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Mind your plate! The ontonorms of Dutch dieting


Annemarie Mol Social Studies of Science published online 13 September 2012 DOI: 10.1177/0306312712456948 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/09/13/0306312712456948

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Article

Mind your plate!The ontonorms of Dutch dieting


Annemarie Mol
University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Social Studies of Science 0(0) 118 The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0306312712456948 sss.sagepub.com

Abstract
In the Netherlands as elsewhere, the overriding message of most dieting advice is that a person who wants to lose weight needs to overrule the desires of her craving body. Her mind has to put itself in a sovereign position and make good choices about what to eat. But there are many ways of doing so. Linking up with different traditions within nutrition science, different dieting techniques enact different versions of food and concern themselves with different bodies. The ideals they strive after and the dangers they warn against are different, too. In short, they incorporate different ontonorms. At the same time, in all the mind your plate advice, however varied, bodies figure as endowed with a nature that is problematic under the present cultural circumstances. This is in contrast with advice to enjoy your food, that targets a body that is not naturally given, but deserves to be cultivated. As I bring out the details of the discrepancies between the ontonorms embedded in different kinds of dieting advice, the term ontonorms serves as a methodological tool. It helps to focus the analysis. But this article does not provide a theory of ontonorms, instead it argues for theoretical fluidity and specificity.

Keywords
body, food, normativity, ontology, ontonorms, professional practice

In the Netherlands as elsewhere, the overriding message of most dieting advice is that a person who wants to lose weight needs to overrule the desires of her craving body. Her mind has to put itself in a sovereign position and make good choices about what to eat. This advice is condensed in the title of this article: Mind your plate! But how to do so? And why might this be a good course to take? Different dieting techniques answer these questions in strikingly different ways. They give different suggestions about what to do and they stage food and bodies in different ways. How might one get a handle on these discrepancies? The point is not that some dieting techniques build on science while
Corresponding author: Annemarie Mol, Anthropology of the Body, University of Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam 1012 CX, the Netherlands Email: a.mol@uva.nl

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others fail to do so, but rather that they each draw on different scientific traditions. These traditions are not necessarily in dispute with each other. Dieting differences often precede or elude the controversies that rage in nutrition science.1 An epistemological enquiry into the strengths and weaknesses of the various ways in which nutrition science represents reality doesnt elucidate what is at stake either, because different dieting techniques do not mobilize different representations of a single reality. Instead, each of them engages with (enacts, invokes the action of) its own reality. The food that is relevant to one dieting technique is simply not the same thing as the food relevant to another. And the specificities of the body that is being submitted to rational control differ from one dieting technique to another, too. Social science articles on food typically start out by insisting that food is more than matter and then promise that they will analyse the more. Here I make a different move. As I set out to explore how food and bodies are enacted in dietary advice, my interest is in the matter. What kind of matter is food? What kinds of body does it feed? In asking such questions it helps to have words that make it possible to say that materialities and flesh come in different configurations. Where to find such words? In the history of Science and Technology Studies (STS) various attempts have been made to provocatively resurrect the term ontology for this purpose. In the Western philosophical canon the term ontology used to stand for the things in themselves that precede and allow for knowledge, but that can never be grasped because knowledge is epistemically mediated and depends on knowledge categories. Dominant philosophical doctrines took this ontology to be stable, singular and out of reach. STSs attempts to resurrect the term have played with each of these characteristics. They have brought philosophy down to earth and opened up to empirical inquiry the reality sciences seek to represent. In this line of work ontology has become unstable. Researchers have explored ontological gerrymandering (Woolgar and Pawluch, 1985), ontological choreographies (Thompson, 2005), and objects that are ambivalent or fluid (De Laet and Mol, 2000; Mol and Law 1994). Instead of a singular, ontology has become multiple and questions are asked about the ways in which contrasting versions of reality come to be coordinated in scientific and professional practices.2 The moment that the worry that reality is out of reach was set aside, it became possible to cast a fresh eye on the ways in which realities reach out. Empirical studies have explored how objects, as they are variously enacted, are also afforded to act in a striking variety of ways.3 Is it still possible to use the term ontology in this wilfully counterintuitive, playfully anti-philosophical way? I am so not sure. This is because recently so called new materialists have started to proclaim that a turn to ontology is needed. Like that of the canon, their ontology is stable and singular but it is not out of reach. They say that we should (finally!) stop fussing about language and interpretations and attend to the activities of matter itself in its ontological essence (e.g. Coole and Frost, 2010). What they lightly skip over, though, is that matter never is itself all by itself. Even when it is not being interpreted, matter is never alone. For it may well be that matter acts, but what it is able to do inevitably depends on adjacent matter that it may do something with. Action is always interaction. And it is only in interactions, or intra-actions if you prefer (Barad, 2007), that objects relationally afford each other their (always local, often fluid) essence. As the new materialism forgets these relational engagements and affordances it has no

