Lipophobia: a Transatlantic Concept?

S°ren Askegaard, Odense University
Anne F. Jensen, Odense University
Douglas B. Holt, University of Illinois
ABSTRACT - Fat has become a central issue in structuring how people in industrialized countries pursue nourishment, health, and aesthetics in their food consumption. Fat is never experienced as an objective quality of food, but, rather, is shaped by cultural understandings that construct how fat is understood and experienced. Thus, understanding fat consumption requires comparative research, which reveals the taken-for-granted culture of fat consumption. Based on a series of in-depth interviews, we analyze the meanings of fat as expressed in the tastes and consumption practices of Danish and American women. We analyze these interviews with reference to the general food culture of the respective societies and the prevailing attitudes to fat. We will also discuss more fundamental differences between the idea of fat and fat consumption in the two continents.
[ to cite ]:
S°ren Askegaard, Anne F. Jensen, and Douglas B. Holt (1999) ,"Lipophobia: a Transatlantic Concept?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 331-336.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 331-336


S°ren Askegaard, Odense University

Anne F. Jensen, Odense University

Douglas B. Holt, University of Illinois


Fat has become a central issue in structuring how people in industrialized countries pursue nourishment, health, and aesthetics in their food consumption. Fat is never experienced as an objective quality of food, but, rather, is shaped by cultural understandings that construct how fat is understood and experienced. Thus, understanding fat consumption requires comparative research, which reveals the taken-for-granted culture of fat consumption. Based on a series of in-depth interviews, we analyze the meanings of fat as expressed in the tastes and consumption practices of Danish and American women. We analyze these interviews with reference to the general food culture of the respective societies and the prevailing attitudes to fat. We will also discuss more fundamental differences between the idea of fat and fat consumption in the two continents.


Modern societies are 'lipophobic’ societies: they are scared of fat, Fischler (1990) asserts. In the American context, the growing emhasis on dieting since the early 20th century has been rooted in a complex constellation of factors: dieting as an ascetic moral counterweight to growing consumerism (Stearns 1997), the medical discourse emphasizing the connection between overweight and health problems, an alliance between medical science and an emerging life insurance industry (Fischler 1990), shifts in sexuality and fashion, a growing individualism, and a general celebration of youth as a value and changing social and economic demands of a more fast-paced lifestyle. As noted by Klein (1996), fat is (seen as) ugly, unhealthy, and lethargic in a world that valorizes beauty as thinness, health as thinness, and energy. Since the end of the 1960s, various governments have addressed eating patterns in their national health policies and prompted campaigns in order to change the population’s eating behavior in a more 'healthy’ direction. While there are many viable viewpoints as to what is healthy, the dominant (i.e., Western) public policy discourse worldwide points to fat consumption as one of the major villains in public health policies. "Fat is bad" has become one of the most widespread and commonly recognized dogmas of our daily consumer lives in the course of the 20th century.

In most countries in the Western hemisphere, several processes linked to lipophobia can be observed. People in both Europe and the United States increasingly find themselves overweight, whether or not they are in strictly medical terms (Fischler 1990). The average weight of people in the Western world is, in fact, increasing. From 1980 to 1991 the average weight in America increased by 8 % in spite of the health and fitness craze hitting the country in the same period (Klein, 1996). With advances in food industrial technologies, the market for fat free, fat reduced or otherwise low calorie products has boomed over the last couple of decades. The ideal body image getting further distant from the average size may be seen as the cause of the growth in pathological eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia (Fischler 1990; Warde, 1997). Thus, the generalized lipophobia, linked to the predominant beauty ideal of the fashion and beauty product businesses, has been seen as important contributory factors to the proliferation of pathological eating disorders found in all ranges and populations in the Western world, but most commonly among young females.


