Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Postmodern Dietetic: Reclaiming the Body through the Practice of Alimentary Freedom

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

Postmodern Dietetic: Reclaiming the Body through the Practice of Alimentary Freedom

Article excerpt

The National School Lunch Program (hereafter, NSLP) is a charitable and well-intentioned program that serves low-cost or free lunches each day to more than 31 million children in over 100,000 public schools, nonprofit private schools, and residential childcare institutions ("National School Lunch Program," 2011). For most children living in poverty in major U.S. cities, it is the primary source of daily nutrition. In short, school lunch has become an immensely popular form of social welfare and a premiere poverty program in the United States (Levine, 2008).

Despite its pro-social intentions, NSLP has received quite a lot of criticism as of late. Professional organizations (e.g., Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, American Medical Association) have suggested that school lunches consist of too many processed foods, often ignore federal caloric guidelines, and contribute to childhood obesity. Likewise, popular media have entered the fray, underscoring the ostensible arbitrariness of school lunch standards through tasty bits of lunacy that are devoured by a voracious, if perhaps bemused, public. In one case, a preschooler at West Hoke Elementary in Raeford, North Carolina, had her homemade turkey sandwich confiscated by a school official, who reported that the sandwich did not meet state dietary guidelines, at which point the girl was made to eat the school's chicken nuggets as a suitable alternative (Burrows, 2012). Even celebrity chefs have become critics, with perhaps the prime example being Jamie Oliver, who once poured ammonia on beef trimmings in order to illustrate--in, I might add, a rather erroneous way--the production of Finely Textured Lean Beef, which is commonly known under its dysphemism, "Pink Slime" ("Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: Pink Slime," 2011). School lunch has received scholarly criticism as well, with most studies focusing on the lack of nutritious foods being served to children and the deplorable consequences for health (see, for example, Briefel, Wilson, & Gleason, 2009; Condon, Crepinsek, & Fox, 2009; Gordon, Devaney, & Burghardt, 1995).

While such critiques and studies have merit, I believe when we focus on lunch through the phenomenological prisms of nutrition and health, we limit our ability to conceptualize lunch in new ways. As such, this work will seek to problematize different dimensions of lunch and to open up new theoretical spaces for the investigation of lunch. In particular, I will explore the lunchroom as a site of disciplinary power, seeking to evince technologies of force that effectuate obedient and efficient eaters, and examine the ontological status of school food as an epiphenomenon of our spectacularized foodscape. Finally, I will sketch the contours of an ameliorant--alimentary freedom, a rich and variegated project of the self that borrows liberally from the Greek concept of sophrosyne.

Fields and Technologies of Power

Apposite to lunch we have many imbricated fields of power. We have, for example, a field of governmentality, which is a broad space of organizing practices that reveals itself, for example, in a rationalized school framework. Then, too, we have disciplining practices--those repetitive exercises that shape and normalize the body, mind, and soul of the subject. We even have a space for technologies of the self, those self-directed operations that enable the individual to engage in sundry sorts of self-transformations. In the present essay, I will concentrate primarily on the first two fields and the intentional deployment into them of ramified articulations of force--i.e., technologies of power--those strategic interventions "which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination" and effect an "objectivizing of the subject" (Foucault, 1988, p. 18). In this first section, I will attempt to unravel and denude these technologies, beginning in the field of governmentality. …

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