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way of talking about what matter itself does, other than naively echoing natural science textbooks and journal articles minus the materials and methods sections. Decades of work in STS is being disdainfully discarded. In the process most of the questions that relational materialism was trying to raise are being sidelined, too. The questions most relevant to relational materialism are not philosophical in character, but political. They have to do with how to value contrasting versions of reality. Which version might be better to live with? Which worse? How, and for whom? As long as ontology is taken to be stable and singular, it may either be within reach or out of reach, but good and bad have nothing to do with it. If, by contrast, realities are adaptive and multiple, if they take different shapes as they engage, and are engaged, in different relations, then questions of ontological politics become important.4 As I explore Dutch dieting, my concern is with such questions. This does not imply that I will use pre-given normative standards to cast normative judgements. The art is rather in analysing the norms embedded in practices while interfering in them through adding a novel, oblique analysis.5 This, then, is my question. What are goods and bads relevant to different ways of enacting food, and of affording food with particular possibilities to act? What becomes of bodies in Dutch dieting; how are they being valued; and what about their own, bodily, engagements in valuing? In order to stress that my concern is with ontologies as well as normativities, I will experiment with a novel word here: ontonorms. Rather than a descriptive summary, the term ontonorms is a methodological tool. My hope is that it may sensitize us to materialities and issues of good and bad at the same time. I would like to leave things as open as that, so I will not try to give a clear and distinct definition of ontonorms.6 Instead, I will use the fluidity and ambiguities of this term to inspire and propel an analysis of a particular practice where science interferes with daily life: Dutch dietary advice. My materials consist of advisory brochures, websites (and especially the website of the Dutch Nutrition Centre), interviews (with patients/clients and healthcare professionals) and observations in the consulting rooms of dieticians. By focusing on these materials I relegate a lot of what is highly relevant to how people eat to the background. Thus, in this article I leave out issues to do with the production, transportation and selling of food. I do not talk about ecology, labour relations, the food industry, food insecurities and starvation. I even sideline money.7 Rather than repeating the critique that most dietary advice brackets the intricacies of the global food arena, I will analyse what it does contain. This, then, is my question: What are the ontonorms embedded in the advice to mind your plate that is so prominent in Dutch dieting?8 And what about its marginalized alternative, enjoy your food? The narrative backbone of my analysis is a single consultation between a client (whom I call Mr Laxman) and a dietician (whom I call Irene Sanders). As the story unfolds, I will sparingly bring in other materials. It is unlikely that my materials will surprise you: they are utterly mundane and, even though there are endless local variants, you are likely to be familiar with them already. They have been widely studied before and I gratefully draw on that earlier work.9 What I have to offer, then, is just a bit of added analysis.

A dietician in the Dutch north-west


On a rainy day in 2009, Mr Laxman visited his dietician, Irene Sanders, while I sat on a stool in the back of the consultation room. At the time, Irene worked in a small clinic run

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by a group of general practitioners and other healthcare professionals in a mixed neighbourhood in one of the bigger cities of the Netherlands.10 The term mixed signals that those who visit the clinic differ in income, education, ethnic background, migration history and other variables registered in population statistics. The professionals (or so they tell me over lunch) find working with people from varied backgrounds interesting.11 For the ethnographer the clinic is a great place to learn more about dietary advice. Most people who visit Irene Sanders have been diagnosed as overweight, but usually this is not their only problem. They might, for instance, have heart issues, back pain or a hard time breathing when they walk upstairs. As losing some weight is likely to mitigate those problems too, their general practitioner recommended that they visit the dietician.12 Mr Laxman, whose first visit I am about to turn into an exemplary case, had been diagnosed with diabetes type 2 a week earlier. His doctor said that it would be helpful if he could lose some weight. Irene asks: Do you understand why? She draws a schematic image of the body as it metabolizes sugar. There are bowels in this image that hold a few sugar molecules. These are being absorbed into the blood stream and, once they have arrived in the tissues, they seek to enter a cell. At this point insulin is required. The insulin is like a key, says Irene, drawing a cell wall closed off with a lock. Without it, sugar cannot enter the cells. But cell walls may lose their sensitivity to the insulin key. That happens in type 2 diabetes. Therefore the doctor gave you pills, these are stronger keys. They dont heal you, these pills, so you may have to take them forever. But if you manage to lose some weight, the process may still be reversible. Explained in this way, losing weight is a worthwhile goal. Mr Laxman readily agrees. As he does not need to be convinced, he is an easy client. A few years earlier, or so he tells Irene (while casting me, seated in the background, an occasional glance) he also had been on a diet. That went well and he kept on eating healthily for a long time. Recently, however, things have gotten out of hand at the office. He has been working long hours and when he would get hungry he would not stop to have a proper meal, but instead eat a candy bar. Stupid, he says, and it wont happen again. The problem is that the entire office and its hinterland depend on him. It is only now when he has been diagnosed with diabetes that his boss has finally sent him a trainee to work with him. So things may get better at the office. But what about dieting and losing weight?

Calories and discipline


Mr Laxman is the first to mention calories. He asks: What do you think? Should I start counting calories again? I did that a few years ago. Not that I liked it, but I could have another go at it. Irene reacts by recapitulating the facts. Do you remember the figures? Around 2500 kilocalories a day is normal for a man, but that is when you do not want to lose weight. So in your case, you would want to eat less than that. But many people overdo it. They diet on only 1000 or 1200 kilocalories a day. That is unhelpful in the long run because it puts the body in saving mode, and then, once you start eating a bit more, all the weight that you have lost is soon put on again. So it is better to build up a new routine, one that you will be able to sustain. Only then does she answer Mr Laxmans question. It is up to you, you know, whether you count calories or not. Do whatever works best for you. For some people it works, for others it does not.

