In the ever so popular sideshows of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Fat Lady was a fascinating spectacle staged for the amusement, horror and repulsion of the visitors. She was one of the freaks who was feared, yet also marveled at for her assets, her fat body. Today, there are only few sideshows left (in Coney Island for instance), but the tradition of displaying so called freaks for amusement has not vanished, it has merely switched its medium to television, or more precisely to Reality TV, a genre that is overtly popular and profitable for broadcasting stations. The fascination with “real” people and their lives does not seem to cease as more and more programs that negotiate and…

» Read More

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…

» Read More

“I track myself, therefore I am” is perhaps the most fitting way to describe the basic idea behind the Quantified Self movement which has gained popularity all over the world in recent years. Increasingly, people have started to record and measure their own body-related data, tracking changes over time in metrics such as body weight, blood pressure, caloric expenditure, and the ever-present Body-Mass-Index (BMI). Simultaneously, the sale corresponding apps, sensors, smartwatches, and weighing scales that provide the technical means to collect this data has experienced a continuing surge. The sensors on Nike+ devices, for example, track movement, distance, and speed during physical activities such as running. Apparently, people love collecting these data, fueled by the promise of becoming slimmer and…

» Read More

Food research is a kind of extreme sport. For one thing, it seems to have more than its share of converts whose enthusiasm for what they do borders on the evangelical. But most of all, food research is risky. Its intellectual terrain is seismically volatile and deep hidden chasms await the careless at every step. Peaks of euphoric discovery seem always to be followed by bottomless uncertainty and confusion. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I can think of no other area of enquiry that produces and destroys so many orthodoxies, or where common sense ideas turn to chimera with such regularity. George Johnson, the American science writer, recently recounted the curious example of food research and cancer. Johnson recalls that by…

» Read More