Charlotte Biltekoff, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at UC Davis with joint academic appointments in the American Studies Program and the Department of Food Science & Technology. Her recent publication, Eating Right in America: the Cultural Politics of Food and Health, explores how dietary advice in the United States is both empirical and ethical - meaning that advice about what to eat draws from both scientific and moral authorities.
Eating Right in America analyzes how modern dietary reform movements in the United States do not just tell us how to eat right, but how to become a good person and a good citizen. The book analyzes four dietary reform movements over the last century: the rise of domestic science and home economics, the national nutrition program during World War II, the alternative food movement, and the anti-obesity movement. Within these movements, Biltekoff tracks how dietary ideals have shifted in response to both scientific discovery and social change. Notions of middle-class identity, good citizenship, and individual responsibility are embedded in nutritional advice that is delivered to the public as politically-neutral and scientifically-objective nutrition guidelines.
In a recent interview on Capital Public Radio, Biltekoff pointed out how analyzing history can shed light on difficult truths. “History is such a great tool for learning to see things differently,” Biltekoff said. “The history that I tell in the book suggests that we worry so much about what is good to eat because of the social stakes involved in 'eating right.' Because it’s not just about our physical health, but also about our sense of self and about our social standing. There's a lot at stake that we may not be conscious of, but really is part and parcel of the conversation about 'good' food.”