We all know the trope: In The Future—near or distant—food will come in the form of a pill. The pill will offer optimal proportions of all necessary nutrients. It will be calorically dense, vitamin infused, moderately fatted, protein filled, fiber enhanced, time released, and highly precise. The consumer will be satiated. The body will be healthy. This is a pill of perfect consumptive efficiency. This is the predicted diet of the cyborg.
Indeed, as cyborgs, our practices of (literal) consumption are characterized by scientific engineering. Our food and food practices are more a product of laboratory and factory work than the sweat of tilling farmers. And yet, we have not come up with a successful food-replacement pill. Instead, we’ve generally (though not ubiquitously) developed a market and a mindset that moves away from efficiency, developing and utilizing technological advancements to maximally consume with minimal caloric absorption. I offer here a few examples:
1) Defatted peanut butter. Peanut butter is a naturally efficient food. Very small quantities provide high caloric, fat, and protein content. Defatted versions of this food are made from peanuts with the fat literally processed out of them, such that one would need to (get to?) consume 2X as much to achieve the caloric value of regular peanut butter, and 8X as much to equal regular peanut butter’s fat content.
2) Artificial Sweeteners: These sugar-substitutes allow us to prepare and consume food and drink with dramatically reduced—sometimes down to zero—calories. Diet soda is the quintessential use of these sweeteners. Consumers can literally drink limitless amounts of these beverages without ever absorbing a nutrient.
3) Volumetrics: This is a weight-loss buzz word for diet programs that teach people how to maximize consumption while minimizing caloric intake. It is represented by Weight-Watchers” Zero Point” foods, Hungry Girl’s “Ginormous Foods” and Jenny Craig’s “Free Foods.”
4) Diet pills: Perhaps this is the sharpest response to the food-replacement pill. The most popular of these pills—such as Alli— do not suppress appetite, but speed metabolism and/or block fat, re-engineering the body in a way that literally wastes consumed nutrients.
So what’s going on here? We have the technology to engineer food (and our bodies) to a great extent. We have the capacity to affect consumptive efficiency—and we actively engage this capacity. The direction of our technologically enabled efficiency alterations, however, is curious. Rather than maximizing efficiency, we minimize it. We actively make ourselves less efficient consumers. Why is this?
The answer, I argue, is because cyborgs are indeed part machine, but also inextricably human, and humans are pleasure seeking. Food consumption is pleasurable. As such, we deploy technologies in a way that maximizes this pleasure while avoiding (or at least attempting to avoid) the perceived detrimental effects. In this light, it seems crazy to consider the replacement of food with nutrient dense pills. Such a technology divorces food from pleasure. We human-cyborgs, instead, divorce calories from food.
I have elsewhere referenced technology as materialized action. We construct and utilize technology based on human need, and are forever changed for it. Humans, technology, and culture mutually constitute one another, but unlike the equally influential picture painted by Actor Network Theorists, the materialized action approach holds humans accountable for their agency—for the needs, desires, and values in which technological production and use are entrenched.
We are a culture that values thinness, but a people who desire indulgence. As such, consumers create a market incentive for the production of inefficient foodstuffs and corporations invest in the creation, distribution, and normalization of inefficient food products—along with the image of slender embodiment which these food practices signify. In short, we deploy cyborg technological capabilities towards very human ends.
Jenny Davis is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University and a regular author on Cyborgology. She wrote this piece while consuming a large high-protein-low-calorie bagel, with a double portion of defatted peanut butter, and a gigantic cup of Stevia sweetened half-caf coffee. Follow this inefficient eater on Twitter @Jup83
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