Western societies are all to a greater or smaller extent lipophobic. But there are large differences among various cultural groups, both nationally and cross-nationally. Fischler (1990), Klein (1996), and Stearns (1997) all report significant differences between the American ethnic subgroups both concerning average weight, ideal body images and, hence, attitudes to fat consumption. The highest proportions of overweight people in the US are found among black women (49.5 %) and Mexican-American women (47.9 %). On the other hand, lipophobia is not directly linked to weight issuesBa survey among Arizona teenagers showed that 90 % of the white teenage girls were dissatisfied with their bodies whereas 70 % of the black girls were satisfied and showed no interest in dieting. White girls emphasized thinness, black girls shapeliness (Klein 1996). Fischler (1990), likewise, reports how Puerto Ricans find female bodies sexually desirable and attractive which are qualified as obese by the white sub-population.

Stearns (1997) argues that in the course of the 20th century and especially during the post-war period "body shape and discipline [...] became a new class divide between the virtuous and the unworthy" (p. 149). On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, lipophobic attitudes and behavior are associated with an upscale and urban lifestyle, whereas a more rural environment means less focus on slenderness and weight. Klein (1996) concurs in a more blunt way: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be thin. This is in contrast to the historical realities o most societies, where more weight signified more power and more control over and access to nutritional resources. Fischler (1990), echoing Foucault, attributes the shift to the growing individualism, changing the emphasis from social power relations to individual control over one’s own body. Moreover, Fischler argues that the relations may just have shifted from the single country to the global society. Today the rich part of the world is the historically "fat person" in contrast to the "skinny" poorer part of the world.

Finally, it is important to note that there are important gender differences in these images of body and fat, and that the lipophobic social judgments and processes are more manifest, profound and constraining for women than for men (Fischler 1990). This difference may be more pronounced in Europe than in the United States. In a study of consumer desires, North American men and women were reported to desire better, more ideal bodies, whereas this was true almost exclusively for women in Europe (Belk, Ger and Askegaard 1997). On the other hand, Stearns (1997) suggests that men have been captured by lipophobia more deeply than the "sound and fury" of the much debated and highly visible role of women’s magazine and female beauty ideals seems to imply. In fact, men have from the early period of lipophobia been the main target of the medical crusade against fat and overweight in both France and the US (Stearns 1997).

The imagery and consumption patterns attached to lipophobia seems to be spreading globally, for example, to the Asian "tiger economies". [Reported in Los Angeles Times. Source: http//]  But even though there may be a global lipophobic tendency, it is not without counter trends, as evidenced by the stressing of indulgence in today’s public food discourses (Warde 1997). Furthermore, there are national differences in the discourses of the issues of health and indulgence, gastronomy and nutrition, beauty and slenderness (Fischler 1990). One of the predominating stereotypes has it that Americans are more subject to various nutritional control systems than Europeans, watching not only fat intake, but also cholesterol, sodium and other substances reportedly damaging to the health in larger quantities, and engaging in a meticulous "nutritional engineering" (Fischler 1990). The question is: Is the Western European lipophobia a sub-titled version of the American one, just as the European modernity has been seen as the sub-titled, or over-dubbed, version of American modernity? (Baudrillard 1986)


To investigate cross-continental differences in the consumption of fats, we use a poststructuralist approach to life style to theoretically ground our analysis (Holt 1997). This approach is based on four assumptions. First, consumption meanings, rather than being based in universal structural systems, are linked to consumption practices in particular local contexts. Secondly, meanings of cultural objects are intertextually linked with meanings of other cultural objects in a historically constituted system. Thirdly, there is not one but a multiplicity of such meaning systems available for the single social actor for constructing and negotiating the meaning of the cultural object in a particular situation. And finally, given this openness and historicity of the meaning construction, meanings are inherently unstable and situational, depending on which linkages to other meanings are used in a given context. Thus, we are aware that our results are dependent on the particular social and temporal context in which they have been created. We cannot make any large-scale generalizations based on fifteen depth interviews in each country. But we use the results to draw one possible and plausible picture of the role of fat and fat consumption in the daily consumption patterns of American and Danish consumers, respectively.

