The Neoliberal Diet

Fattening profits and people

Authored by: Gerardo Otero , Gabriela Pechlaner , Efe Can Gürcan

The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415673440
eBook ISBN: 9781315755519
Adobe ISBN: 9781317627401


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The United States rose to world-power status partly thanks to modern industrial agriculture, and it boasts the most profitable and successful agribusiness of multinationals involved in the production and processing of agricultural and food products. But this system also exacerbates what we term the “neoliberal diet,” which is largely composed of “energy-dense” foods with high contents of fat and empty calories. Foods that make up the neoliberal diet include those commonly called “junk food”, since they contain low nutritional value (Drewnowski and Darmon, 2005; Drewnowski and Specter, 2004). This diet is strongly correlated with negative health impacts derived from being overweight and obese, such as diabetes, heart disease, and several types of cancer. According to the Institute of Medicine, the United States spends between $150 billion and $190 billion a year on obese-related illnesses (Howard, 2012: 13), which is clearly unsustainable. Indeed, the neoliberal diet could be chiefly responsible for the current trend that the present generation of children might be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Moreover, the neoliberal diet is not affecting U.S. citizens equally. Rather, while upper-income groups are seeing increasing access to higherquality foods, including imported fruits, vegetables, wines, and other alcoholic beverages (Otero et al., 2013), the poor’s diets are being increasingly narrowed to the nutritionally bereft “junk foods.” The poor are thus also afflicted with a disproportionate amount of obesity and diet-related disease (Dixon, 2009; Drewnowski, 2009; Thirlaway and Upton, 2009).

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