Cities As Sites For Partially Connected Metabolisms

The USA is currently seen as the world leader in the obesity epidemic, as "Land of the Fat" (Engel 2002). Much attention has turned to the anxiety raised by the US epidemic and the risk that the rest of the western world is heading in the same direction. While such attention is usually focused on the problems of fat bodies and associated issues of food and diet, in this chapter we have looked to the US to explore the issues of fat within a specifically urban context. Key to this shift is an understanding of the connections between the problem of fat in individual bodies and the mobilization of fat at the level of the city. Additionally, the embodiment of fat extends beyond fat bodies and fast food into infrastructure itself through the deposition of fat in the sewage network. What then can we learn by looking across these contexts?

The city is a site of multiple metabolisms, but these are always partial and selectively connected metabolisms. This chapter has not attempted to provide a complete explanation of the political-ecology of the metabolism of fat. Consequently, what is missing from our account is, for example, the global system of oil and fat production, the international movement and distribution of fats and oils, the production and distribution of food chains that incorporate fats and oils, and the social organization of waste oil and fat systems. At the same time, we have not presented a synthesis of the metabolism of fat in terms of the interconnectedness of its social, economic, spatial, bio-chemical, and cultural dimensions. Yet by using the frame of the city we can do something else. We can begin to bring into focus elements of these multiple metabolisms and the partial interconnections between them. What is particularly interesting for us is how strategies for dealing with fat at an urban level start to problematize the metabolisms of fat in quite different ways. There are three possibilities for dealing with fat, they are: the removal of fat, prevention of fat deposition and fat acceptance (see Table 9.1). These three strategies provide competing ways of seeing the metabolism of fat. Imagine looking through a "kaleidoscope" that can highlight how each of the three strategies brings into focus the disconnections and partial interconnections between the multiple metabolisms of the city, body and infrastructure. What we see is a series of changing yet always partial metabolisms and forms of connection.

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