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If we unpack this little exchange we may ask how food figures here. What kind of matter is it? The answer is that food is a fuel. It provides resources to a body that needs energy to stay warm, move about and function in other ways. This energy is quantified in terms of kilocalories. The model is biophysical. Historically, the first scientific measurements of how much food energy a body needed were done with equipment that had earlier been used for assessing the fuel requirements of combustion engines. The apparatus helped to shift the notion of a fuel that provides energy measurable as calories from engines to bodies.13 The storage model followed. If bodies absorb more energy than they expend, they store the excess in fat deposits, and they gain weight. If bodies absorb less energy than they expend, they burn up their supplies and they get thinner. The calorie counting advice follows from this. If Mr Laxman wants to lose weight he needs to eat fewer kilocalories than the 2500 that he (or the average man) needs. But something else is going on at the same time. For why would people have to be told about calories? Why should they relate to their meals in a calculative way? The effort invested in providing people with information about calories (printed on leaflets and food labels, passed on in explanations) suggests that without this information, left to their own devices, bodies overeat. But why would they do this? Apparently, food is not just a fuel, but something else too. It is also a source of pleasure. And while fuel is something bodies burn, pleasure is something they relish. From a biophysical world we slide into one that is aesthetic.14 How do they relate, these worlds? When I write that food is not just a fuel but something else too, it may seem that really food is both energy and pleasure. However, the advice to count calories is not so holistic. It does not equally celebrate both realities, but takes one ontological variant (food is energy) to be essential while the other (food is pleasure) is something to be overruled. What comes into play is a particular variant of the distinction between homeostatic eating (allowing a body to stay the same) and hedonistic eating (that all too easily seduces a body to eat in excess).15 A lot of ontonorms come into these equations. Crucially, homeostatic stability is an ideal and hedonistic enjoyment is a danger. This, then, is the logic informing this particular dieting advice: counting calories allows a rational mind to take control of a pleasure seeking body.

Lists and desires


As counting calories does not work for everyone, Irene has other techniques in store. What may also be helpful, she tells Mr Laxman, are these lists. They have three columns. Here, in the first column, this food you may eat on a regular basis. In the second column there is food that you may eat now and then, but please dont do so every day. And then in the third column, those are the treats. They are for special occasions only. Irene gives Mr Laxman a printed list. An online version of this list can be found on the website of the Nutrition Centre.16 There, the three categories are called (I translate from the Dutch): preferable, middle way and as an exception. An example: skimmed milk and skimmed yoghurt, or either of these with added fruit or artificial sweetener, come under preferable; semi-skimmed milk and semi-skimmed yoghurt are middle way; and whole milk and whole yoghurt, either pure or with added sugar or added fruit, should be eaten as an exception only. The relevant divisions have also been translated

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into colour codes to be printed on food packages. The codes resonate with traffic lights: green, orange and red. What is food in these lists and colour codings? While all the branches of nutrition science are at work here, the scientific discipline that springs out is epidemiology. Nutritional epidemiology explores how the food that people eat affects their health. More specifically, it explores the correlations between food intake and one or more easily measureable parameters of health that might follow from this. Thus, in the practice of epidemiological research food is enacted as an edible substance registered as an input variable. This gets correlated with an output variable such as long-term survival or the risk of getting a heart attack, cancer, diabetes or another disease widespread enough to generate statistically valid outcomes. In the research ideal, a test group representing the relevant population eats a specific food substance while a control group doesnt. If the test group has better health outcomes than the control group, the food substance in question is said to be protective against disease. This gets abbreviated as healthy. A food substance that has adverse effects is called a risk factor for disease. This gets abbreviated as unhealthy. Methodological problems abound. For instance: there many intervening variables; it is notoriously difficult to control (or even know) what people eat; and it is far from obvious which food substances to separate out and study. Given such methodological nightmares, it is no wonder that the advice inspired by nutritional epidemiology keeps on changing. Thus, for a long time we were warned that cholesterol was to be avoided. Then we learned that saturated fats are unhealthy while unsaturated fats are okay.17 These days, omega 3 fatty acids are actively encouraged. To most people none of these terms makes any (biochemical) sense, but they have become household words even so. Their meaning is straightforwardly normative. Healthy or unhealthy, good or bad. These normativities inform what the lists advertise as good to eat (preferable) and what is bad (but since prohibitions do not work, the advice is to eat these unhealthy foods as an exception only).18 The third category separates out the extremes (the middle way). Take the advice to do with fish. Here, the first column (preferable) includes oily fish such as herring and mackerel. If calories counted for most, eating these fish would be ill advised. However, since epidemiological studies have found a positive correlation between eating oily fish and a low incidence of arteriosclerosis, herring and mackerel have been labelled as healthy. Eating fish deepfried in a crunchy batter, however, should remain an exception because the fats used in deep-frying are saturated. They are unhealthy. The lists, then, translate epidemiology into advice. But like the advice to count calories, they also have a second layer hidden beneath the first. On the surface they tell people what to eat preferably. But why do they have to say this? Apparently, healthy food is not necessarily what people prefer. While the technique of counting calories is generally contrary to food pleasure, here we learn that some kinds of food give more pleasure than others. Not all food is equally desirable. The problem that the lists try to modulate is that the most desirable kinds of food may well be the ones that are most unhealthy. In this way, two crucial norms, healthiness and desirability, are staged as being in tension. The lists are far from neutral. They overtly favour epidemiological health over bodily desires. And while pleasure resonates with sinfulness, bodily desires are explained by evoking their evolutionary background. That people desire bad food is

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staged as a consequence of the circumstances under which human beings originally lived. Because scarcity was common then, now the human body still prefers sugar and fat. But with some conscious effort, or such is the message, this natural inclination may be overcome. Use the lists, watch the colour codes on food packages, and save treats for special occasions only. Here is the ontonorm. Eating what you prefer should remain an exception.

