GETTING CURIOUS | What’s The Cultural History Of The Calorie? with Dr. Athia Choudhury


What’s in a calorie? So much more than what you see on a box of cereal or a restaurant menu. The story of the nutritional calorie is the story of U.S. empire, dating back to the late 1800s when government agencies used it to determine just how little they could feed people in the military, prisons, asylums, and Native boarding schools. This week, Dr. Athia N. Choudhury joins Jonathan to discuss the history and politics of the calorie, and explains why counting on this metric—and wellness culture more generally—can be a “mundane kind of violence.”

A note from Dr. Choudhury and Team JVN: This discussion periodically includes the term “ob*sity.” When it is referenced, it is only to describe a process of medicalization and pathologization, and not in alignment with its politics or political uses.

Athia N. Choudhury is a writer and cultural historian/theorist interested in questions of race, food, militarism, eugenics, and body surveillance in the 20th-21st century. She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies and Ethnicity from the University of Southern California and is currently the Postdoctoral Associate in Asian American and Diaspora Studies at Duke University. You can find Athia’s writing in The Journal of Transnational American Studies, The Routledge International Handbook on Fat Studies, Pipewrench magazine, and Food, Fat, Fitness: Critical Perspectives.

You can learn more about Dr. Choudhury at, and reach out to her here.

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