Metabolic Living

Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India

Metabolic Living

Critical Global Health: Evidence, Efficacy, Ethnography

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Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: May 2016

Author: Harris Solomon

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Medicine and Health

The popular narrative of "globesity" posits that the adoption of Western diets is intensifying obesity and diabetes in the Global South and that disordered metabolisms are the embodied consequence of globalization and excess. In Metabolic Living Harris Solomon recasts these narratives by examining how people in Mumbai, India, experience the porosity between food, fat, the body, and the city. Solomon contends that obesity and diabetes pose a problem of absorption between body and environment. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Mumbai's home kitchens, metabolic disorder clinics, food companies, markets, and social services, he details the absorption of everything from snack foods and mangoes to insulin, stress, and pollutants. As these substances pass between the city and the body and blur the two domains, the onset and treatment of metabolic illness raise questions about who has the power to decide what goes into bodies and when food means life. Evoking metabolism as a condition of contemporary urban life and a vital political analytic, Solomon illuminates the lived predicaments of obesity and diabetes, and reorients our understanding of chronic illness in India and beyond.


"Arguing that metabolic disease only makes sense meta-metabolically, Harris’s important new book helps us to understand that governing from the inside out leaves a lot to be desired." — Ed Cohen, Somatosphere

"Solomon’s 'metabolic living' provides an indispensable guide to tracking and comprehending how processes of bodily absorption and rejection begin well before a cargo container is packed, a plane boards or, to be sure, a morsel of food is forked." — Heather Paxson, Somatosphere

"Metabolic Living is an important contribution to contemporary medical anthropology, especially in regards to the study of disease chronicity and to contemporary South Asian studies. In addition, Solomon provides a welcome challenge to the existing universalizing public health discourse on 'globesity.' Even while describing the seeming inevitability of metabolic disease in Mumbai, he uncovers the complex elements of social life that contribute to and circulate around it, and the suffering that stems from it. The focus on metabolism and absorption opens up new ways of viewing intersections between bodies and their environments, as well as new ways of thinking about urban vitality in 21st century India." — Andrea S. Wiley, Anthropological Quarterly

"The book offers a novel way to talk about metabolic illnesses in urban space, often directly or indirectly talking back to medical and public health discourses on food, bodies, and urban and urbanizing spaces.... The poetic humanity of metabolic precariousness in India is visible in every page of this rich ethnographic narrative, making it a valuable contribution to literatures in medical anthropology, science studies, area studies, food studies, and public health policy." — Nayantara Sheoran Appleton, Medical Anthropology Quarterly

“A wonderfully evocative ethnography, Solomon’s book makes one reflect on the very nature of metabolic syndrome.... Through this book, Solomon ... challeng[es] medical experts to consider a multi-layered approach to solving the issues of obesity and diabetes that plague contemporary India." — Gauri Anilkumar Pitale, FoodAnthropology

"Pointing out that food is never just food—that it incorporates joyous and toxic social lives and historical traces—the book effectively shifts the conversation about metabolism away from junk food or obese bodies and towards absorptive and thoroughly social processes. Metabolic Living provides health-care professionals valuable insight into how people are living with metabolic illness." — Emily Yates-Doerr, The Lancet

"In the sophistication of its crafting, Metabolic Living achieves its tricky aspiration to understand metabolism both as a tool for ethnographic observation and as a site of anthropological analysis. Indeed, it is this blurring of instrument and object, the ethnographer and the ethnographic, that gives Metabolic Living its persuasive force." — Dwaipayan Banerjee, American Anthropologist

"This study is an excellent observation of current anxieties over prosperity diseases in urban India, locating the connections between food, bodies, and environments. While Solomon’s ethnographical accounts revolve around different sets of frameworks and narrations of common people, patients, nutritionists and experts, he cautiously avoided stigmatic fears and pain and presented metabolic suffering throughout within a cultural context." — Santhosh Abraham, South Asia Research

"Solomon takes us through domestic kitchens and social service centers, slaughterhouses and food processing plants, streets and street-side food stalls, and waiting rooms and hospitals to provide nuanced and insightful descriptions of life in Mumbai." — GauriI Pathak, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Metabolic Living is the ?rst ethnographic monograph on the diabetes epidemic in South Asia, and this alone marks it as an important contribution to the study of health and illness in the subcontinent. It also provides an evocative and complex picture of being a person with a metabolic illness in Mumbai."
  — Lesley Jo Weaver, Journal of Asian Studies

"Metabolic Living is a rich, ambitious book whose theoretical and ethnographic model builds bridges across chapters with disparate topics and actors. . . . For readers curious about how to research and write the complexities of embodiment – and are open to experimenting with how to get there – Metabolic Living is a productive and exhilarating read." — Stephanie Maroney, Senses and Society

"An important contribution to medical anthropology, urban studies and food studies." — Ishita Dey, Contributions to Indian Sociology

"Solomon’s book is compelling, palpable in fact, in its stories about the invisible and ineluctable ways that medicines or contaminants enter foods and bodies. The ethnography brings the reader into environments that are dangerous and mundane, pleasurable, and unalterable. Metabolic Living brings into focus the ways that people navigate these dynamic alchemies." — Jessica Hardin, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Harris Solomon’s deft and beautifully written analysis makes a strong case for absorption as a key concept that will enable new understandings of global health and its politics; food and obesity as generative sites for reflection on complex transformation in urban India; and metabolism as a powerful figure for reanimating debate in science studies, medical and philosophical anthropology, and public health." — Lawrence Cohen, author of No Aging in India: Alzheimer's, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things

"As we travel the streets of Mumbai with Harris Solomon we come to understand the empirical complexity of any too-simple analysis of 'globesity' and discover that India's rising rates of obesity and metabolic disorders cannot be reduced to a problem of overeating. Solomon's writing is vivid, and he represents the dilemmas, resources, and popular cultures of contemporary India with sympathy, occasional humor, and considerable skill. This compelling and thought-provoking book will find eager audiences in medical anthropology, science studies, public health, and South Asian studies." — Rayna Rapp, author of Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Harris Solomon is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Global Health at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction  1

Interlude. Birthday Cakes  27

1. The Thin-Fat Indian  31

Interlude. Mango Madness  65

2. The Taste No Chef Can Give  69

Interlude. The Ration Card  99

3. Readying the Home  105

Interlude. Stamps  141

4. Lines of Therapy  145

Interlude. Waiting Room Walls  187

5. Gut Attachments  193

Conclusion. Metabolic Mumbai  225

Notes  235

Bibliography  253

Index  271
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Maldives & S. Asia, incl. Myanmar

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Co-Winner of the 2017 New Millennium Book Award, presented by the Society for Medical Anthropology section of the American Anthropological Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6101-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6087-2
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