Plates and cultures


You know about the disc of five, dont you? Irene asks, looking Mr Laxman in the eye. Then she points to a colourful poster on her wall. Over the years, the Nutrition Centre has published different variants of this disc of five. They depict food items that should help people to divide their food into five categories. Currently these are: (1) grains and grain products; (2) fruit and vegetables; (3) meat, fish, tofu and milk; (4) oil and butter; (5) water and tea.19 This disc seeks to translate yet another nutrition science repertoire into images and words that make sense in daily life. This repertoire is more readily evoked in the additional explanations where the categories are called: (1) carbohydrates; (2) vitamins and minerals; (3) proteins; (4) fats; (5) fluids. With these terms we enter a biochemical world where foods are nutrients. Nutrients are the bodys molecular building blocks and participate in its physiological processes.20 The disc suggests, and the additional explanation stipulates, that eaters should not restrict their food intake to a single category of food, but be open to all five. Variety is called for because human bodies need a wide range of nutrients. So the problem the disc sets out to solve is that of fixed routines, bad habits and/or a poor food culture that may fail to provide eaters with all the nutrients they need. Again, then, there are two layers in this advice. On the surface foods are nutrients. This has to be made explicit because, at the same time, in a second layer, food is a matter of engrained eating patterns that all too often lack the necessary variation. This is the problem the disc sets out to solve: bad routines. And as a conscious mind is called upon to solve this problem, routines come to seem bad by definition. The disc may be simplified. Rather than an overview of what a person should eat in the course of a day, it then becomes a plate with a single meal. In the consulting room Irene grabs a note pad and starts to draw again. Look, this is your plate. Now I divide it into two, you see? Here, on the left side, this half is for vegetables. The other half, here, I split into two again. And then below this line, one quarter of your plate, that is for your meat, chicken, fish or meat substitute. And then, above that line, that part is for your potatoes, rice or pasta. Fats are not separately mentioned as, most likely, enough of them will travel along with the rest of the food. Fluids are left out as well, to be dealt with separately. Part of the attraction of the drawing is that it fits a classic Dutch meal, composed of potatoes, meat and vegetables. However, their relative value has been shifted. The drawing does not favour the cheap bulk, the potatoes, but makes plenty of space for the foods richest in minerals and vitamins, the vegetables. In this way, classic Dutch food habits may be nudged into a better shape. People should eat less carbs and more vitamins and minerals. At the same time, Irene knows all too well that the habits she is trying to change are not universally shared to begin with. It is important to respect the fact that food cultures are different and may change. Thus Irene doesnt talk about potatoes,

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but about potatoes, pasta or rice. And in addition to meat, she mentions chicken and fish, as well as meat substitutes (that foster as well as simplify vegetarian eating). So there are cultures that have to be respected and habits that have to be nudged into better shape. The question as to where cultures begin and habits end or vice versa is carefully avoided. When Mr Laxman asks: Do I have to steam or boil our vegetables from now on? Irene reassures him. As she has been working in the mixed neighbourhood for a while, she has had plenty of opportunities to learn (from other clients, from eating in restaurants) about Mr Laxmans Surinam-Hindi food culture.21 Thus, she immediately realizes that steaming or boiling vegetables is likely to result in meals too bland for Mr Laxmans taste. He may fry his vegetables (his food culture is to be respected) so long as he is careful with the oil: not more than one spoonful for each person (this is the nudging of his habits into a good shape). Mr Laxman is pleased, if one spoonful is the norm, frying is still on. I tend to use one and a half spoonfuls for the four of us. He has told us that his two children still live at home, and he likes to do the cooking for the family. And while his children favour pizza, he makes them spicy curries. The question as to how a pizza or a curry might ever fit into the drawing of a plate divided in three parts is mercifully evaded. Habits and cultures are not quite the same. But whatever their differences, they inform the routines that the disc of five and the drawing of a plate seek to stamp out. They are ways of eating that people engage in without thinking. Thinking is required, for the routines are old. They stem from former times, when eating filling food was fine because it provided the energy needed to do manual labour and to keep warm. But now circumstances have changed. Work is more sedentary, houses are better heated. Food patterns should change accordingly. Once more an historical explanation is brought in. This time it is not evolutionary, involving many millennia, but rather evokes a recent historical change. It is only over the past century, or even the past decades, that work and housing have so dramatically changed that many peoples food patterns might need to be adapted. But people will only change their routines if they are aware of what they eat. They should be provided with information about nutrients and learn to mobilize this when they eat. The ontonorm at work here is that eating well depends on cognitive control. This is the message. Mind your plate.

Weight loss and world making


In most of her consultations, Irene Sanders freely mixes the three techniques that I have separated out here. As I ask her about the differences between them, she talks about their difficulty. Counting calories, she says, is hardest. It is difficult to see bread and think calories, and the calculations involved depend on advanced arithmetical skills. The lists are easier. That is to say, only rarely eating full, sugary yoghurt may be difficult to do, but this advice is not difficult to understand. The drawing of the plate, finally, is the most simple of the three. If people are able to differentiate between kinds of food at all, they can work with the drawing. But then again, says Irene, understanding is not all there is to dieting: Dieticians are supposed to give information, but dieting is also about motivation. The different techniques may well motivate people in different ways; they certainly motivate different people. But Irene doesnt know how this works and cannot predict

