Introduction

While strategies to tackle obesity have led to renewed debate about the specific relationship between the body and urban form (Sui 2003) the (im)mobilities of fat through bodies, cities and infrastructure reveal a more complex web of urban metabolisms. We argue that to understand the mobilities of fat in a city context metaphors of urban metabolism become important. Urban metabolism need not refer to stable sets of relationships in which explanations of social order subsequently refer, consider for example the early work of the Chicago school (Park etal. 1967). However, to reject the concept of metabolism by reducing it to functionalist and teleological metaphors would be to lose the insights a reformulated concept can reveal. "Cities", Harvey (2003:34) argues, "are constituted out of the flows of energy, water, food, commodities, money, people and all the other necessities that sustain life". Metaphors of metabolism are therefore useful for understanding such flows. The contingencies and mobilities of fat in bodies (as individuals), cities (as a collective site of action) and sewers (as infrastructure), we argue, highlights a multiplicity of urban metabolisms, each with different interconnectivities and forms of instability.

Fat poses key challenges for understanding the future of mobile society. For while fat can appear very much as a mobile fluid, travelling through global networks of food production and consumption, it also encapsulates the other aspect of contemporary networked cities—immobility. Fat literally, but also metaphorically, can also appear as static, difficult to move, and solidified. While fat provides bodies with important functions, for example cushioning, insulation and storage it is the excess of fat that causes so much concern (Ruppel Shell 2002). More specifically excess fat, particularly when bodies become obese, is associated with an impressive list of associated health problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) (1997) reports a "greatly increased risk" of diabetes, gall bladder disease, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance, breathlessness, sleep apnoea, "moderately increased risk" of coronary heart diseases, osteoarthritis, hyperuricaemia and gout, and "slightly increased risk" of cancers, reproductive hormone abnormalities, polycystic ovary syndrome, impaired fertility, low back pain, increased anaesthetic risk, and foetal defects arsing from maternal obesity. At a population level there is much concern about the growing levels of obesity internationally. The International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) reports data illustrating obesity concerns in a wide range of countries including Australia, Japan, Brazil, England, the United States of America, Mauritius, Kuwait and Western Samoa. The World Health Organization reports that, while in 1995 there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide, by 2000 it had increased to over 300 million (WHO 1997). The very formation of the International Obesity Task Force in 1996, with the aim to "alert the world about the urgency of the problem of the growing health crisis threatened by soaring levels of obesity", signifies the growing international anxiety about the "global epidemic" of obesity (see IOTF website).

Within the context of this growing anxiety about obesity there is typically a turn to the United States of America to see where the rest of the world is going. In this chapter we also turn to the USA to examine how, in response to the rising numbers of "obese bodies", there has been the mobilization of the concept of "fat cities" involving renewed debate about the relationship between bodies and the city, provoked largely by the innovative representations of a men's fitness magazine. We shift focus in this debate to look to the problems of fat in infrastructure, focusing specifically on the experience in US cities of sewer blockages that reveal quite different sets of processes within which fat is embedded. We show how in each of these sites of intervention—the body, the city collective and the sewer—strategies of prevention, removal or acceptance each reveal a multiplicity of metabolisms as well as partial interconnections between them. Finally, we conclude with reflections on the implications of "fat" for developing our understanding of mobility.

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