The heated debate on the European “Nutella divide” that hit the news in 2017 only corroborated long-established East European beliefs: After the fall of the Socialist regimes, people did not get the much longed-for western quality products. Instead, substandard goods were shipped eastwards: Adidas trainers that would not sell, Swiss knives with dull blades, expired foods with new sell-by dates. Finally there was official proof that in the East, Nutella was less creamy (smooth), Coca Cola tasted flatter and fish fingers held less fish. The offended Visegrad states complained that they were abused as European dumping ground. The manufacturers first attributed this to adjusting recipes to regional taste preferences, and also – after some probing – to lower spending power.…

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Women at the Butcher’s The German weekly newsreel, the Ufa-Wochenschau, opened their program on 23 November, 1962 with a sequence from a West German butcher’s shop, portraying a group of women shopping. Examining the meat at display, they all shook their heads expressing their dissatisfaction with what was available: “That’s too fat! No thanks, that’s too fat!“ they chorused, shaking their heads. Their voices marked an ultimate turning point in the relationship between food and health in modern German history. For the first time changes in the labor market and the growth of prosperity led to worries about excess in society as a whole in the 1960s, instead of the previously known worries about scarcity. Less physical work, less need…

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The understanding that women are more likely to be fat than men and need fewer calories is common sense and counts as a truism in today’s nutritional discourse. Yet it has a relatively young history, one that shows how nutritional science contributes to shaping gender difference and ultimately putting women in their place. In the late 19th and early 20th century, nutritional research legitimized an unequal access to food for men and women and created fatness as a problem of passive women unable to keep up with modern times.   Dietary Studies and Women’s Food Needs In the late 19th century US, nutritional science emerged in a society shaped by the belief that scientific expertise—especially on bodies—was key to individual…

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When flipping through the pages of Sander Gilman’s book Obesity: A Biography, my curiosity was piqued by the reproduction of a chronophotograph and its caption “Eadweard Muybridge, ‘A Gargantuan Woman Walking.’ Collotype (1887)[…]. (Wellcome Collection).“ Identifying the woman as “gargantuan” struck me as awkward. It led me to trace the history and meaning of image and caption, which—as it turns out—tells a lot about how fat bodies have been identified, categorized, and stigmatized in modern history.

The practice of ranking countries according to their inhabitants’ average weight expresses our contemporary obsession with fat and its seemingly global advance. 21st century globesity rankings differ from early modern observations of particularly portly peoples in both form and jargon. Regarding their content the difference seems less pronounced. Current epidemiology sometimes reverses prestatistical attributions, but occasionally it confirms them. Regardless, comparative approaches old and new serve the same cultural function, as I argue, because they both use corpulence abroad to address concerns and ultimately mold self-images at home.   Contemporary popular coverage of countries, which rank high in globesity statistics, largely depends on how their situation can be related to ours. Currently, nine of the ten countries leading most statistics…

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