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Eating Right in America is a powerful critique of dietary reform in the United States from the late nineteenth-century emergence of nutritional science through the contemporary alternative food movement and campaign against obesity. Charlotte Biltekoff analyzes the discourses of dietary reform, including the writings of reformers, as well as the materials they created to b Eating Right in America is a powerful critique of dietary reform in the United States from the late nineteenth-century emergence of nutritional science through the contemporary alternative food movement and campaign against obesity. Charlotte Biltekoff analyzes the discourses of dietary reform, including the writings of reformers, as well as the materials they created to bring their messages to the public. She shows that while the primary aim may be to improve health, the process of teaching people to "eat right" in the U.S. inevitably involves shaping certain kinds of subjects and citizens, and shoring up the identity and social boundaries of the ever-threatened American middle class. Without discounting the pleasures of food or the value of wellness, Biltekoff advocates a critical reappraisal of our obsession with diet as a proxy for health. Based on her understanding of the history of dietary reform, she argues that talk about "eating right" in America too often obscures structural and environmental stresses and constraints, while naturalizing the dubious redefinition of health as an individual responsibility and imperative.


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Eating Right in America is a powerful critique of dietary reform in the United States from the late nineteenth-century emergence of nutritional science through the contemporary alternative food movement and campaign against obesity. Charlotte Biltekoff analyzes the discourses of dietary reform, including the writings of reformers, as well as the materials they created to b Eating Right in America is a powerful critique of dietary reform in the United States from the late nineteenth-century emergence of nutritional science through the contemporary alternative food movement and campaign against obesity. Charlotte Biltekoff analyzes the discourses of dietary reform, including the writings of reformers, as well as the materials they created to bring their messages to the public. She shows that while the primary aim may be to improve health, the process of teaching people to "eat right" in the U.S. inevitably involves shaping certain kinds of subjects and citizens, and shoring up the identity and social boundaries of the ever-threatened American middle class. Without discounting the pleasures of food or the value of wellness, Biltekoff advocates a critical reappraisal of our obsession with diet as a proxy for health. Based on her understanding of the history of dietary reform, she argues that talk about "eating right" in America too often obscures structural and environmental stresses and constraints, while naturalizing the dubious redefinition of health as an individual responsibility and imperative.

30 review for Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health

  1. 5 out of 5

    Darren

    One must be forgiven for recollecting stereotypes, but when you contrast the marketing text for this book to the popular imagery of the United States, you must wonder if they refer to the same country. "(The book) chronicles the dietary reform movements that have shaped ideas about good nutrition and public health in the United States for more than a century." With the high take up of pre-processed food and takeaway outlets, it feels harder to accept that things have got better, instead of gettin One must be forgiven for recollecting stereotypes, but when you contrast the marketing text for this book to the popular imagery of the United States, you must wonder if they refer to the same country. "(The book) chronicles the dietary reform movements that have shaped ideas about good nutrition and public health in the United States for more than a century." With the high take up of pre-processed food and takeaway outlets, it feels harder to accept that things have got better, instead of getting worse. With greater economic freedom and choice thanks to automation and industrialisation, have we made a step or two backwards? Yet the book does identify a possible reason for why things seem to be the way they are. This is an academically-focussed book which is still quite accessible and possibly of benefit to those with an interest in food, social society and similar "disciplines." It won't make you a better cook but it might help improve your understanding of many issues. Just manage your expectations accordingly ahead of time. Six chapters present the author's contention that despite their scientific origins, dietary ideals are also cultural, subjective and political. Trying to teach people that "eating right" will improve their health may be laudable, yet it requires a different approach to that used today. As you would expect of an academic reference work, it is crammed full of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. It is unfortunate that the price and the overall approach of this book might push it out of reach of the more general reader - through no fault of the book - as the central messages deserve a much wider audience and to help challenge contemporary thinking. If you have a professional or academic need for this kind of material, you will find it a very reasonable, comprehensive and compelling read, even if you disagree with parts of it. Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health, written by Charlotte Biltekoff and published by Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822355595, 224 pages. Typical price: USD22.95. YYYY. // This review appeared in YUM.fi and is reproduced here in full with permission of YUM.fi. YUM.fi celebrates the worldwide diversity of food and drink, as presented through the humble book. Whether you call it a cookery book, cook book, recipe book or something else (in the language of your choice) YUM will provide you with news and reviews of the latest books on the marketplace. //

