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Low Carb In Historical Perspective

Steven Shapin, a Harvard science historian, has turned in a lengthy essay situating Atkins and other low-carb diets in the historical context of dietetics, Biblical shame, and naturalism.

"The Atkins diet is a curious cousin to the organic and Slow Food movements, and, indeed, to aspects of vegetarianism. Obesity, and such related conditions as type-2 diabetes, are, in the Atkins cosmology, diseases of the special civilisation that makes and markets refined carbohydrates. The result of all this making and marketing is addiction. The appetites are perverted; a monstrously hybrid self is produced, whose appetites are parsed between the natural and the unnatural, the ones to be gratified and the ones to be disciplined and eliminated.

And the unnaturalness of that self is an internalising of the bad order of society - what the Yale psychologist and obesity expert Kelly Brownell has catchily called 'a toxic environment'. A bad society makes bad food and bad food makes badly motivated and badly functioning people. This sensibility is important enough to have made it into The Simpsons".

The London Review of Books August 5, 2004

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