Eating Right in America

The Cultural Politics of Food and Health

Eating Right in America

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 25 photographs Published: October 2013

American Studies, Cultural Studies > Food Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

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.


“Biltekoff . . . raises important questions about the national dialogue on eating right. . . . Biltekoff effectively forges connections between this extreme and the current craze for organic food and the obesity epidemic. The author shows, carefully and explicitly, that even the most virtuous approaches to healthful eating are based, sometimes unconsciously, in shaming and class and racial biases.” — Publishers Weekly

"Eating Right in America achieves its mission to encourage readers to reconsider what we think we know about nutrition science, dietary advice, and health, as well as how they operate within American culture. This is a book to press eagerly into the hands of any nutrition student or dietetics professional, so that they may first consider and then transform the social messages that are included in the dietary advice that they impart." — Emily J.H. Contois, Digest

“I underscore this work as a fruitful site for future scholarship expanding upon … Biltekoff’s foundational historical illuminations.” — Rachel A. Vaughn, American Studies

"[A] magnificent book that successfully accomplishes the often-difficult balance between academic rigor, general accessibility, and social advocacy . . . This is an important book that will find particular enthusiasm among historians of food, fat studies, science, medicine, and consumption." — Adam D. Shprintzen, Journal of American History

“Overall, Biltekoff’s investigation of dietary reform in the last century is powerfully critical and an important reminder of how the politics of food and health are arteries to the politics of class, gender, and economics.” — Dustin Freeley, Journal of American Culture

"The book presents an important, timely reflection on the dietary discourse in the USA, contributing to the fields of food studies, nutrition, public health and the emerging fat studies." — Melissa Fuster, Global Public Health

Eating Right in America is a welcome addition to the field of food studies. It directs a critical—but not wholly unkind—eye to the various ways that dietary reformers in America have encouraged eating ‘‘right,’’ and it very clearly makes its argument that discourses on food and nutrition reflect understandings of good citizenship and class membership, not simply the most up-to-date science of diet and health.” — Dory Kornfeld, Agriculture and Human Values

“People should read food package labels to assess the information provided. But one should also read this excellent book to gain insight into the forces that help people in “eating right.” Summing Up: Recommended.” — M. Kroger, Choice

“Biltekoff’s book is admirable for its carefully worded prose, refined arguments, and attentiveness to changes in the field of nutritional science. It is evident that she made great e!orts to cohere her arguments and data, and the result is a book with memorable takeaway concepts.” — Julie Guthman, Journal of American Studies

“Charlotte Biltekoff spells out in great and fine detail how the science of race improvement, Malthusian economics, and an obsession for producing healthy (and fat) babies merged into a post–World War II world of the ultrathin driven by ideologies of health and religion. . . . I am delighted that Charlotte Biltekoff and Duke University Press have confronted the claims of how we must make better citizens in our fantasy of how they should be made to eat.” — Sander Gilman, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Eating Right in America will be sure to spark discussion, perhaps over a healthy meal." — Anne Meis Knupfer, American Historical Review

"Well-written, thoughtful, and provocative.... Her work will serve as a jumping-off point for more exploration of what the millions of people affected by dietary reform thought about it and, perhaps even more fundamentally, how they ate differently, or did not, as a result. Eating Right in America should get food scholars, and everyone else, thinking and talking." — Helen Zoe Veit, Gastronomica

"Eating Right in America is a must-read for anyone interested in modern dietary reform. I say that as a scholar who has studied the subject for more than twenty-five years. This concise, well-researched, and provocative book is an instructor's dream, and it is certainly a book that every student and practitioner of nutrition, dietetics, and food science should read and ponder." — Warren Belasco, author of Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food

"This is the book I dreamed of—without having the grown-up words for it—when I was a chubby little kid who rode her bike everywhere and ate her veggies and still got picked on for being fat. A brilliant, intersectional analysis and a thoroughly enjoyable read, Eating Right brings long-overdue skepticism to the insalubrious history of food– and weight–related finger wagging in America." — Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO?


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Figures viii

1. The Cultural Politics of Dietary Health 1

2. Scientific Moralization and the Beginning of Modern Dietary Reform 13

3. Anxiety and Aspiration on the Nutrition Front 45

4. From Microscopes to "Macroscopes" 80

5. Thinness as Health, Self-Control, and Citizenship 109

6. Connecting the Dots: Dietary Reform Past, Present, and Future 150

Notes 157

Bibliography 185

Acknowledgments 199

Index 203
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5559-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5544-1
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