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vennie

    I received this book from Goodreads about 2 weeks ago and totally enjoyed reading it.Ms. Biltekoff takes us through the history of food from the 1900s. It's clear and easy to read and the illustrations from our own USDA during the World War II years are quite entertaining and very interesting showing the change in food "attitudes" over the years. I left the book on the coffee table when I finished reading it and my friends have picked it up and began to read bits and pieces of it and it proved t I received this book from Goodreads about 2 weeks ago and totally enjoyed reading it.Ms. Biltekoff takes us through the history of food from the 1900s. It's clear and easy to read and the illustrations from our own USDA during the World War II years are quite entertaining and very interesting showing the change in food "attitudes" over the years. I left the book on the coffee table when I finished reading it and my friends have picked it up and began to read bits and pieces of it and it proved to be a great conversation starter as well. I believe it to be helpful in learning how to eat in a healthy way and I advise anyone who is looking for a new way of eating to pick up this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    A really incredible look into four different food-related movements across the 20th century, and the ways that they reveal more about the cultural values held by those in charge of the movements than they do about food practices themselves. I really really enjoyed this book- it was easy to read (I got through it in less than a day) and though it wasn't necessarily groundbreaking to me, the way things were explained was very simple and accessible. The chapter on "obesity" really was what knocked A really incredible look into four different food-related movements across the 20th century, and the ways that they reveal more about the cultural values held by those in charge of the movements than they do about food practices themselves. I really really enjoyed this book- it was easy to read (I got through it in less than a day) and though it wasn't necessarily groundbreaking to me, the way things were explained was very simple and accessible. The chapter on "obesity" really was what knocked it out of the park for me, and her very deliberate and careful pulling back of layers to reveal how class in particular shapes understandings around food (especially shoring up the boundaries of the middle class) are something I want every single person in my life to read. (But really, it's a bummer this isn't through a popular press because I want everyone to read it.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Max

    Cool research but soooo wimpy about stating the obvious conclusions the research implies

  5. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    **I received a review copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways** When I finished this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of a Chesterton quote I'm fond of: "Science must not impose any philosophy, any more than the telephone must tell us what to say." While this is true, nutritional science can be, and often is, used as a tool to impose philosophical, political, and cultural attitudes towards food and health on the population at large. I was especially concerned by the tendency of most of the **I received a review copy of this book from Goodreads giveaways** When I finished this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of a Chesterton quote I'm fond of: "Science must not impose any philosophy, any more than the telephone must tell us what to say." While this is true, nutritional science can be, and often is, used as a tool to impose philosophical, political, and cultural attitudes towards food and health on the population at large. I was especially concerned by the tendency of most of the nutritional reform movements studied to commodify the individual. The Progressive Era reformers, the World War II National Nutrition Conference for Defense, and the modern crusade against the "Obesity Epidemic" have all, in their various ways, attempted to get individuals to conform to a set of dietary ideals that prioritize their contribution to society as a collective whole. The latter two movements, driven as they are by governmental agencies and bureaucracies, seem especially pernicious. There is an air about them of Star Trek's Borg collective--"you will be assimilated." Though the book is a solid introduction to the topic, and encourages the reader to think critically about the implications of dietary advice beyond the strictly scientific, the description provided by the publisher made me expect more material than was actually covered. I found it a bit frustrating to have whole decades (particularly the 1950's and 1960's) skipped over, and only casually referenced when the occasion necessitated it, especially when developments during that span of time (for instance, the heyday of America's car culture and the birth of the fast food industry) would play a major role in later events, such as the campaign against obesity. In general, a little more depth and breadth would have been welcome. Finally, I found it a bit challenging at times to navigate the proof copy of the book, given that it lacks an index (though one is listed on the table of contents, so I imagine the readers of the finished volume will not share this difficulty).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Crafting a chronological historic narrative from the turn-of-the-century domestic science reformers and mid-century wartime nutrition programs to the late twentieth century's alternative food movement and anti-obesity campaign, Biltekoff presents an engaging, provocative, and highly readable argument about the cultural politics of dietary reform efforts to get Americans to "eat right." Revealing historical continuities in American sociocultural anxiety and aspiration that inspire specific dietar Crafting a chronological historic narrative from the turn-of-the-century domestic science reformers and mid-century wartime nutrition programs to the late twentieth century's alternative food movement and anti-obesity campaign, Biltekoff presents an engaging, provocative, and highly readable argument about the cultural politics of dietary reform efforts to get Americans to "eat right." Revealing historical continuities in American sociocultural anxiety and aspiration that inspire specific dietary interest and change, she reveals how dietary reform is continually enacted to shape particular types of citizens and enforces class-based hierarchies. This is an important, interdisciplinary work that contributes to the academic fields of American studies, critical nutrition studies, science and technology studies, food studies, and fat studies. In providing a nuanced historical account of the social and cultural construction of dietary advice, Biltekoff's work will hopefully encourage those in nutrition, public health, and medicine to ponder not only the empirical, but also the ethical and moral rules wrapped up in dietary advice. A longer review is available on my blog: "Before You Set a New Years Resolution, Read Eating Right in America."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is a great overview about the shifting politics of diets, nutrition, and "health" in American society, written in clear crisp prose and impeccably researched. Writing from the inspiration point of Perfection Salad, Biltekoff wants to expose the "cultural politics" at the core of how we talk about eating right or improving eating habits, especially how righteous eating is an expression of virtuous characters or moral righteousness. By foregrounding the concept that all dietary reform movemen This is a great overview about the shifting politics of diets, nutrition, and "health" in American society, written in clear crisp prose and impeccably researched. Writing from the inspiration point of Perfection Salad, Biltekoff wants to expose the "cultural politics" at the core of how we talk about eating right or improving eating habits, especially how righteous eating is an expression of virtuous characters or moral righteousness. By foregrounding the concept that all dietary reform movements are discourses in social and cultural norms, particularly those around citizenship and responsibility, Biltekoff makes a valuable contribution to how we think about dietary choice as a political choice, fraught with major implications and associations around belonging, contagion, and acceptability in the United States. In the course of her five chapters, she discusses a huge range of topics, from the emergence of home economics as a way to standardize concepts of proper cooking and nurturing (especially among women) to the national anxieties around diet in wartime (what made strong bodies as what made strong citizens) to the push for an ethics of food that pursued pleasure alongside environmental responsibility (the potentially elitist Berkeley bubble of Pollan, Waters, Bussow and others), to the anxieties around obesity and diet in the late 1990s to present. Given these periods she covers, it is surprising that her intervention with fat studies does not become more present in more of these chapters—one has to wonder how changing notions of beauty and desirable body type, as well as discussions of what kind of bodies were burdens on the healthcare system, shaped these notions of dietary reform. Additionally, it is surprising that she skips entirely over the discourses around diet in the 1950s and 60s, an era in which the new post-war abundance of cheaper food (especially meat) redefined diet as an expression of class and particularly of gender. Nevertheless, I admire the thoroughness of her argument and her engagement with the rich political discourses inherent to this subject.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bernard Lavallée

