Accepted Paper:

One supersize does not fit all: flap versus Mac in the ethics of personal consumption  


Deborah Gewertz (Amherst College)
Frederick Errington (Trinity College)

Paper short abstract:

We compare two icons of over-eating, the (late) King of Tonga (who was once 462 pounds) and Morgan Spurlock (who once gained 24.5 pounds on a 30-day McDonald’s regimen). Our goal is to explore the ethics of personal consumption in arguments concerning state intervention to reduce obesity.

Paper long abstract:

In writing about the trade of lamb/mutton flaps (sheep bellies -- about 50% fat) from New Zealand and Australia to (the likes of) Papua New Guinea and Tonga, we have encountered debates about how to counter the problem of obesity in the Pacific Islands (and, indeed, throughout the world). One response against state intervention was recently expressed by New Zealand's National Party (which favors free trade and opposes "political correctness"): "the emphasis should be on the practical approaches that change attitudes to food and exercise." Similarly, the U.S.-based Center for Consumer Freedom expressed commitment to the "right of adults and parents to choose what they eat, drink, and how they enjoy themselves." In such views, information should preclude regulation: informed consumers will make appropriate food choices without the demeaning supervision of the "nanny state." Interestingly, we find the same perspective expressed by food writers who appear to have a very different politics than the National Party and the CCF. Thus, Michael Pollan, in his "eater's manifesto," offers the advice necessary to make (really) good choices: food should not be provided by multinational corporations; should be eaten in moderation; should be mostly vegetables. In this paper, we discuss this politics of personal choice. In particular, we compare the choices (apparently) made by the late King of Tonga, once the world’s heaviest monarch at 462 pounds, and those made by Morgan Spurlock, once the icon of fast-food diets having gained 24.5 pounds on a 30-day regimen of McDonald’s meals.

Panel W001
Ethical consumption: consumers and producers, markets and ethics