The study was carried out in a small city in a rural region of the Northeastern United States (app. 125.000 residets) and a similar sized city in a more urban region of Denmark (app. 180.000 residents). Assuming a correlation between rural environment and more traditional and, hence, less lipophobic eating patterns, this would suggest a bias in favor of higher lipophobia in the Danish sample. As we shall see, this was not the case, giving further support to the cross-cultural differences discussed below.

In each country, 15 women between the ages of 30 and 50 years were randomly selected from local phonebooks and interviewed personally about their food cultures in general and their consumption of cooking fats in particular. A purely female sample was selected both on the basis of the need to include general food and cooking habits in the investigation and because of the already mentioned differences in the background of lipophobia for the two sexes. Furthermore, due to the social class difference discussed above, the informants were screened for income level and our sample includes only women representing income households in the middle three quintiles (roughly working class through middle class). The interviews were of an average duration of 1 1/2B2 hours.

Based on these interviews, the consumption meanings of fat in Denmark and the United States were analyzed. Two basic themes emerged from this analysis, one concerning food consumption in general and one with a special focus on the perceptions and usage of fat in food in general and more specifically cooking fats (oil, butter, margarine,..). The former part of the interviews contained discussions of shopping habits, preparation schemes, consumption schedules and consumption rituals, in order to create a background of general food discourses for analyzing the more specific results concerning fat consumption. The second part of the interview, then, aimed at analyzing fat discourses in the two samples and relate those to the general food discourses and to compare the fat related discourses across the two cultures.


Every informant evinces a high though significantly varying consciousness of lipophobia. This is not to say that all are lipophobic, since the level of fat consciousness that demarcates this cultural condition must necessarily be subjective. But all are aware of, and relate their food discourses to, the idea that "fat is bad." Fat is condemned with reference to prevailing beauty ideals, dominant health standards, the social norms engendered and engendering these (Warde, 1997) refers to a magazine article with the conjuring title "In the Health Conscious Nineties"), and by a certain asceticismBgluttony, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. On the other hand, certain factors work in favor of the consumption of fat, such as the taste and texture of the food, the search for indulgence, reliance on convenience and fast food products, where one is less in control of the fat content, the price factor, since, e.g., fatty meats tend to be cheaper than lean cuts, and also people’s socialization making them less prone to change their consumption habits in spite of the public preaching. In this connection, we have noticed a certain degree of skepticism among certain consumers towards health advice, due to its protean character. Beck (1992), in his treatise on the 'risk society’ argues that the complexity of risks, including the risk of not making the right nutritional choices, has grown and that this has lead to an increasing search for advice but, paradoxically, also less confidence in the advice due to the multiple sources with sometimes quite opposite counseling.

But within this shared discourse of fat, American and Danish women stake out very different positions. There is a seemingly universal set of binary oppositions operating that constitutes how fat is understood and consumed. One side is characterized by concepts such as taste, indulgence, socialization, convenience, and price. These concepts all tend to propel a higher degree of fat consumption. On the other side, conceps like prevailing beauty ideals, health standards, social norms, and the notion of asceticism appear. But, Americans and Danes position themselves differently in these fat-related discourses and practices.

Cross-Cultural Differences

Seven domains reveal the most fundamental cultural differences detected in the study. One major difference is the widespread snacking and fast food usage in the United States, which is not found in Denmark:

"I try not to [snack]. But I have a whole tin of pretzels. Because I work until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and read...[I also eat] cookies. Different things. Anything that’s around. We often have different foods in the office. [...] I stop at McDonald’s pretty regularly for coffee and muffins in the morning when I drive down to work". (US)

Danes rely much less on such foods, nor are they prone to use ready-cooked meals either from supermarkets or take-away (pizzas being a possible exemption). They tend not to eat outside meal hours, But if it must be, then a "klemme", literally a "squeeze", is suggested as the best solution: a very simple sandwich, two slices of rye bread with a little bit of ham, sausage, pate, cheese or the like squeezed in between. The following quotation illustrates the general level of acceptance of take-away or other type of fast food or ready-cooked meals:

