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Anti-Intellectualism and Natural Food: The Shared Language of Industry and Activists in America since 1830

Kideckel, Michael Solomon

This article uses the concept of “anti-intellectualism” to explain surprising overlaps in rhetoric between American food activists and the manufacturers they criticize. It shows anti-intellectual elements in the language of, in turn: Sylvester Graham, an influential lecturer during the 1830s; the Natural Food Company, maker of Shredded Wheat and an advocate for “natural food” in the early 1900s; and Michael Pollan, a leading figure in contemporary American food politics. These activists and manufacturers have spoken in an anti-intellectual style about nature and food, arguing that certain forms of knowledge and evidence are more natural than others. Each has favored similar ways of understanding nature, rejecting professionalized expertise for tradition, intuition, and the wisdom of more “natural” peoples. While disagreeing on the proper structure of food production and distribution, activists and manufacturers have both sought authority to tell people how to live by evoking similar visions of the American past. This shared ideal romanticizes a time in which women did more work at home, immigrants and indigenous people were even more marginalized, and custom and tradition more fully guided people’s food choices. With different politics and intentions, manufacturers and activists belong to the same lineage of food discourse and have both furthered an American tradition of anti-intellectualism.

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Title
Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2018.18.1.44

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February 2, 2018