Monthly Archives: June 2012

Reading Scrapbooks: A Day of Archaeology

Today is the second annual Day of Archaeology, a single day when a broad range of archaeologists document their day.  My day was exceptionally mundane and spent in an office, but of course this is how many other archaeologists were spending their days as well, sequestered in front of computers and hunkered over lab tables.  For instance, Bernard Means discussed his day scanning a spoon at George Washington’s boyhood home; Clair Woodhead detailed the conservation of the Blackmoor Hoard’s Cow-Bell; Michigan State University archaeologists related their week and broader project digging on campus; Carole Nash actually was in the field excavating an 18th-century German home on an oppressively hot Virginia day; Carl Carlson-Drexler did a fascinating excavation of his own desk; and Terry Brock dissected his backpack.

Scrapbooks aspire to weave life narratives with prosaic things like theater programs and hostel receipts.

The patterns visible in the Day of Archaeology postings reflect that archaeologists are stepping well beyond narrowly defined fieldwork, which is not really surprising to archaeologists, but what we actually do is a bit of a mystery to plenty of people.  Most of my day was spent thinking and writing about a relatively obscure class of material things that might seem a little outside the purview of archaeology:  I’m examining how scrapbooks use the most prosaic objects like prom programs, placemats, ultrasound images, and dried corsages to weave narratives about the self.  All archaeology attempts to make things like this “speak”; that is, we impose narratives on assemblages, spaces, and objects, but some dimensions of materiality simply exist outside completely satisfying expression and are very difficult to articulate.  Things like a good cup of coffee or your neighborhood landscape are difficult to capture in text or oral testimony, and in many ways they are profoundly meaningful to us even if we cannot completely outline precisely why we adore chocolate or a favorite garment.  Gathering those things in a self-authored book has a distinctive power to tell a story about one’s own life and implicitly stake a claim to the meaningfulness of that experience.

Many of us do archaeology because we are attracted to and perhaps even enchanted by things, regardless of whether they’re covered with dirt or not.  I’m looking at scrapbooks because they aspire to convey a tale about the consequence of somebody’s life, but they often tell such profoundly important stories with counter-intuitively mundane things.  Oral testimony and text alike often struggle to capture the meaning of things because many of those things are largely outside our expressive consciousness.  Archaeologists spend much of our time focusing on how people define things socially, and scrapbooks certainly try to impose coherence and a particular perspective on a life experience, but scrapbooks often convey those stories simply using things to evoke memories, trigger stories, and create meanings in ways even a scrapbook narrator cannot completely control.

Scrapbooks recognize how powerful things can be and implicitly acknowledge that a ticket stub, graduation program, or SHA conference name tag can silently tell stories and evoke complex experiences.  This was probably not a day of archaeology that fits archaeological stereotypes, but then many of the days recounted on the Day of Archaeology blog break from those narrow caricatures.

Archaeology is Consequential (and Boring)

Prometheus harbors a somewhat dystopian thread that warns of the dangers of actually finding our makers.

I recently saw the nominally archaeological movie Prometheus, which starts in promising enough fashion addressing the origins of humankind and perhaps even warning us of the dangers of finding our makers, only to be reduced to lots of foolish astronauts getting murdered by creepy monsters.  Disappointing though Prometheus may be, it makes archaeology profoundly consequential, taking aim on the most fundamental question in life and invoking a deeply meaningful world of faith and mythology that ponders who we are, where we came from, and what separates us from other animals.  Where real archaeology tends to be boring despite revealing the meaningful dimensions of everyday life, Prometheus paints archaeology as a mythical science unlocking the essential questions about life that lay locked in the past.

The film evokes Chariots of the Gods mythologies, focusing on how inexplicable symbols in an Inner Hebrides cave reveal the workings of interplanetary travelers who seeded the Earth millennia ago.  In the late 21st century, two archaeologists on the Isle of Skye find cave murals that they determine are an invitation to visit another solar system to meet our makers.  (While not always convincing, Cavalorn’s dissection of  Prometheus’ mythology is a clever and interesting analysis of the weightiest dimensions of the movie.)  The archaeologists who piece together the repetition of the Scottish motifs in various other places help convince a ridiculously wealthy old man to rocket into space to meet these makers, and at that point the movie has nothing more to do with archaeology even tangentially, reducing itself instead to a predictable horror movie stocked by some really stupid astronauts and predictable situations.

