Postmodern dietetic: reclaiming the body through the practice of alimentary freedom.

Author:Lewis, Matthew T.
Position:Essay
 
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The National School Lunch Program (hereafter, NSLP) is a charitable and well-intentioned program that serves low-cost or free lunches each day to more than 31 million children in over 100,000 public schools, nonprofit private schools, and residential childcare institutions ("National School Lunch Program," 2011). For most children living in poverty in major U.S. cities, it is the primary source of daily nutrition. In short, school lunch has become an immensely popular form of social welfare and a premiere poverty program in the United States (Levine, 2008).

Despite its pro-social intentions, NSLP has received quite a lot of criticism as of late. Professional organizations (e.g., Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, American Medical Association) have suggested that school lunches consist of too many processed foods, often ignore federal caloric guidelines, and contribute to childhood obesity. Likewise, popular media have entered the fray, underscoring the ostensible arbitrariness of school lunch standards through tasty bits of lunacy that are devoured by a voracious, if perhaps bemused, public. In one case, a preschooler at West Hoke Elementary in Raeford, North Carolina, had her homemade turkey sandwich confiscated by a school official, who reported that the sandwich did not meet state dietary guidelines, at which point the girl was made to eat the school's chicken nuggets as a suitable alternative (Burrows, 2012). Even celebrity chefs have become critics, with perhaps the prime example being Jamie Oliver, who once poured ammonia on beef trimmings in order to illustrate--in, I might add, a rather erroneous way--the production of Finely Textured Lean Beef, which is commonly known under its dysphemism, "Pink Slime" ("Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: Pink Slime," 2011). School lunch has received scholarly criticism as well, with most studies focusing on the lack of nutritious foods being served to children and the deplorable consequences for health (see, for example, Briefel, Wilson, & Gleason, 2009; Condon, Crepinsek, & Fox, 2009; Gordon, Devaney, & Burghardt, 1995).

While such critiques and studies have merit, I believe when we focus on lunch through the phenomenological prisms of nutrition and health, we limit our ability to conceptualize lunch in new ways. As such, this work will seek to problematize different dimensions of lunch and to open up new theoretical spaces for the investigation of lunch. In particular, I will explore the lunchroom as a site of disciplinary power, seeking to evince technologies of force that effectuate obedient and efficient eaters, and examine the ontological status of school food as an epiphenomenon of our spectacularized foodscape. Finally, I will sketch the contours of an ameliorant--alimentary freedom, a rich and variegated project of the self that borrows liberally from the Greek concept of sophrosyne.

Fields and Technologies of Power

Apposite to lunch we have many imbricated fields of power. We have, for example, a field of governmentality, which is a broad space of organizing practices that reveals itself, for example, in a rationalized school framework. Then, too, we have disciplining practices--those repetitive exercises that shape and normalize the body, mind, and soul of the subject. We even have a space for technologies of the self, those self-directed operations that enable the individual to engage in sundry sorts of self-transformations. In the present essay, I will concentrate primarily on the first two fields and the intentional deployment into them of ramified articulations of force--i.e., technologies of power--those strategic interventions "which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination" and effect an "objectivizing of the subject" (Foucault, 1988, p. 18). In this first section, I will attempt to unravel and denude these technologies, beginning in the field of governmentality.

Guillaume de La Perriere, whose Miroire Politique was one of the earliest texts on the art of governing, offered the following definition: "government is the right disposition of things, arranged so as to lead to a convenient end" (as cited in Foucault, 2000, p. 208). Government, then, is not primarily concerned with managing territory but rather with governing things, where things, as Foucault has clarified, is likely to connote a complex of things and people. One does not govern territory, according to La Perriere, but rather things--i.e., "men in their relations, their links, their imbrication with those things that are wealth, resources, means of subsistence" (Foucault, 2000, pp. 208-209). One governs households, economies, schools, and children. As will become clear in a later section on disciplinary power, the convenient end of which La Perriere has written is, in our case, the obedient and efficient eating body. Before we can explore this in detail, however, we need to parse La Perriere's right disposition of things--that is, the arrangement of lunch in concrete and intellectual forms. It is in this disposition of things that we can begin to glimpse the emergence of the disciplinary project of school lunch.