"Ready-cooked meals ??? Like, eh??? No, no! The closest we have come to buying ready-cooked meals isBI know for sure we bought that once this yearBbuying a tray of 'l°rdagskylling’ [pre-seasoned and pre-cut chicken, oven-ready in an aluminium tray], because the children had to be home alone, and I knew I couldn’t expect too much from them in terms of cooking skills". (DK)

A second difference is that the American informants generally put a lot of emphasis on explicit control and detailed physiological knowledge about the effects of various nutritients:

"But I do know that you need some vegetable oil for your vitamin E, I think. And do not take too many vitamin supplements. I have to take vitamin C for a healthy bladder. And.. maybe for some colds and things. And I keep vitamin E in the house and occasionally I’ll take one just for the anti-oxidant. I had a biology teacher once and he.. he said that the research was showing that the anti-oxidants were fighting off a lot of bad stuff. [...] They’re supposed to be anti-aging and anti-... what are those things, the free radicals that build up in your blood stream. I said, 'that’s good enough for me’. [...] I store up all these little tidbits and they work their way into our diet." (US)

The Danish informants showed no such insights in nutritional physiology. Their basic attitude seems to be that if they make sure to have a sufficiently diversified menu over a time period, they will eventually secure themselves a healthy diet. The following quotation is typical for a majority of the Danish informants:

"No, I don’t think about it [eating healthily]. We just think that that’s what we do. We eat relatively diversified foods, but it is not something I really think about." (DK)

Along the same lines, a cooking fat like olive oil is mentioned by a majority of informants in the two cultures for its positive contributions to the diet. However, in an American context the contribution is predominantly nutritional and health-related, reflecting the "diabolization of cholesterol" (Fischler 1990), whereas the Danish informants value it also for its gastronomical assets and for its linkage with what is seen as 'lading gastronomical cultures’, such as France and Italy. Compare the following:

"I haven’t always used olive oil. I don’t think I liked it initially. And then there was all this 'olive oil is good for you’, you know,. And then I tried it and I also think my tastes have changed". (US)


"I always have two different olive oils in the house. Both are cold-pressed and virgin oils[...] in the summer I regularly have a rather expensive one, which we only use for salad sauces, and then I have a slightly cheaper one which we use for frying". (DK)

The Danish informants often talk about the tastiness of fat and they are, therefore, reluctant to use low-fat or non-fat substitutes. They would rather not have a dessert at all, if they feel their 'fat-budget’ cannot afford the 'real thing’.

"I think they are hysterical. All this with low-fat and less fat all the time; everything is just removed from our food, from cheeses to .. almost anything. Milk, for example, low-fat milk or skimmed milkBthat is not what it really is, is it? I mean, it’s not natural." (DK)

The American informants showed a much higher willingness to have the cake and eat it through a variety of low-fat substitutions:

"I try to get non-fat or low-fat. I know it has more sugar, so there’s a trade off there. But [...] fat seems to be the big thing to watch out for as far as cholesterol and not to mention weight gain [...] we try to watch the intake. And the same with margarine or butter. Now, you can’t tell which is worse for you. So we just try to use it very sparingly. I substitute ... even for oils and stuff I’ll substitute plain yogurt or even applesauce, when I can, in baking". (US)

As we have seen, the issue of control is much more explicit in the American discourse, where at times very elaborate principles of 'bookkeeping’ are used to keep track of the vitamins and minerals. The same logic seems to be valid when it comes to counting calories:

"I even read that book 'Stop the Insanity’ you know, by Susan Powter. She says some pretty good stuff. So every time I have a chocolate chip cookie, I think to myself: 'You could be having 40 cups of broccoli’". (US)

The Danes are also concerned about weight problems, but they do not implement a strict scheme in their daily lives for controlling calorie intake. A strict diet control is interpreted as "fanatical", a word which has almost exclusively negative connotations in Danish:

"It’s because of health reasons that we try to cut down on fat, and it doesn’t fit very well with what I said about us eating cakes, does it? But what you lose on the carrousel, you gain on the swing boat". (DK)  [A Danish idiom expressing the commanality (and desirability) of a give-and-take attitude to life.]

