Chapter 8

‘We never eat like this at home’

Food on holiday

Janice Williams


THE SOCIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSICAL BODY: HEALTH AS CONTROL AND HEALTH AS RELEASE

Power would be a fragile thing if its only function were to repress…in a negative way. If, on the contrary, power is strong this is because…it produces effects at the level of desire.

(Foucault 1978:59)

In recent decades ‘health’ has increasingly become a matter not only of government campaigns but of mass and self-conscious preoccupation, so much so that Crawford (1984) states that in secular disenchanted western society it is for some tantamount to salvation; ‘health’ becomes no less than the measure of personhood. The biomedical definition of the self is encoded as a cultural program with health as its personal, medical and political objective’ (1984:62). While he locates the reasons for this ascendancy in a real and proper concern for depredations on the environment and a disillusionment with the possibilities of biomedicine, one of his main arguments is that ‘health’ has become increasingly seen as a matter for self-control and self-discipline, epitomised, for example, in the campaigns that we should smoke less, eat less red meat and take more exercise. Such a moralistic tenor of ‘health as self-control’ can be both self-validating and guilt-inducing. As Crawford shows from his interview material, those who judge themselves in such terms also judge others by the same criteria, so that those who do not conform are somehow deemed morally inferior. In western notions of self and personhood, ‘health’ thereby becomes a means for personal and social evaluation.

-151-

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