School lunch is an important part of the school day and, as such, a crucial micro-apparatus of governing that functions through a rationalized right disposition of things--viz. architectonic specialization and systematization. This idea, which perhaps seems dubious at first blush, will not come as surprise to those with an understanding of the history of public schooling in the United States. Indeed, we have long known the relationship between public schooling, cultural homogenization, and control. For example, the "free schools" of the early nineteenth century, under the auspices of the New York Public School Society, represented a sort of paternalistic noblesse oblige that "provided a vehicle for the efforts of one class to civilize another and thereby ensure that society would remain tolerable, orderly, and safe"(Katz, 1971,p. 300). A few decades later, Horace Mann (1872) argued that universal education was so inextricably connected with governing that a functioning republic could not exist without it: "the establishment of a republican government," he wrote, "without well-appointed and efficient means for the universal education of the people, is the most rash and fool-hardy experiment ever tried by man" (p. 688). Then, during the progressive era of the early twentieth century, school lunch became an integral component of governing the school, a popular form of social welfare that continues to the present day (Levine, 2008, p. 2). While a full genealogy is beyond the scope and purpose of this essay, I offer these historical examples merely to hint at the complex historical connection between the pragmatic life of the school and an overriding ideology of govemmentality. Specific to our purposes, this connection is most readily apparent in the rationalized architectonics of lunch and the lunchroom. As such, it is necessary to explore the architectonics of lunch in some detail--both in its relations to governing and as a bridge from a generalized program of governing to the specific disciplinary technologies through which control is realized.

Beginning in the eighteenth century, the western world began to see a centralization of architecture and design as an apparatus of government. As Foucault (2000) has remarked, "from the eighteen century on, every discussion of politics as the art of government of men necessarily includes a chapter or a series of chapters on urbanism, on collective facilities, on hygiene, and on private architecture" (p. 350). Foucault's analysis finds a compelling analogue in school design from the mid-nineteenth century on. Indeed, as Baughn (2012) has shown, writings from this period evince a concern with scientific planning, standardization, and hygiene, which she has defined as "a broad term encompassing all aspects of the school's physical environment" (p. 44). In other words, during this period of time we find a proliferation of discourses concerning school design, architectonics, and power. An early example was Henry Barnard's School Architecture, which evinced an emerging emphasis on how a problematic of control might be answered via architectonic specialization and standardization combined with hierarchical observation. To wit, Barnard (1850) warned of the pernicious consequences of poorly designed school rooms and admonished that they "be so arranged as to facilitate habits of attention, take away all temptation and encouragement to violate the rules of the school on the part of any scholar, and admit of the constant and complete supervision of the whole school by the teacher" (p. 54). At the turn of the 20th century, discourses began to focus more specifically on instrumentality and a scientific regulation of the body. The American educationalist and civic leader William George Bruce (1906) authored an authoritative text underscoring the importance of designing a school according to the mandates of economy and utility of space. His account was thorough, his prescriptions catholic--from the placement of water fountains to the dimensions of the classrooms, the proper number of rows, and the best colors for walls. And then, in 1921, John Donovan published a tome of some 700 pages, which has come to be known as "the bible" of school architecture (Caudill, 1954). Donovan's text is noteworthy because it included a chapter on the cafeteria, which was written by William R. Adams, an engineer of hotel equipment. One of Adams's (1921) directives for the lunchroom was that "the plant must be efficient; there must be no loss of labor, food, or fuel" (p. 513). He admonished that the cafeteria must be "rectangle or square" with access to serving counters regulated "by means of traffic aisles, leading directly from the entrance door, past the food, to the checker's station" (p. 513). Adams went...

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