attention to how information about obesity is being messaged - for instance, we must examine the connection that has been drawn between personal behavior and obesity, and the drivers of such behavior.  "To the extent that eating eating and exercise contribute to obesity, these behaviors don't happen in a vacuum of social possibility."

As humans, scientists and their work are unavoidably affected by social influences.  The ways in which issues are framed - the pathologizing of obesity, for example, as an epidemic - influences the ways in which overweight is studied and how results are perceived and presented.  "How we know health depends on how we talk about it, and how we talk about it shapes how we think about it."  Despite efforts at objectivity, scientists' preconceived notions are implanted in design study and reporting.

This book endeavors to circumnavigate the restrictions imposed by the "problem closure" of obesity: to reframe the problem in order to determine different avenues by which to address it.  "Ultimately [this book] is about the limits of capitalism.

Discussion:

For real y'all?  This first chapter blew my freaking mind.  New ideas!  New refutations of "calories in / calories out" nonsense!  In the first few somewhat autobiographical pages she a) calls herself out for being a privileged "foodie," b) calls the food issues crowd out for constantly leaving everyone who is not privileged out of the picture and/or judging them, and c) indicts the conventional food system in no uncertain terms.

Is this the book I've been waiting for?  It might just be.  Since this chapter really just touches on the subjects more thoroughly explored in later chapters, I'll leave the discussion there for now.  But I do think that it's going to be an awesome month.

Since there are no good images for "new-Malthusian ideas" or any of the other big words used liberally in this here academic work of a book, here's a picture of knitted oysters on the half shell (with cocktail sauce!) from a recent art installation that was part of the city-wide P3 event.

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