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which technique will suit which client, so she presents them with everything, and her clients can then experiment and find out what works best for them. The criterion for working is straightforward. When clients visit Irene, they stand on a scale. Their weight is measured and written down. The calculation is simple. Subtract what you weigh now from what you weighed last time. There it is, the criterion for working: weight loss. Thus in Irenes take on things, the different dieting techniques that I presented above are more or less difficult to understand, more or less motivating for various clients, and more or less efficient when measured against the criterion of weight loss. What I have tried to show in addition is that they are animated by different ontonorms. Counting calories enacts food as a fuel and wards off the bodys dangerous inclination to seek pleasure. Stipulating what may be eaten regularly, sometimes, or as an exception, enacts food as a substance that is more or less healthy or risky and counters the danger that bodies are naturally inclined to desire the most unhealthy kinds of food. Finally, the drawing of a plate enacts foods as nutrients and counters the danger of a routinized overinvestment in filling foods. In each case there are two layers. On the surface food is fuel, input or nutrients for a body that may be normal or deviant. Behind this, on a second layer, food is pleasurable, desirable and part of daily life. The advice emerges from an interference between these two layers. And who are the actors meant to take this advice? The advice to count calories addresses a cook who prepares a meal in a kitchen that has been turned into a laboratory where everything is measured. The lists in their turn address a consumer who may go with her desires, or alternatively overrule them as she makes her own food choices. Finally, the drawing of a subdivided plate addresses a diner who, seated at a common table, freely serves herself a large portion of vegetables, regardless of the amounts available and no matter what her table companions do. But however different the ontonorms embedded in and propagated by these three techniques, there is one way in which they are strikingly similar. They all call upon the mind to overrule the body. For the body is where dangers loom. It is the body that seeks limitless pleasure, desires risky foods and has come to incorporate bad habits. Or is it? The sad irony is that the very techniques that are put into place to control the body may stimulate or even evoke the dangerous behaviours that they set out to counter.22 For this is what is likely to happen. A person who tries to lose weight by laboriously counting calories feeds her body less than it needs. In this way, hunger sets in and the body, craving for food, will eat when given half a chance. This greedy eating then proves that bodies are indeed limitless seekers of pleasure in need of control. The lists come with a similar ironic twist. They insist that some foods should remain a treat, to be enjoyed as an exception only. But as they do so, they elevate what is to be enjoyed as an exception only to the status of a treat. Thus, against their own better judgement, the lists arouse their users desires for not-quite-but-almost-forbidden food. And as, finally, the disc of five and the drawing of a plate recommend variety, they deliberately rob people of their routines. The message embedded in this medium is: you are doing badly. If you dont get serious and stick to the rules, you are likely to fail.23 The problem is that people who have to think constantly about their choices are likely to get obsessed with food.24 Deploring their enduring failures, they may get trapped in a punishing fixation that stimulates the bad food habits that the advice was meant to counter.

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Enjoy your food


The idea that people who want to lose weight should mind their plate is not self-evident. On the margins of Dutch dieting (and more prominently in some other countries, such as Italy and France) another kind of advice is to be found: enjoy your food. This advice, though definitely more cheerful, is not necessarily easier to follow. Analysing everything that is at stake in the advice to enjoy your food is too much for now, and it is a task that I leave for another article.25 However, a short analysis of this contrasting advice may help to rob plate-minding of any residual self-evidence. This is what I try to achieve in what follows. For the sake of narrative unity, I take you once more to the consulting room of Irene Sanders. For (despite her orthodox schooling and her insistence that her work is ordinary) enjoy your food repertoires did in fact emerge there. At some point we talk about cheese. When Dutch cheese is young it is still moist, while as it gets older it dries out and acquires a stronger taste. In the coffee break I mention a dieting website advocating young cheese because there are fewer calories in every 100 g of it than in old cheese. That is so silly, Irene nods, affirming the tinge of scepticism in my voice. Old cheese has a lot more taste, so you need less of it to feel that you have eaten. Why might it be more important to feel that you have eaten than to take calories into account? What emerges here is a body that when it feels that it has eaten stops eating without having been told to do so. It no longer craves more, as it is satisfied. Satisfaction depends on food that is tasty, but also on the person who has to do the feeling. Feeling only happens if you attend to your body when you eat. Irene tries to support such attentiveness. Very good, Mr Laxman, that you sit down for dinner at home. With the family and all. Hold on to that. Dont eat at your desk or in front of the television without even noticing what you gulp up. Take your time. Only if you create the right circumstances does it become possible to enjoy your food. In this context taking pleasure does not figure as an incitement to overeat. From being dangerous it has turned into something that is advisable. In the nutrition science tradition that is being mobilized here, hedonism, rather than being dangerous, is involved in the very feedback loops that allow a body to self-caringly maintain its own homeostasis.26 The danger is now that people (rushing or preoccupied with something else) do not attend to what they eat. Inattentive bodies do not feel pleasure. They miss out on satisfaction feedback. The lists assume that bodily preferences have to be overruled because bodies are naturally inclined to eat what (under present cultural circumstances) is bad for them. However, what bodies prefer is not invariably enacted as natural. Irene explains: As dieticians we advocate vegetables. The problem is, many people dont like vegetables. Parents would do well to take more effort with this and teach their children to like vegetables. A bite of broccoli, first thing, when you are still hungry, once or twice a week, for a few weeks on end. That is often enough to develop a liking. If tastes are acquired they may be cultivated. Sometimes childhood is designated as the crucial time for this. Elsewhere, desires are taken to be adaptable throughout life. Just as they may be fuelled, they may wane. No more candy bars, Mr Laxman concludes. Irene: Well, I am not going to forbid you anything. But candy bars are indeed not very helpful if you want to lose weight. Heres a consolation. You may get used to it. Some