Of course archaeological projects are boring in the same way as nearly all everyday life.  Nevertheless, we do not go to the movies to see real life.  We go to the movies, watch TV, play video games, and go to theme parks because they present the most spectacular dimensions of ourselves back to us in a distorted reflection that is recognizable yet evades all the dull repetition of everyday life.  Certainly archaeologists might reasonably quibble with Prometheus’ distortions of archaeology, just as the Chariots of the Gods narratives madden scholars who accept that monumental triangular-shaped architecture might well have been produced independently by people in the New and Old Worlds alike without the architectural assistance of aliens.  Prometheus does not venture into the common popular cultural narrative that reduces archaeological artifacts and spaces to narrowly defined “treasure,” which is perhaps more challenging to un-do than the suggestion that an archaeologist can re-animate a corpse or unlock a time portal.

Prometheus identifies these muscular blue aliens (the “Engineers”) as our creators.

The Indiana Jones’ films craft a similar fascination with the supernatural world unlocked by archaeologists, as do the Mummy films, Stargate, and the Tomb Raider series, all of which are charged by a notion of archaeology as a moral and scientifically grounded pursuit of the truth that confirms various mythological realities.  Submerged ancient cities, the peopling of the Americas by Biblical peoples, and distant visits from aliens are emotionally and intellectually satisfying because they provide much more conclusive answers than science itself, which is a complicated and ever-unfolding discourse marshaling new facts at every turn and reassessing the frameworks that we’ve inherited.  In contrast, the Prometheus mythology provides a more elegant and complete answer to where we came from, which is a single bunch of muscular, bluish aliens with pitch black eyes who left one of their number to sacrifice himself and begin the genetic process of seeding earth.  Audiences are smart enough to realize this is not a tale supported by any evidence—just as we understand that an animated rodent cannot manage a magical fiefdom, or that life is never as resolute as any professional sporting event—but we consume those narratives because they provide a clarity that is rarely provided in our real lives.  It is not really fruitful simply to distinguish between fact and fiction (compare Mark Hall’s analysis of archaeology in the movies); instead, everyday life and real archaeology fail to provide the compelling drama, conclusiveness, and narrative tension most of us wish was part of our quotidian lives, and popular culture fills that void with exaggeration addressing those desires.  Prometheus wields archaeology and the specter of scientific objectivity to reproduce its mythology, and we suspend our disbelief for a couple hours because we enjoy creative distortions.

Archaeology as a concrete practice involves remarkable patience that reveals patterns and interpretive narratives very gradually, which is not especially conducive to popular cultural depictions or the timelines for movies and TV shows.  Yet archaeology surfaces in popular culture to address contemporary social questions, and it is not unreasonable to argue that archaeological scholarship does the very same thing (this is a central thesis of Cornelius Holtorf’s book From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture).  The degree to which people actually buy into totalizing narratives that answer the myriad range of imponderables science simply cannot answer is unclear:  For instance, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution, one 2007 poll indicates that 43% of Americans believe that God created humans in the last 10,000 years (a 2010 poll placed this figure at 40%).  There simply are some things science cannot answer, and it is in those margins that various threads of faith as well as popular mythology flourish, in large part because both provide conclusive answers (albeit the latter for distraction and entertainment and the former for deeper emotional resolution).

Archaeologists routinely contest the degree to which an authentic past can be accessed scientifically, with Cornelius Holtorf arguing that archaeology really is about our contemporary world and how past peoples provide a lens refining our picture of our own everyday world.  This implication that archaeology is an imagining of the past has been greeted by a host of very critical voices, with Kristian Kristiansen’s response and Holtorf’s defense among the most interesting (Marko Marila’s blog also creatively plumbs the philosophical complexities of past and present).  We can still accept that archaeology constructs a past, albeit with reflective understanding of contemporary politics, an appreciation for scientific rigor, and a firm voice that speaks against gross ideologically driven misrepresentations (e.g., Nazi archaeologies are the classic example, but certainly many web pages, movies, and TV shows are laden with nationalist, racist, and patriarchal distortions not supported by sound archaeological data).  Archaeology may be a boring everyday practice, and mythologies may sometimes provide more emotionally satisfying answers than archaeology, but it has genuine social consequence.

Hall, Mark A.

2004 Romancing the Stones: Archaeology in Popular CinemaEuropean Journal of Archaeology 7(2): 159-176.

Holtorf, Cornelius

2005 From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture.  Altamira, Walnut Creek, California.

Furnishing the Apocalypse: The 21st Century Fallout Shelter

The post-Apocalypse period promises to be more aesthetic and comfortable than Mad Max led us to believe.

