Accepted Paper:

Digestion as cultural critique: mainstream American culture and US 'drop out' diets  


Lucy Pickering (The University of Glasgow)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on the diets of US 'drop outs' in Hawai'i, in this paper I explore their critique of over-processing food embodied through diet and from this identify over-processing as the centrally defining characteristic of what they see as mainstream American culture.

Paper long abstract:

The words 'mainstream American culture' (MAC) evoke images of shopping malls, cheerleaders and baseball, hotdogs, burgers and apple pie. In this paper I bring into view the culinary dimension of MAC through ethnography with white, middle-class Americans brought up in the West Coast suburbs. However, I explore not the practices of generating MAC through cuisine itself, but rather through its radical critique. For the people whose diets and culinary attitudes I discuss here 'dropped out' of what they saw as 'mainstream America[n culture]' to live its 'counterculture' in rural Hawai'i. It is through this digestive critique that that their particular vision of MAC comes into view.

The range of diets practiced by Hawai'i drop outs was wide, and I focus here on the two most common: raw foodism and food combining. Both utilised very different visions of human physiology, yet I argue that what united them was a shared emphasis on minimising processing. Practitioners of these diets undertook to eat only raw food or to separate out fruit, carbohydrate and protein foods in order to reduce the strain placed upon the digestive tract; in order to minimise, I argue, the processing of food not only in cultivation and meal preparation but also digestion. It is this which is the site of radical, embodied critique of MAC. Drawing on Levi-Strauss' culinary triangle I argue that these diets highlight what this group of 'drop outs' saw as the centrally defining characteristic of MAC: over-processed, over-cooked food for an over-processed, over-cooked culture.

Panel W119
Anthropologists from abroad study mainstream American culture (MAC workshop I)