A somewhat similar attitude can be found in certain Danish informants’ reference to the idea that 'what we eat is good enough for us’. "Plain and simple" is here seen in opposition to the trends towards more health conscious eating and the inclusion of more exotic eating habits in the Danish culinary culture:

"No, I am not particularly concerned about health. Because, before... today they keep talking a lot about living a healthy life and all that. But I don’t believe in it. I really don’t. Because they didn’t have all tat.. and they were healthy. They ate the same as we do. That’s how I see it". (DK)

If the Danes justify their unhealthy diets in tradition, the Americans turn to their daily schedules to find good reasons for not living up to the prescribed standards, blaming their poor eating habits predominantly on the business of daily life:

"And if I... Yeah, again I sort of blame everything on lack of time. But if I had more time that would probably be more of.. something that I would try to do is eat more like that, you know, healthier and more focused on vegetables and less on cheese or whatever. Whatever is lying around. Give more thought into that". (US)

A recurrent theme brought up among almost all the American informants is the idea of food as fuel for the machine. That is, the food should provide exactly that amount of fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, etc. which the body needsBhence the bookkeeping principle discussed above. Some take this task very seriously, others are very pragmatic about it, but they still adhere to the "body-as-machine" metaphor:

"I wouldn’t want to be so obsessed, but I really think we’re machines. And if you don’t put pretty good fuel in there most of the time, you’re probably going to clog something up. But that doesn’t mean you can’t throw some crappy gasoline in once in a while. So that’s kind of how I try to live". (US)

This machine-reference is not found among the Danes at all. They either refer to traditional values, as we saw above, or they focus on pleasure and stress the culinary value of fat. Food is not something that is good for the body but something that is good for the soul. "Pleasure" is an important reference in this discourse, where culinary pleasure and the social relationships involved in and confirmed by the meal preparation and eating are predominant topics:

"We are not fanatical. We always have sour cream in our house. And if we are having apple cake, we buy whipping cream. If we want chocolate, that’s what we get. So, it is not fanatical but there’s no reason to fill oneself up with other kinds of fat. So it is more like a sorting process where we prioritize our fat intake. And we eat it where we can taste it". (DK)

These cross-cultural differences are summed up in table 1.




We analyze the contextualized patterns of meanings that structure these thematic findings by constructing a semiotic system of relational differences and locating within this meaning system various lifestyles (see Holt 1997). The primary opposition is between cultural frameworks related to medical aspects of food consumption and those related to the gastronomical dimension of food cultural patterns. Americans and Danes are situated differently in relation to this opposition: medical references are predominant in the United States and the gastronomical references in Denmark. We find a second opposition in which fat understandings are inscribed in explicit principles as opposed to the pragmatic level of consciousness that Bourdieu calls the habitus. Eating behavior may governed by finely honed rules about what is "right" or "wrong" specified across a variety of particular situations as one might follow a formal book of etiquette, as opposed to an approach where actions are directed by what seems right without any explicit "do or don’t" rule invoked. Figure 1 illustrates the structural relationship between these four segments.