Roughly 15% of people believe the world will soon end in catastrophe, whether it be global warming, zombie apocalypse, the Rapture, the prophecies of the Mayan calendar or I Ching, electromagnetic pulses, economic collapse, or any other number of End-Time scenarios detailed on late-night radio shows and web pages.  In  2007 the New York Times recognized that apocalypse is a surprisingly “appealing idea because it promises salvation to a select group — all of whom share secret knowledge — and a world redeemed and delivered from evil.”  Many of our neighbors are wary of the State, creeping liberalism, environmental decline, and a variety of other signs that portend an approaching end and cannot be fully explained outside mythical narratives, and at least some of them believe they can ride out the apocalypse and perhaps even improve on the contemporary world afterward.

These prophets of Doom often deplore worldly materialism, yet many amongst them have begun planning for their accommodation after the endtimes.  In the wake of Armageddon, about 70 people plan to hunker down in a renovated missile silo in Kansas that has been exceptionally well-appointed with a movie theater, exercise spaces, and tastefully furnished rooms (and similar places in Indiana and more unidentified spots being built by construction firms focused on fortified shelters) that are a far cry from the spartan fallout shelters that sprang up in American backyards during the Cold War.   The real estate firm 20th Century Castles specializes in Cold War missile bases including a former Nike Missile base in southeastern Indiana with one residential missile magazine including a pool and jacuzzi (price reduced to $1.3 million).

Inside the Vivos shelter’s communal space.

The best-known of these firms may be the Vivos shelters that include hardened bunker condo’s in Indiana, the Rockies, and Nebraska, all holding between 50 and 1000 people and their genetic material as the apocalypse goes on overhead (their YouTube page includes a host of videos and interviews about the shelters and the reasons people might seek them out).  Most of these firms cast their accommodations as places people will wait until it is safe to go out, and in the meantime they plan to make us comfortable and safe.

Vivos will provide a comfortable office space for the End Times.

One Vivos video of a planned shelter space is eerily like a Sims house, outfitted in wood grains, paintings of nature, and earthtones and fake plants rather than the cool steel, barrels of supplies, and scratchy wool blankets that awaited us in Cold War fallout shelters.  A tour of an Indiana shelter under construction requires some imagination to envision it as a bourgeois space, but it is fitted with fabulous appliances and tasteful bathroom fittings.  The material landscape promised by these upscale shelters is vastly different than the Armageddon aesthetic most people envision in the wake of various apocalypses.  Though some of these firms indicate that people will eventually come to the surface to hunt and gather and re-populate the earth, their promises revolve around indefinitely providing  a modest community snugly held in an Ikea-outfitted steel tube without any natural light.

You could win a ticket to live here when the Apocalypse arrives.

Spike TV recognized the fascination many of us have with doomsday prophecy and those people who openly if somewhat neurotically warn the rest of us about the dangers awaiting us, so they have turned that fascination into the reality series “Last Family on Earth.”  The winner of Last Family will secure a share of a Vivos shelter space for up to six of their family members based on games in which  contestants are tested in the face of “a variety of annihilation scenarios, including a pandemic, global government or economic collapse, nuclear war, reactor meltdown, solar flares, massive asteroids, lethal climate change, a pole shift, calamitous earthquakes — even widespread anarchy.”  The casting company is in its last days of casting, so there is still time for a couple archaeologists to make an appeal for the skills we will bring to End Times.

The Materiality of Complete Streets

Few cities could be more friendly to cars than Indianapolis, which long had few pedestrian-friendly streets and sidewalks, only a few isolated bike lanes, and a terribly under-supported mass transit system.  Much of that has not changed significantly, but it is still a little surprising that city administrators and now the normally conservative Indianapolis Star are championing the Complete Streets initiative, which aspires to design new streets and renovate existing roadways to accommodate various modes of transportation in addition to cars.  Hoosiers are apt to champion fiscally conservative strategies, including Star columnist Andrea Neal, who argued in March, 2012 that mass transit “doesn’t work” anywhere, because “Urban mass transit is the most expensive form of travel in the United States at 72 cents per passenger mile. That compares to 23 cents per passenger mile for auto travel, 15 cents for air travel and 60 cents for Amtrak.”  Neal somewhat condescendingly argued against letting the issue even reach voters, concluding that “Letting voters weigh in on a bad idea doesn’t make it better. In terms of ridership and revenues, mass transit is a losing proposition. Wishful thinking will not change that.”

