- The “fat-hunger paradox” is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States in which people of low socioeconomic status are disproportionately overweight or obese, and yet frequently lack access to adequate food and nutrition. Research indicates additional disparities in the prevalence of overweight and obesity amongst most racial and ethnic minorities, women, and female Food Stamp Program participants in the U.S. when compared to other low-income demographics. Although the body of literature investigating the fat-hunger paradox has increased over the past several years, efforts to offer insight into this problem remain hypothetical, nonetheless, and many questions are left unanswered. I argue that the Marxist concept of “estrangement” can help explain both the fat-hunger paradox and its disproportional effects on various low-income populations. Marx contends that the proletariat, analogous to the working poor today, experiences estrangement which leads one to seek temporary solace in base human functions, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, procreation, and passive forms of entertainment. I expand upon
Marx’s theory using the work of critical social theorists, multicultural theorists, and Socialist Feminist theorists to demonstrate that, in addition to class, welfare, race/ethnicity, and gender are bases of estrangement in the United States. Among the means through which Marx proposes temporary solace may be sought and obtained, I argue that eating is the most readily available and socially acceptable source of such comfort for low-income people. Moreover, the types of foods that low-income people can afford and which are associated with comfort are typically the very sort that promote obesity but provide little in terms of nutritional value. My thesis about “Estranged Eating” is not intended to supplant other hypotheses or analyses. Rather, I contend that my theory adds significantly to our collective understanding of the fat-hunger paradox in general, and its disparate manifestations observed within low socioeconomic demographics in particular.
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