Profile picture
Kivan @KivaBay
, 93 tweets, 12 min read Read on Twitter
Let's do this! You voted to read about "food as race, diet racism" so that's what this thread is about
So, I'm going to start by sharing a long quote from Farrell's Fat Shame that relates to a point I shared in this thread about phrenology, where I mentioned black people are associated with fat because it's considered an atavism
"In 1864, one of the earliest anti-fat physicians, Dr. Watson Bradshaw, wrote that in "advanced nations" (and by these he meant England, the United States, and France) a "multipled chin and an abdomen of enormous periphery do not entitled the possessor of any distinction."
"He compared this to "primitive cultures" where, he argued, a big stomach continued to bestow cultural status. In the early 20th century, an American physician, Dr. Leonard Williams, also pointed to the supposed link between civilization and obesity:
""It is to be admitted that there exists a settled belief among the uneducated, and even among many of the educated, that it is a man's duty to eat as much as he possibly can, in order to keep up his strength.
"This probably reaches back to the most primitive days when food was scarce and its enjoyment intermittent."
"According to this theory, lower-class people harbored unconscious memories of famine and hunger, thus prompting them to eat in excess even in times of plenty.
"In contrast, wealthy people literally had this tendency to enjoy food in great quantities "bred out" of them.
"Williams went on to explain that men of "savage tribes" preferred women who were fat and round; in England and the United States, however, Williams noted approvingly, women were fighting their "endocrinal" tendency to gain weight
"because they knew that fat women were "repulsive sights, degrading alike to their sex and civilization."
"Harry Finck's popular 1923 dieting book Girth Control took up a similar refrain to that of Williams and Bradshaw.
"In elaborate detail Finck described the various fattening processes [put a pin in this. -k] and beauty standards of fat appreciation among Africans, Polynesians, the Turkish, and the Aborigines of Australia.
"In his list of those who valued fat, however, no European or "Western" countries we're included.
"Indeed, he quickly reminded his readers that they were "modern British and American citizens" whose "standards of good looks are different from those of Hottentots, Moors, and Turks" (pg 59).
Let's start breaking this down! So to, say, 19th c Protestants, the idea was that fat was the sign of a bad body because it was the sign of a gluttonous body, and gluttony is a sin or whatever, right?
But we can also see science and philosophy's footprints on this matter, because they had already been linking being fat with race, using it to describe and designate races viewed as "inferior"
"In other words," says Farrell, "fat was not white" (60).
We'll take a short break here and then I'll yell about Aristotle
In the break, a brief reminder: "white" isn't actually a real thing. It's a power structure, not actually a culture or ethnicity. So when Farrell says fat isn't white, what Farrell means is that the construction of whiteness depends on the abjection of raced fat.
This thread talks about fat abjection too and should give you a general understanding that we'll build on
How are we doing? This all pretty easy to absorb?
I know we're building off other stuff we already talked about so if I forget to link back to an earlier explainer thread, let me know
Okay so Western philosophers had this boner for Aristotle's Great Chain of Being, right? They categorized everything from dirt and rocks to animals to people along this kinda pyramid, with Western Dudes at the top, closest to God's idea of perfect.
And they considered domestication closer to Godliness, right? Farrell again: "Within each group, differentiations of gradations existed; for instance, philosophers placed some animals, such as domesticated cats and horses, higher on the list than wild bores or rats" (61).
Not surprisingly, the people making these lists tended to put themselves at the top of the list, at the top of the gradations. In short, Western white men considered themselves number one.

Let us pause here to talk about jellyfish.
In Daniel Quinn's book Ishmael, a story is shared at one point about an anthropologist who is interviewing a jellyfish about their creation myth. The jellyfish is offended at the implication that it is a myth, but shares anyway.
So the jellyfish brags that they are a "strictly rational people, who accept nothing that is not based on observation, logic, and the scientific method."
So the anthropologist asks if life started in the sea or on the land and the jellyfish is annoyed and confused because it doesn't know what land is beyond just the rim of the world, so the jellyfish dismisses it
The jellyfish explains, "For many millions of centuries the life of the world was merely microorganisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes, algae, polyps, and so on."
"But finally," the creature said, turning quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, "but finally jellyfish appeared!"
We can use the absurdity of this story to frame these philosophical beliefs about ethnic superiority, the belief that it was rational, not based in myths, and our assuredness that we knew the whole of the world. This fundamentally ridiculous arrogance is white Western culture.
