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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“We have done it – This city has gone on a diet. Together we have reached our goal of losing 1,000,000 pounds! (…) Hopefully, we are a healthier, more vibrant, and progressive community. I would like to thank each and every person and organization who has contributed to the OKC Million program, and I encourage all to stay active, stay healthy, and stay involved. This is the beginning of a brighter future.” The “OKC Million-pound-program,” which was initiated by Mayor Mick Cornett in Oklahoma City in 2007, was a massive campaign aimed at the city’s population and the weight of their bodies. Mayor Cornett boasted in 2013 that his successful effort to bring the state’s capital into shape through restraining and disciplining…

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Two of the most memorable moments in When Harry Met Sally (USA 1989) are about food. Well, they are not exactly about food, but they try to get at something through food. Of course, the first one is the legendary fake-orgasm-and-“I’ll-have-what-she’s-having”-scene in Katz’s Delicatessen in NYC. Yet when it comes to thinking about choice, the other restaurant scene is of greater interest, when they stop for lunch in a roadside diner while traveling home from college in Chicago to New York. Whereas Harry barely looks at the menu and goes for one of its default options (“I’ll have the number 3”), Sally orders à la carte, and she adds a long and complex list of individual choices and special requests…

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Eighteen years ago, in an article titled “Losing Weight: An Ill-Fated New Year’s Resolution,” the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine took the US American medical establishment to task for its promotion of weight loss dieting. The editorial noted that, for most people, permanent weight loss is not possible; and, they observed, evidence suggesting that dieting confers health benefits is “limited, fragmentary, and often ambiguous.” When this editorial was published in 1998, it was already old news that diets don’t work. For decades, fat activists had been pointing out that the medical literature shows diets to have a failure rate of 95% or higher. What’s more, diets make people fatter over the long term, and repeated attempts to…

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In the current anti-obesity climate of the U.S., a bevy of health messages are aimed at the “obese,” exhorting the portly to lose weight, get in shape, and put down the fork. But what have fat people, or at least a subset of fat people, had to say about the relationship between food, body habitus, and eating? According to self-proclaimed fat activists, society forces fat people to diet, leading to a distorted and damaging relationship with food. As an alternative, fat activists advocate “intuitive eating,” relying on ones’ internal sensations of hunger, pleasure, and satiety to guide food consumption. This ideology, implying balance, harmony, health, and pleasure is vastly appealing – but perhaps flawed. The fat acceptance movement began in…

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