Two professors have contributed their remarks to the ever-expanding discussion on weight loss in the United States. And their take on the trend is certainly unique and different. They wrote and published a chapter in a new anthology chapter on “critical nutrition” proposes a strange argument. The professors decided to look at the popular trend of “healthy eating” and weight loss through the critical lens of “culture and politics” in the United States and other parts of the West.
Their conclusion is rather startling. The professors labeled “weight loss,” “athletic performance,” and “longevity” to be “Western values” that are forced onto other cultures. Additionally, the professors wrote about how nutrition and healthy food trends are adulterated by “cultural beliefs, funding streams, lobbying advocates, and food industries.”
The two professors who are stirring up the pot are Allison Hayes-Conroy of Temple University and her sister Jessica Hayes-Conroy who teaches a course in “Feminist Health” in upstate New York.
The sisters wrote, “It is rare, in the myriad calls for eating fresh fruits and vegetables, to see strikes and boycotts mentioned in the same breath as ‘healthy.’”
The crux of the sisters’ argument is that the healthy food industry is driven forward by educated white people and promotes Western values instead of a diverse viewpoint.
It is true, as the sisters say, that the arguments for eating healthy “remain embedded in contemporary culture and politics.” The authors also wrote about how “countless recent studies offer insight into weight loss, longevity, or athletic performance – all predominant Western values.”
They also claim “calls for healthy eating are never purely factual” and that the industry is not a “politically neutral science.” In other words, they argue that the highest bidder gets information about healthy eating into the marketplace.
They also provided evidence about how eating habits have changed over the years. For example, during World War II America urged people to eat food that would provide stamina for the wartime effort. However, years before that as America struggled to exit the Great Depression, “healthy eating” had to do with being economical and getting enough calories for your body and type of work.
“When scientific claims help to legitimize particular cultural beliefs as ‘facts’ rather than viewpoints, they are easily accepted. Facts garner attention, and are highly marketable.”
Besides offering a critique of the American food industry, they also offered a few suggestions on how to improve the situation. First, they urge for more “radical non-judgment” and more “letting go of the belief that there is one right way to eat well, and instead of accepting that bodily nourishment is complex.”
They also urge people to understand that healthy eating is “culturally specific and can therefore sometimes be in contradiction” with other beliefs.
Instead of following the latest headlines, the sisters urge people to practice “critical nutrition.” They believe that if the industry opens up to a wider view of nutrition, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, people could be healthier and experience less obesity.
What do you think about their views on nutrition in America?