SO, Westerners had solidified their classification of fat as other, raced, atavistic, and degenerate as we moved into the 20th century. This is where we'll explore more of those social gradations
So white women were expected to maintain this balancing act between not too thin and not too fat, in order to appeal to the "average" working class man. This created another boundary of expectation for the newly burgeoning white middle class.
The idea was that the "old money" rich had like better breeding, better genes. This was represented in media by them being thin, uninterested in the rich foods surrounding them.
The "new rich", however, were represented as having poorer breeding, as having genes that were less civilized, which meant they were often represented as fat, unable to handle the sudden access to food and leisure
This gradation of class was (and is) important in the securing of white capitalist power. Because if you think they thought fat white people had bad breeding, let me tell you that was only a fraction of the loathing they felt for the breeding and genes of black and brown people.
White men were expected to discipline the fat white female in order to save her from the creeping contamination of a fat that was not white, a fat that was linked with racist ideas of fat, overly sexual black women, who philosophers had already placed LOW on the list.
Concepts of contamination vs beauty here
To white culture, the black woman is fat because she is black and therefore uncivilized. The fat white woman is fat because she is uncivilized, and therefore closer to blackness
I say "the black woman" and not "the fat black woman" because of the media representation of black women at the time was almost universally as fat. The "mammy" stereotype and "Jezebel" stereotype are two sides of the fat coin- unsexed and oversexed, giving and greedy.
Let's take another break here and then we'll move into some Chamberlain, then finish with a little Shugart I think.
Check in time. Any questions so far?
Where were we? Oh yes. The pit of despair.
So to understand this next part about immigrants, I think this quote from Patricia Hill Collins is extremely beneficial.
"Whites and Blacks thus represent two ends of a racial continuum, with one end populated by un-raced White *individuals*, and the other occupied by an intensely raced Black *group*.
"Latinos, Asians, and racial/ethnic immigrant groups jockey for a place between these two poles, forced to position themselves between the social meanings attached to White and Black—
"in this case, the beneficial treatment afforded individuals and the discrimination and stigma attached to Blacks as a derogated racial group" (2006, p 179).
Now, let's return to Farrell with another long quote
"Within the hierarchy of civilization articulated by anthropologists and sociologists at the turn of the century ... white Anglo-Saxons held the position of most civilized, and indigenous and African peoples the position of the least civilized.
"While all Europeans held higher positions than the "Hottentots" or "Moors" within this line of thinking, there was certainly skepticism about the culture and nature of Irish, eastern European, Jewish, and southern European immigrants.
"Within the context of increased waves of immigration from southern and eastern Europe and migration from the U.S. South, nativist critics and health professionals argued that everything from health and fortitude to intelligence and character were inherited traits,
"in low supply among the immigrants and migrants, and in high supply among native-born Americans of northern European stock.
"There was significant attention paid to those supposed signs that would clarify the identity of the "superior" from the "inferior", the "civilized" from the "primitive", or, to use Lombroso's terms, the "normal" from the "atavistic" (p 75-76).
So basically new immigrants were seen as inferior, which put them on that continuum further away from "white". Over time, a lot of them were assimilated into whiteness, like say Germans and Irish immigrants
This doesn't mean that they were treated "like black people" but rather that they were placed lower on that list we talked about earlier because they were thoughts to be more like black people. They weren't black, but had "atavisms" that made them "closer to black"
Work done during the first and second world war classified the immigrant body as "other", a classification that was justified by studies of fatness in immigrant children, notably Jewish and Italian children as in the case of Bruch's work
During this time, concerns about military readiness as related to masculinity began to obsess people. This continued into the fifties and sixties, leading to the creation of the Presidential fitness test
These two things together created a hostile environment to immigrant food, particularly to the food of Latinx immigrants, asnoted by Chamberlain in her essay on Acosta in Bodies Out of Bounds
"The more interesting point to be made is that in the 1950s this medical concern about Acosta's size gets couched in nationalistic language because he is Mexican American.
"His mother, who "has been on a diet all [her] life" and "has a definite concern about people being overweight" (73), is the target of the message that the social and scientific reformers of the 1950s were pushing to Mexican American mothers.
"Not only is obesity a sickness, it reflects on one's citizenship. The right kind of food in the right portions are the key to sound national identities.
