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…

» Read More

Bachelorette Chow is one of several recipes posted by users of the platform “Complete Foods,” formerly known as DIY Soylent. Like many other websites dedicated to sharing homemade variations of commercially available nutritional substitute products like Soylent, it began with attempts to imitate as closely as possible the composition of Soylent. But meanwhile, the platform offers a variety of recipes which often aim to provide additional taste value, or claim to be targeted towards a particular purpose or target group–in the case of Bachelorette Chow, that group is obviously women. Few recipes on the platform are specifically targeted towards women. In fact, Bachelorette Chow presents an alternative to “Bachelor Chow,” a recipe which contains similar ingredients but in different quantities,…

» Read More

Vincent makes sure his voice carries far enough for me to understand that I need to push through thirty seconds longer, even with all the background noise. In fact, I am hardly aware of my environment. Or was, until I identified a moving object in the corner of my eye. When I strain my head to look left, I see a toddler watching me with a strange expression on his face. I am focused on the burning sensation in my abdominal area and my mind telling me that I should just give up. But Vincent’s reference to time gives me a new surge of willpower and I manage to uphold my body in plank position, supporting my rigid body on…

» Read More

In May 1891, the London Vegetarian Society held a meeting in Portsmouth. Present were not just English, but also two Indian members, T.T. Majumdar and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, both students of law in London. For Gandhi, later one of the leading figures in the Indian independence movement, membership in the London Vegetarian Society was a formative experience. It allowed him to discover vegetarianism as an ethically motivated choice and integrate it into a philosophy of non-violence. The encounter was not a singular instance. It was part of a larger entanglement between European vegetarianism and India.   In order to buttress what was then a fringe lifestyle, vegetarians in Europe made frequent reference to meat abstention in other parts of the…

» Read More