Author, journalist and Senior Fellow at Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University
As America enters its second decade of the obesity epidemic, there's little debate that we need to change the way we eat — and there are two schools of thought dominating our discussion of why we eat the way we do. One holds that our food problems are strictly cultural; Americans, goes the thinking, don't properly value good and healthy food, instead preferring the salty, fatty, processed food we colloquially call "junk." The competing hypothesis is that America's food habits are primarily structural, with limited access to healthy foods driving our food choices.
This Conversation on food is inspired by the Glass House event Dine with Design,
a benefit picnic featuring artisans and chefs from around the country drawing inspiration from the Glass House.
Why do you eat the way you do?
warren gave the final word
I always reject dualistic questions/ answers, prefering at least three options. I don’t accept either alternative. The cultural is a familiar slam at Americans as dumb slobs who don’t know what’s good for them, the same elitist view that sees mass culture as trash, only here it’s American food, not TV. The limited access option has some merit, except that it does not begin to explain the extent of the obesity “epidemic,” since it would suggest that only people who live in “food deserts” get fat, which just isn’t true. For the most part Americans have access to far more food, healthy and not, than they know what to do with.
I personally am intrigued by the evolutionary hypothesis, i.e. that we were designed to gain weight in order to store up fat against frequent famines, only now we don’t have the famines, so we just gain weight, especially now that we’re no longer chasing goats over mountains… But I’m also tempted to add a fourth hypothesis, that there really isn’t an “epidemic” in the first place. All of these possibilities are dealt with quite rigorously by Julie Guthman in “Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism” (California 2011).
As for why I eat the way I do: my food choices are the product of a negotiation among three main determinants: identity (my heritage, roots, cultural tastes), convenience ( can I find, afford, and cook it?), and responsibility (is it safe for me and my family, is it sustainable?).
Monday, May 28 at 5:13pm
Selected list of words appearing in this and other conversations.