Mind your plate! The ontonorms of Dutch dieting

In the Netherlands as elsewhere, the overriding message of most dieting advice is that a person who wants to lose weight needs to overrule the desires of her craving body. Her mind has to put itself in a sovereign position and make ‘good choices’ about what to eat. But there are many ways of doing so. Linking up with different traditions within nutrition science, different dieting techniques enact different versions of food and concern themselves with different bodies. The ideals they strive after and the dangers they warn against, are different, too. In short, they incorporate different ontonorms. At the same time in all the ‘mind your plate’ advice, however varied, bodies figure as endowed with a nature that is problematic under the present cultural circumstances. This is in contrast with advice to ‘enjoy your food’, that targets a body that is not naturally given, but deserves to be cultivated. As I bring out the details of the discrepancies between the ontonorms embedded in different kinds of dieting advice, the term ‘ontonorms’ serves as a methodological tool. It helps to focus the analysis. At the same time this article abstains from providing a ‘theory of ontonorms’. Instead it argues for theoretical fluidity and specificity.

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