In 1899, in one of the most influential speeches of his career, Theodore Roosevelt called on his fellow citizens to live a “strenuous life.” Roosevelt praised a life of restless movement, always active, always seeking to improve one’s strength and the strength of the nation, always trying to get ahead and to succeed in an endless struggle for survival. In the wake of Darwin and in the age of Social Darwinism, competition, personal responsibility, and constant improvement had become natural laws, considered as governing any interaction between individuals, groups, and nations. Roosevelt preached the gospel of fitness, and its message and tone sound familiar to us, even if we have never heard of his “strenuous life”-speech before. In this blog…

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The American president-elect’s contempt for women he finds unappealing is by now pretty well known. “Fat. Pig. Dog. Slob. Disgusting animal. These are just some of the names that Donald Trump has called women over the years.” But Trump’s fat shaming is not completely gender biased. As the typical image of the computer geek is male, many assumed that the anonymous hypothetical “400-pound hacker,” who Trump said might have released emails from the Democratic National Committee, was also male. Observations that Trump himself is fat – perhaps “too fat to be president” – as well as seemingly ignorant, merely generated predictable charges of hypocrisy and exercises in reverse fat-shaming. The cable television channel Comedy Central even offered an election day…

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Hunger strikes are a political device. Since the early 20th century, they have frequently provoked debate on the individual’s right to self-determination and the limits of the state’s duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and ensure their survival. When we read present day news reports on hunger strikes, the suffering body is in the focus of camera lenses and at the center of our imaginations. Unsurprisingly, questions on normative body ideals, fitness, and food seem to be rather absent. But in the Progressive Era (~ 1890s-1920s), they arguably played a vital, maybe even a formative role in establishing hunger strikes as a form of protest. Back then, British and American activists for women’s suffrage not only drew public…

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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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It is a contradiction to work for social justice and perpetuate fatphobia at the same time. This should be obvious, and yet many people with strong commitments to social justice often use rhetoric that entrenches the oppression of fat people. A popular, but pernicious, set of fatphobic assertions takes the form of what some scholars refer to as the “foodscape argument.” On its surface, the foodscape argument (which is also known as the “obesogenic environment” thesis, or the “environmental” theory of fatness) seems progressive. The theory postulates that western industrial societies are experiencing an “epidemic” of “obesity,” which is driven in large part by economic inequality. According to the foodscape argument, low-income people lack access to nutritious foods and are…

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