Low-carbohydrate diets, notably the Atkins Diet, were particularly popular in Britain and North America in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This paper approaches the low-carbohydrate trend as one response to the twin obesity and diabetes epidemics, drawing firstly on a discourse analysis of bestselling low-carbohydrate diet books, especially The South Beach Diet (Agatston 2003). I explore and critique nostalgia in the low-carbohydrate movement as a response to a perceived contemporary health crisis caused by modern Western food habits and lifestyle. The low-carbohydrate literature demonstrates a powerful discursive combination of nostalgia for pre-industrial Western foodways, and valorisation of 'authentic ethnic' (non-Western) culinary traditions. Together, these tropes construct a generalised notion of traditional diet which contrasts positively with a putative 'modern Western diet'. The binary opposition set up between modern Western food habits and a traditional ideal leads to generalisations and factual inaccuracies, as any diet or cuisine that is not modern, and/or not Western, must be adjusted discursively to fit the low-carbohydrate model. Further, in an interview study with low-carbohydrate dieters, dieters' descriptions of their experiences did not match the nostalgic rhetoric of popular low-carbohydrate manuals. Instead, I found that the requirement to eliminate staple carbohydrate foods severs dieters both practically and symbolically from culinary tradition, whether their own or that of an ethnic Other. I conclude that there is a disjuncture between the romantic 'nutritional nostalgia' (Beardsworth 2002) of the diet books, and dieters' own food practices.
- cultural identity