The Weight of Obesity: Hunger and Global Health in Postwar Guatemala
Lecture by Emily Yates-Doerr (UvA)
A woman with hypertension refuses vegetables. A man with diabetes adds iron-fortified sugar to his coffee. As death rates from heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes in Latin America escalate, global health interventions increasingly emphasize nutrition, exercise, and weight loss—but much goes awry as ideas move from policy boardrooms and clinics into everyday life. This talk, which is based on years of intensive fieldwork in highland Guatemala, explores how obesity is lived by people who have recently found their diets – and their bodies – radically transformed. The stories offered suggest that when it comes to dietary health, an emphasis on metric conversions tethers ontological violence to violence that is structural. The violence of political and economic systems that unduly burden certain (poor, indigenous) bodies was obvious in the long lines of Guatemala’s massively-defunded public clinics. But there was also violence in knowledge systems that frame illness as the domain of the body, as if the body is a natural entity with universally measurable parameters. The metrification of the body – how much it moves, eats, or weighs – does more than elide deep inequalities in access to decent food and healthcare services. It also privileges some types of bodies over others, while ignoring approaches to health that don’t conform to global standards. In this talk, anthropologist Emily Yates-Doerr challenges the widespread view that health can be measured in nutrients and pounds, offering an innovative understanding of what it means to be healthy in postcolonial Latin America.