The Carrot and the Needle: "Fixing" diet-related diseases in West Virginia

Authors: Alanna Higgins*, West Virginia University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Social Theory, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: produce prescriptions, political ecology, nutrition and public health, biopolitics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: President's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The local food movement and public health have become increasingly enmeshed in quests for the amelioration of (perceived) societal health issues. In policy and community development, programs intertwine public health priorities and agricultural production. An example are produce prescription programs which seek to ‘improve’ chronic diet-related diseases such as obesity, hypertension, or diabetes through the distribution of locally-grown food to identified populations. These programs are often formed through community organizations and foundation grants. Program framings often revolve around ‘fixing’ or eradicating these diseases and creating healthier subjects; though through the lens of normative understandings of health and bodies along with lessening health care costs, rather than food access or the right to food. Drawing from first world political ecology and Paulo Freire’s ‘Third World’ as a political expression/ideology, this paper considers the constructed vulnerabilities within West Virginia and the resulting emergent discourses surrounding the health of the state. Focusing on several produce prescription programs, the research explores the intertwining of food, health, and medicine in an effort to create a ‘healthy’ population. Questions surrounding biopolitical implications of this type of intervention are considered – through their conception and framings, success in getting small-scale producers to embody certain health discourses, the use of biometric testing/labs as a disciplinary technological power over participants’ bodies. In turn, the clampdown between healthist discourses and neoliberal subjectivities is contemplated in regards to its current functioning, but additionally in how it can be turned around to create spaces of possibility for a true right to food.

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