Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Food, politics and popular culture

Issues relating obesity, including access to healthy food, the cost of healthy food and access to opportunities for physical recreation are political- shaped by race, class and even gender. In the case of obesity for example, men are consistently more vulnerable than women across Canada, the United States and Australia. One of the great exceptions to this rule occurs amongst African American women. Rates of obesity amongst African American women have not only been higher than amongst African American men or white men, in 2009 African American women were 60% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic White women. Framing health as a cultural phenomenon mitigates against the (neoliberal) emphasis on individual choice, skill and responsibility promoted by reality television shows such as The Biggest Loser and Masterchef.
Framing health (in this case obesity) as a cultural phenomenon provides an important backdrop to debates about access ton resources, about food pricesfood justice and access to green spaces
It also raises significant questions about the political engagement with food and health in popular culture. Thus, for example:
George McKay talks about gardening (for example) as "attacks rather than retreats". Rastafarianism, accompanying a radical racial politics and militant popular music, promotes a rigid food philosophy. Leonard E. Barrett (in The Rastafarians, 1988, 1997) writes:
"One of the prime staples of the Rastas is fish, but only of the small variety, not more tan twelve inches long... All larger fish are predators and represent the establishment - Babylon - where men eat men. But the food of the greatest worth to the cultists is vegetables of almost every kind. Like ganja, the earth brings forth all god things (pp. 141-142).
Similarly, in music, a critique of food and food practices has often accompanied a radical politics. This is especially true in hop hop. While hip hop has often been associated with unhealthy versions of masculinity, with artists such as the Fat Boys, Big Pun (who died of a massive heart attack age 28 in 2000), the movement has also featured a strong emphasis on what Byron Hurt describes as a "culture of wellness". In the 1980s and '90s, while KRS-One, in "another public service announcement", was rapping about the chemical byproducts in beef, 5 percent rappers and Nation of Islam rappers were reading Elija Muhammed's Eat to Live and A Tribe called Quest was rapping: "I don't eat no ham n' eggs, cuz they're high in cholesterol" on their first album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990). The relationship between hip hop and health has increased as many rappers have started to age into their thirties and forties. Fat Joe, for example, whose first album, Represent (1993), featured the song "Livin' Fat", lost 88 pounds in mid-2011 afetr losing seven friends in a year to heart atack, all in their thirties.

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