The indulgent are characterizd by a discourse with strong relations to the dogmas of 'good taste’, 'good quality’, and the 'right lifestyle’, as expressed by gourmet magazines and the general public food debate. These people live to eat: Food and food preparation are highly esteemed as important social phenomena and an occasion of social bonding, both in terms of experiences, self-expression, social classification and as a playful activity (Holt 1995). They express an interest in various kinds of authentic, ethnic foodsBwhat James (1996) calls the expatriate food discourse in a British contextBbut also stress the importance of the 'home made’. In general, they are suspicious of too highly processed foods from the food industry. Their fat-related discourse is of an ambiguous character. One the one hand, fat is generally recognized as unhealthy but on the other hand fat is important for taste and texture in culinary terms. Hence, they control their fat consumption through cutting back on fat that is unnecessary from a culinary perspective, such as snacks, overly fat meat and also desserts. Their preferred cooking fat is the olive oil, due to its 'good taste’ and its roots in Mediterranean food traditions, which are highly regarded in this group of consumers. Margarine (any type) is considered both very unhealthy and also artificial, 'industrial’ cooking fat.



The controlled also demonstrate a very principled approach to cooking, but their principles are found in the medical rather than the gastronomical realm. Their food discourse is related to the polyphony of the mass mediated health discourse, and they show a meticulous insight into various domains of knowledge about physiological effects of a number of vitamins, minerals and ingredients. They reveal a scientific approach to the body and to food consumption. The body is seen as a fine-tuned mechanical system that is in need of various inputs, ingredients, from the food consumption but is hurt by other ingredients. Their fats discourse shows a general attitude about fat as a basically 'bad’ ingredient for the bodily mechanism. They do acknowledge, however, that "fun food" (sweets, snacks, desserts, fast food) often have a high content of fat. Their fat-related discourse therefore becomes reflective of traditional puritan attitudes. Fat consumption is controlled by cutting down on all kinds of fat, notably cooking fats, dressings, and sauces. Vegetable oils and especially olive oil are to a certain degree excepted from this and consumed in moderate quantities for health purposes, with special reference to their polyunsaturated fat and low cholesterol content. Again, the reasons for consuming olive oil are rooted in a scientific and mechanistic meaning system.

The group here named working for a living is relatively informed concerning eating and health related issues. However, they admit to a relatively low compliance in their daily lives. Most often, they refer to their work situation as an explanation for this. They are either too busy to prepare proper meals and therefore rely on convenience products or fast food, where they cannot execute the same amount of control over their fat intake. Or they are engaged in work situations where snacking is an integral (and too tempting) part of job life. So while they do adhere to the mechanical perception of the body, they admit to taking a pragmatic attitude towards the "body as machine", allowing themselves to "throw some crappy gasoline" in there from time to time, cf. the quotation above. The most notable place where they feel they can be in control of their nutrition in general and their fat intake in particular is through extensive intake of low-fat and non-fat products (desserts and snacks) and the use of functional foods.

The ordinary people is a group of consumers opposed to gastronomical innovation and what is considered health fanaticism. Their consumption pattern is dominated by classical (Danish) dishes which generally are not very compatible, neither with the new gastronomy of 'exotic cuisine’ (as, e.g., pasta, although pasta is today a regular part of the Danish food scene) nor with the lipophobic trends of 'low and light’. Health discourses are inferior to traditions as guiding lines for the culinary culture. However, they are not exactly nostalgic in James’ (1996) terms since they have not been 'elsewhere’ in their food consumption, and now seek their lost roots. They do, on the other hand, show a certain clinging to the past, since they are well aware of the changing foodways around them and the new preachings of 'good and healthy eating’. In spite of the fact that this group probably is the same as the conservative consumers in Bruns°, Grunert, and Bredahl’s (1996) study of food-related lifestyles in Denmark and other countries, we nevertheless choose to name them 'ordinary people’, since their discourse reveal a self-understanding which is less directed by conservatism and more directed by references to what 'ordinary’ or 'common’ people eat. The prevailing logic is that all things new and exotic may be OK for certain consumer groups, but that ordinary people, like themselves, eat 'ordinary food’. This reference may be interpreted as a result of a deep-rooted egalitarianism often used to characterize Danish culture. In terms of fat, the 'ordinary people’ are trying to cut what is deemed 'unnecessary fat’ from desserts, snack or fast food. They are generally opposed to eating fast food or 'grazing’, eating at any convenient time and place, as in the streets etc. This, they suggest, is the cause of current problems with too high fat intake. In their home cooking, they use margarine or butter, the taste of oil not being appealing to them.