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clients who completely avoid sugar tell me that this is very hard at first. But after a few months they no longer even like sweet stuff. Here, what a body likes (longs for, desires) is not enacted as given. It may be tinkered with. By taking test bites or by abstaining, bodies may acquire a taste or lose a yearning. The preferences that emerge in the process are not naturally given with the human body and its evolutionary history. Instead they deserve to be cultivated.27 The disc of five and the drawing of a plate offer cognitive handholds to counter bad eating habits. In some sites and situations this strategy visibly hits at its limits. Mr Laxmans problems, for instance, were not due to lack of knowledge about food, but rather to his workload. The next client on Irenes schedule faces yet more practical problems. Mr Wouters, who has cardiac symptoms, is a truck driver. When he is on the road he eats what the cheaper road restaurants have on offer, at times that suit his work schedule rather than his stomach. He tells Irene that when he has a chance he fills up. At home things are not much easier. Two years ago he got divorced. He still doesnt know how to cook a meal or how to shop for one. Irene, concerned about an imminent heart attack, asks him if he likes fish. Mr Wouters says, yes, deep fried fish in batter is always a welcome snack, he often grabs one. Irene tries hard, but does not find a way of talking with Mr Wouters about kinds of food. Once he is gone, she admits that there is frustratingly little that she can do. For people like him, she says, it is a pity that I dont give cookery classes. Cookery classes are rather unlike advice. They do not call upon the mind to overrule the body and its engrained routines. Instead, they train a person, body and all, to handle food in a better way. They help it to come to embody new routines. They incorporate the ontonorm that having self-care skills in your fingers is a prerequisite to enjoying food.28 Dietary techniques that encourage people to enjoy their food do not enact bodies as wild animals in need of control, but rather as pets in need of training. They take it that human bodies must be cultivated. They have to learn to feel and to appreciate which food increases their well-being.29 They have to acquire the skills necessary for cooking varied meals. It is only thanks to such cultivation that it becomes possible to truly enjoy your food. And once you do, once you are truly, attentively enjoying, control is unnecessary. For a well-trained and well-fed body is not inclined to eat too much or poorly. This, then, is the crucial tension between controlling dieting techniques (mind your plate) and caring dieting techniques (enjoy your food). Is the body naturally greedy or rather nature-culturally capable of self-care? On both sides of this tension food may be enacted as a source of energy, a substance that is more or less healthy, or a source of nutrients. On both sides of the tension food may be something that gives pleasure, is an object of desire, or else figures as a part of daily life and its habits. But the repertoires differ when it comes to the question whether the human bodys food pleasures are good or bad for our health. And what also changes are the criteria for success of care interventions. For in the enjoy your food repertoire weight loss may still be a good thing, but it is no longer the overall criterion for success. Other concerns are more important. A persons situation is improved if she no longer walks around craving food, haunted by unfulfilled desires, or deploring her own many dieting failures. In this alternative repertoire, then, the criterion for work feeds back into the advice. Care is successful if, following on from it, you are able to enjoy your food.30

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Conclusion
In this analysis of the ontonorms of Dutch dieting I have brought out how different dietary techniques enact food and the human body. The accent was on the onto of food and body embedded in the advice and the norms pertaining to the question how to eat. It would also be possible to foreground the norms pertaining to the body. In the dieting advice laid out above various kinds of health are fostered. First there is homeostasis that is staying more or less the same even as surroundings change. Next there is health defined as the likelihood of getting a disease that emerges from the statistical calculations of epidemiology. And, third, there is the proper functioning of bodily processes and organs. The bad things that threatened these variants of health are, respectively, overeating, eating unhealthy food, and eating filling bulk while missing out on crucial nutrients. And then there are questions to do with the bodys own appreciative involvements in eating: pleasure, desires and routines. Are these good or bad? In the advice to mind your plate they are enacted as bad, for (however understandable they may be as residues from the past) they lead to bad behaviours. In the advice to enjoy your food, by contrast, they are not bad at all. Like other naturecultural hybrids (such as pets and gardens) they just call for cultivation. This does not call up the huntergatherer societies of prehistory, nor the manual labour and poor housing of decades ago. Instead what becomes relevant are current families, friends and activities; as well as food shops, food markets, agriculture indeed the entire global food arena. Everything that is bracketed off in mind your plate advice and that has been bracketed off in this article as well. All these varied figures participate in the cultivation of bodily tastes, bodily responsiveness and embodied skills that may make enjoyment possible. Or not. There is a lot left to analyse. But what I hope I have conveyed is that professional practices where science being mobilized in order to improve daily life may be analysed by hunting for the ontonorms that inform them. Different ontonorms come with different versions of what it might be to improve and vice versa. But beware, I am not trying to frame a theory of ontonorms here. I did not define ontonorms in the introduction and neither will I do so as part of the conclusion. Indeed I have barely used the term. At the same time, hunting for ontonorms gave a focus to my analysis. It was a productive methodological tool since it has allowed me to explore how different dieting techniques enact different foods and different bodies while conveying different ideals, dangers and other goods and bads that intertwine and clash with one another in a dazzling range of ways.31 If it comes in handy, by all means experiment with the term ontonorms in your own work. If you do, the methodological possibilities of this terminological tool will be gradually fleshed out. What does the term ontonorms lead you to see in the cases that you study? Where do you hit upon its limits? How might we adapt and play with it? If we sooner or later end up discarding the term ontonorms again because it stops being a strange, terse, productive oxymoron, that is fine by me. But this is my request. Please do not define this term. Abstain from all attempts to make it definite. Lets not make a turn to ontonorms, but rather keep them fluid, ambivalent, dancing and gerrymandering.

