Thursday, December 5, 2013

Charlotte Biltekoff's "Eating Right in America"

Charlotte Biltekoff is Assistant Professor of American Studies & Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis. Previously, she was a chef at Greens, a well-known vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health, and reported the following:
Eating Right in America definitely passes the page 99 test. The most important thing I want people to learn from this book is that dietary advice is always both empirical and ethical. It provides rules about what to eat that also operate as guidelines for making oneself into a certain kind of person; responsible, moral, a good citizen. Usually dietary advice is based on scientific nutrition. Its quantitative rules obscure the ideas about what it means to be a good person that are inevitably embedded in advice about how to be a good eater. On page 99 (among other things) I sum up my discussion of a reversal of this dynamic that, nonetheless, gets to the heart of the book’s main argument. Rather than providing empirical norms that obscure ethical content, the alternative food movement foregrounds “eating as an ethical act” and obscures empirical norms that are in some ways actually more binding than those of scientific nutrition.

The alternative food movement eschews a narrow focus on nutrients in favor of a more systemic approach to a “good diet,” one that takes into account the relationship between food, the environment, and social well being. Knowledge, responsibility and pleasure are the core principles of eating right, replacing the stringent rules and self-denial of scientific nutrition with a far more sensual and overtly ethical ethos. But just as we need to learn to see the moral precepts that are obscured by the seemingly objective, quantitative language of nutritionally oriented dietary advice, we also need to learn to see the rules that lurk within the overtly ethical language of alternative food discourses of eating right. Not all pleasures are condoned; there are rules that designate some pleasures authentic and responsible and others deluded and dangerous. Furthermore, instead of simply following rules, as eaters are expected to within the realm of scientific nutrition, here eaters must like it too! This is pleasure harnessed rather than repressed, a subtle but significant expansion of the scope of dietary advice and the purview of dietary reform deeper into our very selves.
Learn more about Eating Right in America at the Duke University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue