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Q&A with Adrienne Rose Bitar on Diet & the Disease of Civilization

I moved across country this summer, a process that necessitated packing and unpacking all of my books, including titles other academics might find odd: dozens of cookbooks (like my microwave cookbooks!) and a number of diet books (yes, some for men).

Luckily, Adrienne Rose Bitar, a postdoctoral associate in history at Cornell University, can relate to my collection of weight loss texts. She surveyed four hundred U.S. diet books for her recent monograph, Diet and the Disease of Civilization. Focusing on four diets and their associated locations—Paleo (the cave), Eden (the Garden), precolonial (“primitive” paradise), and detox (preindustrial world)—Bitar demonstrates how each diet depends on the same “Fall of Man” story, which she asserts forms “the narrative backbone of our national consciousness.”

I recently had the chance to chat with Adrienne, one dieting scholar to another, in my latest for Nursing Clio. Our conversation covers the research challenges of studying diet books, what detox diets can tell us about American culture, how Adrienne managed to go from dissertation to book in just two years, and how and why she sees a message of hope in diet literature.

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