Neal seemed willing to ignore that the state funds many services that are not “profitable,” including the highway system itself : in 2011 an ambitious US Public Interest Groups report found that “Since 1947, the amount of money spent on highways, roads and streets has exceeded the amount raised through gasoline taxes and other so-called `user fees’ by $600 billion.”  The state is compelled to subsidize highway construction and maintenance because user fees cover only 51% of their cost and are not even remotely close to being “profitable” in Andrea Neal’s terms.  The federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993, and even Ronald Reagan acknowledged that failing to raise the tax (which he did in 1982) would gut any capacity to maintain the highway system.  Mass transit is a vastly less painful subsidy.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has launched similarly self-serving attacks on mass transit and bike paths, audaciously suggesting in February, 2012 that 25% of Highway Trust Funds were “being siphoned off for non-economic projects—such as beautification and bike paths.”

Boehner is among a wave of conservatives who wield the specter of bike paths as a rhetorical mechanism invoking the fear of urban yuppies, but this debate really revolves around the materiality of mass transit.  The move to embrace a breadth of transportation options is routinely rhetoricized as yet another intrusion of the state into everyday freedoms that threatens to strip us of cigarettes, high-fat foods, cheap gas, and variety of other consumer acts, but the threat posed by bike lanes and mass transit are slightly different than that posed by smoking codes or “twinkie taxes.”  Bike lanes, sidewalks, bus and train routes, pedestrians, and cyclists and buses are part of public space shoulder-to-shoulder with cars, so their appearance is often viewed as symbols of the state.  Cars have become oddly invisible: despite having colonized urban space, drivers in cars are paradoxically invisible to themselves until they are actually illuminated by alternatives like bikes and buses.

In Indianapolis the privately funded Cultural Trail was the first indication of a shift in the unquestioned primacy of cars, and the funding of the Cultural Trail entirely based on the generosity of Eugene and Marilyn Glick has muted some of the criticism of the Trail.  Indianapolis has a rich tradition of private philanthropy addressing community social challenges, and the Glicks represent the best of that tradition.  In October 2011 The Corresponder was a little skeptical of the economic impact of the Trail but admitted that it seemed like a “wonderful new addition” to the city.  Construction inconveniences in places like Fountain Square have led to some grumbling, albeit less about the Trail than about its short-term impact on businesses and access.  American Dirt reported optimistically on the Cultural Trail in 2009 while recognizing that it was but a small strip of Indianapolis pavement (compare A Place of Sense and Complete Streets flick’r page).

The road is at least symbolically shared with this “sharrow” marker.

Now bike lanes and multi-use roadways are extending outside downtown alone (e.g., Meridian and Westfield) and into postwar suburbs (Urban Indy follows the growth of bike lanes very closely).  Even my closest thoroughfare has a “sharrow” marking leading to a bike lane and a series of very rideable streets, all of which seem to inspire quite overwrought and impressionistic tirades against cycling and the primacy of cars (compare the comments linked in my piece on the politics of bike lanes).   Yet in Indianapolis—a bastion of fiscal conservatism zealously committed to protecting personal freedoms—the increasing acceptability of bike lanes and urban redesign can only reflect a sea-change in how the community views bikes, pedestrians, and mass transit.

Bill Rathje and Contemporary Archaeology

A position every archaeologist wants to assume.

Yesterday I received an email from a proud grandfather whose precocious 11-year old grand daughter was fascinated by archaeology, and he wanted to fuel the fire and know what he should get for her to read.  Without any reflection I suggested to him the same book have I suggested to that same inquiry countless times: I indicated he should buy her a copy of Bill Rathje’s Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (1992, co-authored with Cullen Murphy).  Rubbish! is exceptional for its ability to be succinct and readable while making absolutely clear and persuasive points about the genuine power of archaeology as a mechanism for social activism and policy change.  Rubbish! is at once a lyrical, reflective, creative, and amusing tale of how refuse management has shaped human history across the breadth of complex societies, never concealing its debt to archaeological method and insight yet never becoming bogged down in the details of material life and always returning to remind us that those otherwise prosaic methods can be used to change some of the most consequential dimensions of our material lives.  I have taught the book at least once every year for 15 years, and it universally illuminates some of the most familiar dimensions of students’ lives in ways they had never recognized before.  It is one of those very rare books that makes me jealous that I did not think of it first even as I silently acknowledge that the book’s accessibility belies the depth of its scholarship and it’s sheer intellectual creativity.