Through the (non)consumption of fats, the body is a crucial expressive medium is both nations, but the form and content of these expressions differs significantly. The Danes refer to culinary culture, past or present; the Americans refer to control mechanisms, ideal or enforced. This raises a fundamental question: If Americans are so preoccupied by their weight and controlling it through nutritional engineering, why are they then, on the average, more overweight than Europeans?

The American obesity, according to Baudrillard (1983 p. 31) is paradoxically a kind of disappearance of the body, since it annihilates the rules that delimits the body from the surrounding world, as if it wants to "digest space in its own appearance". This obesity is taken as a sign of the general hypertrophying of various parts of the social system, like for instance the sprawling cities, the inflation and incoherence of signs or the storing of all information, useless in all its potentiality, in the information society. In this sense, for Baudrillard, the obesity and obscenity is not that of a number of individuals but that of a whole system.

This annihilation of limits is supported by another tendency observed by Baudrillard (1983): the generalized lack. According to him, the generalized lack institutes a cultural setting where there can (must) always be more, leading from "to each according to his merits," to "to each according to his needs," to "to each according to his desires," and finally to the obscene "to each according to his lack" (op.cit., p.34). He notes elsewhere: The anorectic refuses the lack, whereas the obese refuses plenitudeBI lack everything, so I’ll eat everything (Baudrillard 1986). In this line of thinking, the founding principle of the United States is a refusal of lack: of material goods, of opportunities, of influence, of personal control.

With body and society abandoning rules, the general cause of obesity may be a kind of anomie. Ironically, the refusal of social control has lead to a strong emphasis on personal control, possibly more than most can live up to. Too much diet heroism may, at worst, lead to a sense of powerlessness and compensatory eating (Stearns 1997). Klein (1996) reports that French people refer not to what is eate but how it is eaten as a principal cause for the relative American obesity compared to France. It is not the diet but the norms concerning eating activities that are at the heart of the matter. The differences in child socialization concerning eating patterns in France and the United States present a striking example of how socialization contributes to strong norms concerning when, how, and where to eat in the former as opposed to the latter country (Stearns 1997).

On the other hand, references to the negativity of excessive fat consumption, a general willingness to cut down on (various types of) fat intake, and the slender ideal of beauty is common to informants in both Denmark and the United States. Thus, echoing Stearns (1997) and his comparison of French and American concerns about slenderness and fat consumption, this is not a story about "European advantages over portly American bumpkins" (p. 154). The Danes’ references to "pleasure", "indulgence" and "food culture" are discursive in nature, and equally difficult to live up to in daily life as the American control. The food minister (yes, there is such a person) has found it necessary to call for the creation of the "house of the meal" in order to restore what is regarded as a lost food culture in Denmark. And the average weight in Denmark is, according to recent statistics, growing. Thus, the Americans may not monopolize "rigorous self-assessment and lax enforcement" (Stearns 1997, p. 258) in their attitude to food and fat.

One final observation of the trans-Atlantic differences in "lipophobia" which merits further research: The Americans seem to fear a variety of ingredients that are naturally occurring in the food products, but which are deemed 'bad’ by medical science: cholesterol, saturated fats, sugar, etc., whereas the Danes seem much less worried about such issues, referring to "a balanced diet" as a sufficient remedy against harm from excessive consumption of these. Danes (Europeans?) seem more worried about various manipulations with natural food-products, such as hormone-growth, radiation, genetic manipulation, and some even the removal of fat or sugar, rendering the product "unnatural". If this is true, it may, in addition to the trade policies, explain some of the ongoing strife between the EU and the USA concerning, e.g., permissions of hormone-growth beef on the European market.


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