"To promote better health, Americanization programs taught Mexican American mothers to substitute white bread for tortillas, green lettuce for frijoles, and boiled meat for fried meat.
"But they also warned immigrants choose "white" foods because, as one later critic noted, "eating un-American foods [i.e., spicy, exotic foods] could be interpreted as a protest."
"Mainstream foods were less threatening as well as supposedly less fattening.
"Of course, the historian George Sánchez correctly points our that these "patriotic" American foods were also more expensive" (101).
This is an example of diet racism, diet and fear of fat being weaponized as a tool of assimilation to degrade and erase culture
The threat depends on the linking of fat to the continuum of race. The brown or black child MUST lose fat to distance themselves from the negative treatment, the stigma of their race. They must avoid being a "stereotype", and thus are under increased pressure to be thin
What is so foul is that the "stereotype" was created by white people looking to make themselves seem better than black people. The entire system of fat hate is white created, white controlled. It is a function of racism.
We'll take another break here, then Shugart I think.
(sorry this is so long, I just want to make sure I'm thorough in this explanation because it's a complicated topic)
How're we doing? Almost done here. Any questions so far?
Okay, let's now take everything we've learned in this thread and apply it to understanding the construction of the contemporary narrative of fatness in the American south. We're really doin it! You are all champions for making it this far!
Often, when the specter of the "obesity epidemic" in America is raised, it is particularly focused on race, whether that be fatness rates in Indigenous, Latinx, or Black populations.
The reason for this seems rational. These populations are fat at a higher rate, for reasons that are multitudinous. Food deserts, income inequality, and time poverty, as well as environmental factors exert influence over this so that identifying a single "reason" is impossible.
However, this doesn't stop white people from constructing oft repeated narratives that reveal deeper anxieties about Black populations and fatness.
For instance, in Heavy, Shugart notes (text in caption) The specter of Black womanhood is further invoked, if implicitly, in another prevalent—and surprising—pattern of coverage: that is, the Southern diet is seamlessly and wholly attributed to Black Southerners. This is a rather novel turn
Shugart is describing a trend in media coverage of rates of fatness in the American south to flatten all Southern food to Soul food, the cultural cuisine of the Black South that is itself plagued with descrptions with racist language of being made from "throw away" food.
(This trend of describing soul food in this way deliberately erases its roots in many different African, South American, and Carribean cuisines)
Shugart also shows how stories also attribute fried fish directly to the Black population in order to responsibilize Black cuisine for white southern fatness Similarly, a few stories cite a study that attributes fried fish, a widely prevalent Southern offering, to African Americans. The distinction between Southern food and soul food is effectively erased in contemporary coverage of obesity; although this surfaces a historically erased population in contemporary imaginaries of the South, it appears to do so only to place high rates of Southern obesity at its feet— (cont)
(caption finish, didn't have enough room) to articulate it as "the bane" of health in relation to obesity.
Shugart then breaks down how contemporary media coverage of Black Southern fatness also heavily utilizes the narrative that black people don't understand fatness, that they (mis)perceive fatness and must be taught (implicitly white) dietary control.
Some examples of this are white narratives that black women experience less pressure to diet because black men prefer fat women. There's a lot of racism to unpack there!
What we can see these narratives are dependent on the same narratives that posit Black culture as "primitive", and this being reflected on "uncivilized" black bodies via the "atavism" of fatness
The narrative depends on the idea that black people are unable to understand due to their inferior food culture how to feed themselves properly and require the Intervention of white people to teach them how to properly care for themselves
It both derogates and infantilizes as a narrative! It's really bad!
This also is a rationalizing tactic of white appropriation of soul food! The "good" thin white body is allowed to consume and resell soul food because it is the "civilized" body marked by discipline.
By contrast, the "bad" fat black body is seen as out of control, in need of guidance, and inferior for eating and god forbid selling soul food
This is some of the ways that fat hate and diet culture are both created by and used by white supremacist systems of racism.
I'm sorry this thread took so long! Like I mentioned, it's a complicated topic and I wanted to cover it thoroughly. Thank you all for letting me learn with you!
Wow this took five hours.

You all are the real mvps for letting me go on and on
Oh, this whole thing should be searchable under the #fatstudygroup as the diet racism thread
We didn't discuss this thread but I consider it an important structural piece of this explanation btw
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Kivan
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!