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Fast Food and Fatness in Popular Media: Interrogating the Link

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Food Culture Studies in India


Fast food sits at the nexus of a number of complex cultural issues within foodways, including meat consumption, industrial food production, labour relations, globalization and ideas of health. Within critiques of fast food, one common assumption is that there is a causal link between consuming fast food and being “overweight” or “obese”. Fast food thus becomes a prime target for those concerned about the so-called global obesity epidemic. Because this link appears to be obvious, media often rely on easy visual and verbal logics to tell their stories, eliding more complex relations between foodways and bodies. This article examines some well-known examples, including popular documentaries Samsara and Super Size Me, as well as news articles about contemporary India, all of which operate under the assumption that fast food and fat are directly linked. Ultimately, the article argues the construction of this link indicates larger cultural anxieties about globalization and modernity rather than an in-depth understanding of metabolism. In this context, interrogating this link becomes essential to deconstruct the cultural anxieties underpinning fat-phobic responses to larger bodies across cultures.

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  1. 1.

    This submission can be read as an example of Foucauldian biopolitics in the sense that in order for this type of surveillance medicine to work, the individual must submit himself to this medical authority.

  2. 2.

    For a good overview of current research pointing to causes of obesity other than simple consumption of excessive calories, see David Berreby’s “The Obesity Era”. Berreby questions the purely thermodynamic model of metabolism that suggests weight gain or loss is a simple matter of calories expended versus calories consumed, citing new research that suggests much more complex biochemical processes of fat storage. These processes are influenced by a wide range of factors, many of which have nothing to do with food at all; even exposure to certain industrial chemicals may be contributing to weight gain, which has been observed in recent decades not only in humans, but also in laboratory and domestic animals as well. Sander L. Gilman also provides a good survey of contemporary theories of obesity and its causes in his book Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity.

  3. 3.

    The film not only won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, but also made millions of dollars and was shown in a number of countries, spurring debate and generating significant media buzz.

  4. 4.

    It is questionable, of course, to what extent traditional Indian diets were necessarily vegetarian. Certainly, this equation of Indian food with vegetarian tradition implies a certain (Hindu) religious and caste position, eliding the traditions of other communities who historically did not adhere to meat taboos.


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Correspondence to Margaret Hass .

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Hass, M. (2021). Fast Food and Fatness in Popular Media: Interrogating the Link. In: Malhotra, S., Sharma, K., Dogra, S. (eds) Food Culture Studies in India. Springer, Singapore.

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