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Nutritionism

By Dana Sturtevant and Hilary Kinavey

In a culture that emphasizes “nutritionism”—a reductionist way of thinking about food that assumes the whole point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health—it is easy to forget that food is so much more than the sum of its nutrients.

The term “nutritionism” has been coined to describe the fixation on nutrients at the expense of content and experiential knowledge of food and eating. The resulting nutrition confusion has confounded people’s ideas about what to eat (Coveney 2006; Scrinis 2008). Michael Pollan says, “As the “ism” suggests, it is not a scientific subject but an ideology. Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions. This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s exerting its hold on your culture.”

Nutritionism has a strong hold on our culture. It seems impossible to get through a day without hearing someone’s opinion about what constitutes “healthy eating.” You see, nutritionism promotes dualistic thinking: if there is a good nutrient, then there must be a bad one. People are enthusiastic about one food while demonizing another. This way of thinking is what leads to food fads….

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