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A first draft of this article was written when I had a research grant from the Ethics and Policy program of the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research to study Good information, good food. Additional fieldwork and the writing of the second draft were made possible by an ERC Advanced grant for the project The eating body in Western practice and theory. Both are gratefully acknowledged. Thanks as well to the clients/patients who allowed me to witness their consultations and/or who talked about their lives in interviews; the staff members of the clinic where I did my observations (especially Irene Sanders). Thanks as well to Sabine Mira Ferrer for her interviews with people diagnosed as overweight in another city; Else Vogel for her observations of dieting practices all over the Netherlands and our conversations about them; Marianne de Laet for additional analysis; and Annette Aarts for access to her alternative approach to dieting. Thanks for their comments to the anonymous reviewers of Social Studies of Science and the editors of this special issue, Steve Woolgar and Javier Lezaun. Many others too numerous to name here also read earlier versions and/or discussed dietary issues with me. But let me make an exception for Larry Bush, Anita Hardon, Robert Pool and Vinh-kim Nguyen. Thanks, also, to the team: Anna Mann, Filippo Bertoni, Sebastian Abrahamsson, Emily Yates-Doerr, Rebeca Ibanez Martin and Michalis Kontopodis. Finally, I thank Mieke Aerts and John Law for their enduring intellectual support and John Law once again for facilitating my translation into English.

Funding
This research was made possible by a grant of the Ethics and Policy program of the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research meant to study Good information, good food. Additional fieldwork and the writing of the second draft were made supported by an ERC Advanced grant for the project The eating body in Western practice and theory.

Notes
1. 2. 3. A discrepancy and a dispute are not the same thing. See Nestle and Dixon (2004) for some of the controversies within nutrition science. For asking the question How many realities there are see Hacking (1992), for multiplicity and coordination see for example Verran (2001), Mol (2002), Law (2002) and Moreira (2006). It is only when a person eats that food is afforded qua food to act. It is only when food gets discarded that it is afforded to engage in the activity of rotting. Et cetera. For objects that act see Callon and Law (1995), and for the movement between being enacted and acting see Law and Mol (2008). For the term ontological politics see Mol (1998) and for a great example of how this may be put to work, see Moser (2008). See for earlier studies into objects as well as norms, for example Thvenot (2002) on the question of the good road, Pols (2003) on the question of good care, Moser (2005) on dis-abilities, and Willems of (2010) on good breathing and good dying. There is also a resonance with the shift from matters of fact (to do with true/false) to matters of concern (to do with good/bad) made in Latour (2004). For interference, see Haraway (1992). All too often theory gets frozen. For a more extended defence of fluid theory see Mol (2010a). Obviously, this global food arena is rife with complexities. See for example Lang and Heasman (2004) and Watson and Caldwell (2005). There are striking resemblances between my Dutch materials and those about dieting elsewhere, as far away as Guatemala (Yates-Doerr, 2010). At the same time there are endless

4. 5.

6. 7. 8.

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specific differences. In this article I avoid claims about geographical reach and stick to analysing my Dutch materials. For instance the comment that in dieting advice a rational mind is called upon to dominate a voracious body is an old one; see for example Bordo (1993) and Turner (1996). In this clinic I also observed a general practitioner and a physical therapist. As I have no illusions about knowing better, let alone about doing better, I try to refrain from generalized criticism. Seeking to think with the professionals concerned, I engage in an analysis that is merciless, but specific. For general critique that health promotion is a part of neoliberal governance, casting people as individually responsible for their health, see for example Gard and Wright (2005). That these professionals insist on the fact that they see mixed as interesting, is (at least in part) their way of responding to the overtones in current public discourse in the Netherlands that turn all so-called ethnic differences into a problem. For an analysis see Geschiere (2009). In the Netherlands people may visit their general practitioner without financial concerns. Their (obligatory) healthcare insurance pays. The general practitioner has the discretionary power to refer patients, according to their medically assessed needs, to other healthcare professionals, including medical specialists in the hospital and paramedics in the local clinic. However, since early 2012 visits to a dietician are no longer regularly reimbursed (a few visits are allowed and only in case of a few specified diseases). The Ministry has decreed that people should be able to make the right choices required for a healthy lifestyle all by themselves. This should be is a fascinating ontonorm in its own right, a mixture of wishful thinking and civic duty. To be analysed elsewhere. For this and other elements of the history of the calorie in its intertwinement with labour relations and foreign policy, see Cullather (2007, 2010). For an analysis of the way calories call up a protestant aversion to bodily sins, see Coveney (2000). For a call to attend to food in the context of aesthetics (that used to take it as too ephemeral, subjective and inescapably physical) see Kosmeyer (1999). In rough and ready terms, hedonism seems by definition in excess. Elsewhere, processed food and other current eating circumstances are being blamed for disturbing the hedonistic reward system. This may then be a reason to take control, or rather one to retrain this reward system. See the section on enjoy your food below. In contexts where there are problems with peoples lack of appetite, there are interesting tensions between nutrition-food and food-pleasure too: see Harbers et al. (2002) and Mol (2010b). See http://www.voedingscentrum.nl/nl/service/english.aspx for the English version of the website and http://www.voedingscentrum.nl/nl/schijf-van-vijf/eet-gevarieerd.aspx for the particular list (accessed March 2012). For an interesting version of this history, see Schleifer (2012). This leniency is facilitated by the statistical character of the knowledge involved. Doing a risky thing does not directly lead to disease or death, but just increases its chances. Thus, it may not be so bad if it occurs only sparingly and may be compensated by doing good things most of the time. In Dutch the words the disc of five have become a standard expression. That is why I dont use the term wheel or circle or pie chart in my English translation. It is also why when food was no longer divided into five but into four groups, fluids were added as a fifth category. The image resonates with similar images that are being offered to the public elsewhere. For instance in US there is, these days, my plate (that non-incidentally comes with the incitement to choose; www.ChooseMyPlate.gov). Other countries, for example Spain, Belgium and Australia, have a food pyramid. See also http://www.eufic.org/article/en/expid/ food-based-dietary-guidelines-in-europe/.

