Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I (heart) Alberta Beef

Weight Log: 222 lb

Look I am not a conspiracy theorist – let’s just get that out of the way! I know and love many farmers and related industry workers. I would never suggest that the public was conspired against to ease the effects of mad cow disease (especially on Alberta farmers where over 40% of Canadian cattle reside). With that disclaimer out of the way let me suggest something interesting in the coincidence of recent history. Notice if you will what seemed like a largely uncorrelated coincidence at the time – namely the popularity of an old weight loss diet developed by Dr. Robert Atkins and the height of the mad cow crisis in North America. Both of these phenomenon occurred concurrently in 2003.

At its height, the Atkins diet controversial as it may have been, had 1 in every 11 Americans using its prescriptions in order to lose weight. Popularly understood to be the meat diet – this program based its low-carb. plan on science that supported a protein rich nutritional intake that would inevitably reduce weight. It is more than a little interesting that mad cow disease reared its ugly head during this time as well.

Mad cow disease arrived largely due to the practice of feeding beef to beef. In other words, left over bits of animal (especially the nervous system tissues) were incorporated into the feed that other beef animals were given to eat. Since the original flesh was contaminated with the disease – the feed was also contaminated and then so were the animals that ate the feed. As a result whole herds of animals were exterminated in order to insure the safety of North American food supply. Borders between countries were closed to exports and imports of beef products. And there arose a substantial protest movement in Alberta and other places that sought to support the crashing beef industry. The ubiquitous I (heart) Alberta Beef signs seemed to spread like chicken pox on a toddler. In the end a number of beef producers were forced into a position of bankruptcy despite the rallies and barbeques and prayer meetings.

It is more than a little ironic that a diet plan advocating meat/protein thrived in a period in recent history when a major source of meat in North America was experiencing turmoil. The question is not about whether the beef industry orchestrated this coincidence of history – I will leave that to other more pedantic speculators…

What appears as interesting is when you ask a question like: Was choosing the Atkins diet in ‘03/’04 a political act of support for the beef industry or a desire on the part of individuals to lose weight? In other words, were individuals choosing to go on the Atkins diet because they wanted to show solidarity with the beef industry or was a it an attempt to configure their lives and body images toward the conventions of society? A fairly cursory survey of the research suggest that no such study has ever been conducted so we are only left with speculation. But the actual result of such a study are not critical to be able to ask some significant questions about the collision of these two phenomenon on the socio-political scene.

In what ways can our choice of food resist the impending peril that is understood to be available in that type of food? If one in every 11 Americans were on that diet we can surmise that a substantial number of Americans were either completely oblivious to the potential dangers in the food they were eating or were willing to accept the risk associated with eating this type of food. In either case one might wonder what it was about the power of the Atkins diet that could produce such a great affinity for its weight loss plan. What narrative explanation was at work in allowing both protest rallies and diet adherents to forgo the warnings of substantial regulatory bodies in eating meat? The answer here might give us a clue about the ways in which resistance is meaningfully constructed on a social basis. This might allow us to unravel other ways that social resistance is constructed and maintained.

Daniel Miller in “Stuff” talks about the idea of resistance.

“When someone tell us we should do this or that, we bridle and feel put upon. When this message is carried, not by a hectoring voice, but well hidden within the mere substance of apparently hidden stuff, we are less likely to sense our disempowerment.” – p.82


i'm jenivere... said...

It seems to me that most of the people I know who loved Atkins latched on b/c they were told they could eat ridiculous amounts of bacon and still lose weight.

Increasing... said...

ah bacon - the condiment of the gods - hehe
that gives me an idea...