    As a food reformer myself (dietitian), this book made me think a LOT about the nutritional messages we convey as if they were neutral and objective, because they are derived from science, but are actually full of meaning. I found it fascinating to see that since the beginning of the nutrition science field, "Eating right" has been about cultural values and morality. The author's thesis is convincing and very well documented. This is definitely a must for anyone giving advices about eating right. As a food reformer myself (dietitian), this book made me think a LOT about the nutritional messages we convey as if they were neutral and objective, because they are derived from science, but are actually full of meaning. I found it fascinating to see that since the beginning of the nutrition science field, "Eating right" has been about cultural values and morality. The author's thesis is convincing and very well documented. This is definitely a must for anyone giving advices about eating right.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Violet

    A compelling read about the ways in which food and health are closely tied to one's place within American society. Biltekoff tethers multiple studies, ads and government initiatives together to uncover the growing distance between the healthy upper class and the unrestrained "bad eaters" of the lower classes. A compelling read about the ways in which food and health are closely tied to one's place within American society. Biltekoff tethers multiple studies, ads and government initiatives together to uncover the growing distance between the healthy upper class and the unrestrained "bad eaters" of the lower classes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lindy

    Biltekoff clearly and concisely lays out how determining what is considered to be a "good" diet has always been a social, political, and moral process. I would recommend this book to public health, nutrition, and other food-adjacent professionals. Biltekoff clearly and concisely lays out how determining what is considered to be a "good" diet has always been a social, political, and moral process. I would recommend this book to public health, nutrition, and other food-adjacent professionals.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joan

    Good summary of dominant culture history...there needs to be more cultural explorations of people of colors’ experiences...which she suggests at the end, but this book is not complete without it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    Very interesting perspective on the way we talk about diet and health. She describes the early "domestic science" movement, the evolving idea of nutrition through WWII, and concludes with an analysis of the current "war on obesity." She argues that our definitions of health and overweight are arbitrary and used to delineate class values. The middle class elite use a specific type of diet and weight to define "health" and Otherize minorities and the poor who do not fit the bill. Interesting remin Very interesting perspective on the way we talk about diet and health. She describes the early "domestic science" movement, the evolving idea of nutrition through WWII, and concludes with an analysis of the current "war on obesity." She argues that our definitions of health and overweight are arbitrary and used to delineate class values. The middle class elite use a specific type of diet and weight to define "health" and Otherize minorities and the poor who do not fit the bill. Interesting reminder that food and diet are driven by lots of cultural and social factors other than pure biomedical needs, but I don't think she properly addresses the very real issues that obesity causes for many people (diabetes, heart diesase, etc.).

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    Biltekoff, reading some of the same things that I've read, noticed the similar value judgments in nutritional advice over the decades - from the home economics movement to Alice Waters.. This came from a dissertation and has that feel, but I would still recommend it for anyone interested in food history. Biltekoff, reading some of the same things that I've read, noticed the similar value judgments in nutritional advice over the decades - from the home economics movement to Alice Waters.. This came from a dissertation and has that feel, but I would still recommend it for anyone interested in food history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    Review to come. Very interesting analysis and expansion, I'm impressed, though I almost wish this book were longer! Definitely would make for interesting conversations on cultural expansion, consumption and health in different spectrums. Review to come. Very interesting analysis and expansion, I'm impressed, though I almost wish this book were longer! Definitely would make for interesting conversations on cultural expansion, consumption and health in different spectrums.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ariadna73

    Could not read this book because the public libraries where I requested it mysteriously got rid of all the copies with no explanations. This happened all over the County, so I suppose it is a very bad influence or a dammed book or something :-(

  16. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ed Burke

  18. 4 out of 5

    chaniqua

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dani

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Uyat

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rose

  22. 4 out of 5

    Serena

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Simpson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kim

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Laplante

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Dietterich

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robbie Fee

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