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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In May this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labels that will have to be printed on most packaged food products by July 2018. In a presentation at the White House, Michelle Obama praised the label as making “a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.” Recent posts on this blog have discussed notions of transparency and choice. Today, I want to add some remarks on the history and politics of the gauge on which a lot of today’s food talk is based: on calories. The new food label includes a line on added sugars as well as changes in serving sizes. Its most visible change, however,…

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