For the month of July, we are following “the Futures of Food” as a theme. We will be featuring works that bring different issues to the table. Our first post features an Essay by Shirmeez Samaai, an Honours student in the Food Politics and Cultures Project.
Despite the inconsistencies that surround meal replacements and supplements, they have become hugely popular in South Africa context because of the belief that they promote muscle-building weight-loss and optimal health. The name of South African brand, FutureLife, clearly illustrates this.
Certainly, the practice of eating nutritious meals and the idea of what “healthy food” is have changed dramatically: we now see in health and fitness food aisles of supermarkets, chemists and stores such as Clicks and Dischem, an array of capsules, powders, sachets and pills, and consumers stagger out of these stores with large tubs containing the kind of nutrients we associate with science fiction.
What does this mean and why is this the case? This essay explores the assumptions, discourses and media practices that are leading to more and more South Africans, especially young men and women, eating unhealthily by buying and consuming food supplements meant to optimize “health”.
Over the past thirty years, interest in health discourses, in terms of the absence of disease as well as overall well-being, has grown dramatically. The concept of “health” has shifted away from its general definition of being “the absence of disease and sickness”. Many now define it as a complete state of overall well-being.
But an alarming phenomenon is that recent research now shows that being healthy is often associated with having an “ideal” body. The prominence of the notion that good health equals the perfect body is explicitly expressed in the mass media, particularly, health magazines, where there is a patterned articulation of people with idealized gendered bodies as being the healthiest individuals.
Example of a healthy individual as depicted on magazines
The consequence of this is societal pressures on both men and women not only to be healthy, but to look healthy and have culturally defined “beautiful” bodies. What’s more, popular health food companies within the South African context make use of the media’s perception of what constitutes a perfect body in order to sell their products. The mass media can create people’s basic beliefs, attitudes and values toward female beauty as well as male attractiveness. Moreover, the media can also change attitudes and beliefs when people are exposed to various model images. Therefore, health food companies take advantage of people’s deepest desires to be ideally healthy as these companies successfully advertise their food products in media advertisements alongside healthy idealized bodies.