Metabolic Living: Food, Fat, and the Absorption of Illness in India
The Thin-Fat Indian
Chapter 1 asks: How does fat get into individual and collective bodies? This chapter is concerned with absorption between past and present times. It elaborates the feature of bodily plasticity by questioning the condition of “globesity,” the supposed West-to-East flow of capital and consumerist desires that sparked India’s collective weight gain. It maps historical and literary portraits of fatness in India and details how globesity presumes a national vulnerability through comparisons of bodies experiencing newfound prosperity. Claims of obesity’s emergence in India impelled physicians to change national guidelines for the Body Mass Index, and how overnight, millions of Indians were suddenly considered overweight. This generated a problem of matching metabolisms to persons over generations. Public health policies and their biological rationales circulated popularly imagined oppositions between the cultural figures of the hungry, lower-caste rural person and the overfed middle-class urbanite. This subject became known in biomedical discourses and epigenetic science as “the thin-fat Indian”: the body that absorbs prosperity into its very constitution, even as that constitution increasingly marks the attrition of life and health through chronic disease. The figure of the thin-fat Indian is a sketch of how metabolism is temporal.