9. 10.

11. 12.

13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18.

19.

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20. Energy is topicalized in biophysics. But some parts of biophysics are backgrounded even in the nutrition sciences, for instance those that tell how cutting, pounding, chewing and so on, make a considerable difference to the energy a body absorbs from food, while cooking does so even more. See Wrangham (2009). 21. Surinam was a Dutch plantation colony mainly growing sugar and cotton thanks to slave labour. When slavery was outlawed, wage labourers were imported from specific regions in India. This adds to the historic as well as the ethnic complexity of present day Surinam and also to that of the Netherlands, where many of their descendants now live. The people concerned are usually called Hindi in the Netherlands (or, in Dutch: Hindustaans), but for clarity I here use Surinam-Hindi. For the relevant migration trajectories, see Amersfoort and Niekerk (2006). 22. These ironies are in line with Cowards (1996) analysis of womens magazines as engaging in food pornography: the beautiful pictures that accompany their recipes evoke a lust for the very food that the articles about dieting recommend one should abstain from. That nutrition science advice may lead on to disturbed eating behaviour as it does not take the relevance of food pleasures seriously was noted a long time ago; see for example Westenhoefer and Pudel (1993). 23. That disrupting routines may have adverse effects and nutrition science mainly makes people insecure leads Pollan to suggest that it might be wiser to cook once more just like our grandmothers. See for example Pollan (2008). 24. For the argument that these days we are now obsessed with food, or fat, as a collective, see Kulick and Mennelly (2005). 25. Else Vogel and I are currently preparing this. For the argument that food ethics should attend to pleasure, see Van der Weele (2006). In their call to study food pleasures, Coveney and Bunton (2003) interestingly differentiate between kinds of pleasure: carnal pleasure, disciplined pleasure, ascetic pleasure and ecstatic pleasure. For a study into the ways food pleasure is being done relationally, see Wiggins (2002). 26. There are also corners of nutrition science where the question when bodies stop all by themselves is being studied. One of the concerns there is whether it is (just or mainly) satiety that is some variant of fullness that is crucial here, or whether bodies seek satisfaction that is enough pleasant sensations brought along by such things as the taste, texture and warmth of food (field notes, conference, Wageningen 2008). 27. Such cultivation has also quite recently become an object of social science inquiry: see for instance Teil and Hennion (2004). If the body is not just something we have and are, but also something we do (Mol and Law, 2004) the activity of feeling (e.g. a low blood sugar level) ties up with other activities (e.g. eating sugary yoghurt to avoid a hypoglycaemia). 28. While Mr Laxmans eating habits relate to his Hindi-Surinam background and high education, the case of Mr Wouters brings to mind two additional sociological variables: class and gender. It is among the truisms of food studies that sociologically diverse groups of people relate to food and information about it in different ways (Ristovski-Slijepcevica et al., 2008) However, if one seeks to explore the what and how of practices it may help to sideline such who questions. For although Mr Wouters lack of cooking skills may well be related to the fact that he is a man, Mr Laxman is a man too, and he likes to cook. It is an ethnographic virtue to stay open to such specificities, and to stay away from seeing like a survey (Law, 2009). 29. The health that emerges in this context is not that of epidemiology. Rather than being measured in a population study, it is appreciated from the inside as well-being; it is a clinical norm (Mol, 1998). The contrasts drawn here between control and pleasure also resonate with those between the logic of choice and the logic of care laid out in Mol (2008).

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30. The enjoy your food repertoire is defended in so many words as an alternative paradigm (e.g. Bacon and Aphramor, 2011) that deserves to be strengthened. In such moments a controversy is overtly staged. Counsellors working with this new paradigm often avoid mobilizing the old one, concerned about its possible ironic effects. At the same time, just like Irene, many professional dieticians freely mix the contrasting techniques as is usual throughout healthcare. 31. In practices that turn around rules or standards, the term ontonorm might be productively mobilized as well. There it may help to show that specific norms depend on and foster their own onto-s. See also Busch (2011).

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Biographical Note
Annemarie Mol is a Professor of Anthropology of the Body at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam. She is author of The Body Multiple (Duke University Press 2002) and The Logic of Care (Routledge 2008) and co-editor of Differences in Medicine (Duke University Press 1998), Complexities (Duke University Press 2002) and Care in Practice (Transcript 2010). Her articles concern themselves with caring bodies, travelling technologies, topological figures, feminist ways of writing and fluid theorizing. She is currently working with a team with an ERC Advanced Grant on Eating bodies in western practice and theory.

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