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Eating Anxiety

The Perils of Food Politics

Chad Lavin

Publication Year: 2013

Debates about obesity are really about the meaning of responsibility. The trend toward local foods reflects the changing nature of space due to new communication technologies. Vegetarian theory capitalizes on biotechnology’s challenge to the meaning of species. And food politics, as this book makes powerfully clear, is actually about the political anxieties surrounding globalization.

In Eating Anxiety, Chad Lavin argues that our culture’s obsession with diet, obesity, meat, and local foods enacts ideological and biopolitical responses to perceived threats to both individual and national sovereignty. Using the occasion of eating to examine assumptions about identity, objectivity, and sovereignty that underwrite so much political order, Lavin explains how food functions to help structure popular and philosophical understandings of the world and the place of humans within it. He introduces the concept of digestive subjectivity and shows how this offers valuable resources for rethinking cherished political ideals surrounding knowledge, democracy, and power.

Exploring discourses of food politics, Eating Anxiety links the concerns of food—especially issues of sustainability, public health, and inequality—to the evolution of the world order and the possibilities for democratic rule. It forces us to question the significance of consumerist politics and—simultaneously—the relationship between politics and ethics, public and private.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I started writing this book in the fall of 2005, soon after a hurricane and a shameful display of political neglect sent me fleeing from Louisiana to Texas to Pennsylvania, fortunate enough to find helpful friends, family, and strangers at each step along the way. I finished writing six years later, five days before the birth of my son. ...

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Introduction: Food Politics in the Twilight of Sovereignty

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pp. ix-xxxiv

In recent years, food has emerged as one of the more pervasive issues in political struggle, popular entertainment, and humanist scholarship. Politically, the media warns of a global food crisis owing to rapidly rising prices and drought-induced shortages, even as the developed world faces a mounting public health threat ...

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1. Diet and American Ideology

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pp. 1-22

Perhaps the best place to start a study of eating and sovereignty is with the discourse of diet, where food and control converge in an ideological matrix of individual responsibility, self-mastery, and population management. Studies of famines or agricultural labor can reveal some of the ways that the production, distribution, ...

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2. Eating Alone

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pp. 23-46

While so much discussion of food in the United States is couched in the individualistic language of choice and self-control, characterizations of food as a private or personal issue stand in stark contrast with the anthropological and sociological literatures on the role of food in establishing regional or national culture. ...

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3. The Digestive Turn in Political Thought

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pp. 47-70

While the scientific, political, and aesthetic discourses of the self developed in the seventeenth century rejected the organic vocabulary of a body politic for a sterile and hygienic model of social engagement organized around ideals of identity and authenticity, political thought turned positively bilious in the nineteenth century. ...

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4. Responsibility and Disease in Obesity Politics

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pp. 71-92

The anxieties provoked by the digestive turn are far from restricted to readers of Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. When First Lady Michelle Obama launched a national campaign to fight childhood obesity in 2009, she tapped into widespread American anxieties not only about individual health and national security ...

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5. The Year of Eating Politically

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pp. 93-114

Wendell Berry famously declared that “eating is an agricultural act,”1 and recent trends in food activism have announced that eating is a political, economic, environmental, aesthetic, and ethical act as well. While the obesity debates enact demands for individual responsibility and public health ...

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6. The Meat We Don’t Eat

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pp. 115-134

The discourses of obesity and local foods examined in the previous two chapters reveal a series of anxieties over individual and national sovereignty stemming from the economic, technological, and political transformations of globalization. In particular, the debates reveal concerns about a powerlessness of individuals to control the shape of their lives ...

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Conclusion: Democracy and Disgust

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pp. 135-154

The previous three chapters have focused on how discourses of obesity, local foods, and meat have responded to political anxieties endemic to the disruptions of globalization. Those disruptions were identified as disruptions to ideals of self (in particular, ideals of identity, authenticity, and responsibility ...


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pp. 155-188


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pp. 189-212

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About the Author

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p. 248-248

Chad Lavin is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT) at Virginia Tech. He has previously published The Politics of Responsibility and essays in social and political theory.

E-ISBN-13: 9781452939278
E-ISBN-10: 1452939276
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816680924

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013