Bill Rathje died May 24th, leaving behind Rubbish! and a rich scholarship on contemporary materiality that may have had a more widespread impact than nearly any archaeologist in the past half-century.  Certainly there have been some astounding scholars in that time who profoundly changed archaeology and influenced a vast range of subsequent scholarship, but few of them could deny Rathje’s impact beyond the academy even as his work dramatically shaped archaeology itself.  Many of us will write some monographs that have a modest impact on a circle of scholars and perhaps even a few non-academics, but few archaeologists can ever hope to find such a compelling topic and then rigorously analyze the questions and produce an accessible and compelling study.  Nearly all archaeologists interested in public engagement march out Rathje’s garbology studies as an example of the power of public archaeology to enchant non-academics, advise government administrators, and shape consequential public policy.  For the astounding number of international scholars now examining the contemporary material world, Rathje’s work paved the way, legitimizing archaeologies of us, establishing the relevance of archaeological methods outside an excavation unit, and persistently reminding people that archaeology is always about the contemporary world.  Few scholars can ever hope to have such broad scholarly influence and be so well-liked and respected, and probably no archaeologist can match the impact Rathje will have on all corners of archaeology long into the future.

The State and Consumer Desire: The Case of Doughnuts and Soda

The New York Times captured these doughnut fans at the New York City Doughnut Day gathering.

Last week New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg drew the ire of numerous pundits for proposing a ban on sodas over 16 ounces, a move that once again underscored the profound social and political consequence of food consumption, its complicated relationship with state policies, and the rhetorical power of “consumer choice” ideologies.  The tone of these critiques predictably revolves around the state’s effort to “control” everyday consumer freedom.  George Will, for instance, blasted the proposal as an “irritable gesture” that is “the essence of contemporary liberalism” in its apparent ambition to “fine tune all your behavior.”  Will saw the policing of foodways as simply one more element in a liberal conspiracy to dictate all consumer choices, from light bulbs to automobiles.  The New York Daily News likewise whined about Bloomberg’s “big brother” reach into the lives of smokers, soda drinkers, and a variety of “sin consumers” who break with public health standards if not moral decrees that aspire to manage or reject certain consumer goods.

The industry’s strongest response came from the Center for Consumer Freedom, a fast food and restaurant lobby dedicated to protecting “our basic freedoms—the freedom to buy what we want, eat what we want, drink what we want, and raise our children as we see fit,” freedoms under attack from a “growing cabal of activists” that “include self-anointed `food police,’ health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal-rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats.”   They ran a full-page ad in the New York Times that rhetorically cast such restrictions as social engineering and an attack on consumer freedoms and personal responsibility and arguing that “Study after study has demonstrated that soda is not a unique contributor to obesity.”  Blogger Erica Holloway railed on the “nanny state” and argued that “there’s no research to show ingesting soda alone takes years off your life,” but if there are health implications to consuming sugary drinks she suggested that “If we accept that Darwin was right, then let his theory pan out.”  Huffington Post’s Bettina Elias Siegel ambivalently supported the idea of encouraging healthy consumption choices, but she feared that Bloomberg’s proposal was “coercive” and “paternalistic” and perhaps more likely to “fuel resentment” than change public health and consumption.

Despite these relatively shallow defenses of the free market and consumer choice, Bloomberg was nearly symbolically undone by following his soda proposal a day later with the declaration that June 1st was officially New York City Doughnut Day.  One woman at an Entenmann’s doughnut giveaway at Madison Square Park acknowledged that she was struggling to keep off 30 pounds even as she eagerly ate four free doughnuts, but of the soda proposal and doughnut day she indicated that “`It’s crazy.  It’s not consistent.’”  Another man hoping to lose 40 pounds despite eating a box of doughnuts at a time, concluded that “`It’s sort of a messed-up move.  It’s like an oxymoron. Maybe he’s thinking it’s two different things, that more people consume the drinks than the doughnuts. I mean, everyone gets thirsty. You don’t actually have to have a doughnut.’”

Bloomberg took his case for the large soda restrictions to the Today show.

Bloomberg was most prominently grilled about the timing by Today’s Matt Lauer, who suggested that “It sounds ridiculous,” to which Bloomberg responded that “one doughnut’s not going to hurt you.  In moderation, most things are okay.”  Bloomberg’s defense of the awkward timing of the soda proposal followed by doughnut day was a bit clumsy, but he was onto something about how desire is invested in doughnuts in a very different way than it is projected onto soda.  Bloomberg was championing a long-established notion that a doughnut is a “treat,” a maneuver that distinguishes doughnuts from everyday foodways, which apparently includes soda.  Bloomberg is correct that doughnuts are distinctive foods in the ways they materialize desire and are often consciously viewed as a break from dominant bodily disciplines.  Doughnuts are foods of powerful desire in large part because they are significant in so many dimensions of everyday life:  Doughnuts figure prominently in church life, for instance, where post-service meals routinely feature doughnuts; countless little leaguers and bands have sold doughnuts for decades; people have enormously strong ties to particular doughnut chains or local bakeries; and scores of people have powerful memories of their families and friends bonding over doughnuts or congregating in doughnut shops.  Yet doughnuts often have been constructed as “forbidden” and violations of bodily discipline, so even people eating doughnuts recognize that their consumption is a break with dominant disciplines.  In fact, that forbidden desire associated with doughnuts in many ways makes their consumption a more powerful experience.

Doughnuts remain largely defined as a “treat” and consciously considered to be outside most consumers’ everyday foodways, but soda is a staple of many Americans’ diets and has ironically become somewhat invisible because of its ubiquity.  Plenty of people have very strong feelings about their own favorite sodas, and numerous folks spend more time consuming soda than doughnuts, but they consume soda without a lot of self consciousness while doughnuts are consciously recognized as disciplinary affronts.   Soda has perhaps become part of a host of unarticulated, everyday foodways that have resisted much articulate reflection.  There is also an interesting material dimension to the most prodigious sodas; that is, perhaps Bloomberg was among the observers whose attention was literally grabbed by the prodigious materiality of a Super Big Gulp, a mammoth keg weighing in at 44 ounces (the X-Treme Gulp packs an astounding 52 ounces).  Bloomberg took aim on drinks over 16 ounces, and such over-sized sodas are massive material objects that are unlikely to escape attention.

The most spurious of all these defenses of “consumer choice” is the argument that the government should not regulate consumption.  This resistance to the “nanny state” argues that as consumers we all recognize the hoodwinks of mass marketing and can exercise “personal responsibility” and reflective decision-making over our consumption choices.  Yet the government has always protected consumers against unscrupulous marketers and advertising misrepresentations.  In the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for instance, Progressives spearheaded legislation such as the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which regulated dangerously adulterated medications hawked through deceptive advertising claims.  Legislators in the wake of the Progressive movement were persistently leery of interfering with business profits and the “free market,” but the Depression compelled the state to rethink how the government could ensure stable markets.  The Depression resulted in a state that became committed to policing consumer space, but it was not to simply eliminate particular behaviors: rather, it hoped to ensure Americans had sufficient income to be members of consumer culture and that the marketplace provided them sufficient information to make thoughtful consumer decisions.  The New Deal committed the federal government to protecting citizens’ economic rights by addressing unemployment and poverty and stabilizing markets by addressing nearly every dimension of consumer life and introducing many pricing regulations (e.g., establishing fair consumer cost in comparison to farmers’ price).  Ultimately, though, there was a significant backlash to consumer collectivism that linked it to communist sympathies and grassroots movements, many of which were driven by women.  Fearing the consumer movement’s political and labor connections, its grassroots support, and the prominence of women, conservatives accused consumer movements of launching an attack on free enterprise that is not much different than the one sounded by the likes of George Will as he defends soda and minor vices.  Wartime organizations like the Office of Price Administration had directed rigorous sanctioning and price controls during the war, but afterward many Americans felt they had earned a higher standard of living, and producers resisted what they considered an invasive regulatory state.  In 1946, the electorate returned the Republicans to control of the Congress, and a wave of conservatives significantly loosened state control of private manufacturing.

Bloomberg is on solid ground distinguishing between doughnuts and soda as very different kinds of foods, but it is a complicated distinction between different sorts of bodily desire, and in fact it is hard to see eating a doughnut or drinking a cold Coke as anything other than a bodily experience that cannot be captured in language or absolutely controlled by external directives from parents, medical authorities, or the state.  The public health impact of changing such foodways is potentially tremendous, and there is substantial evidence that mass foodways have a profoundly consequential impact on our collective lives, so while the Center for Consumer Freedom rails for personal responsibility some public figures like Bloomberg need to advocate for social responsibility to all our neighbors.  Bloomberg deserves some credit for trying to make everyday foodways more visible, but he may underestimate the rhetorical power of the “free market” and “consumer choice,” the ways such ideologies can stand in the way of thoughtful consumption, or the sway of food desire.

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