Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ultrarunning and capitalist ideology 3.5: the other side of the coin

A simple fact dictates the life of a runner, a human, an organism:
We must take in energy in order to expend it.

We consume.
In two senses: we consume energy (in the form of food) in order to consume energy (through action).
I apologise, it's a bit of a pointless trick, a bit of a play on the double meaning of the verb "consume" (according to dictionary.com: 1. To take in as food; eat or drink up. 2. a. To expend; use up) to set up a conceptual totality.

If we think of this "totality of  consumption", as it relates to humans, as a coin; let's be specific - an Aussie five cent coin; the taking in of energy could be represented by the head of Queen Elizabeth II, and its use by the upturned echidna. (I'm trying to think of a way to make this designation symbolic but right now it's arbitrary - unfortunately the Queen doesn't seem to eat that much and echidnas don't seem to move too much).

What is this five cent coin of consumption? Where is it? Who does it belong to?

It would be too simple (and too unashamedly Marxist) to say "IN THE WALLET OF THE BOURGEOISIE!!!" Instead, I'll venture to say that there is no one who can lay complete claim to it - such a thing would be impossible. Instead, a constant battle is being waged for its control. But unfortunately complete control of the coin is impossible - one can only hope to have enough power over the coin to be able to use it.

A clarification: everyone can take in and expend energy, but some more than others. And some use this consumption as a form of class distinction.

Whereas I explored the Echidna's belly (the use of energy) in Ultrarunning and Capitalist Ideology 3, I failed to notice the queen's head (its intake). That's not surprising, I generally spend a lot more time in the bush than following the movements of the royals. But that doesn't mean that the Queen's head isn't important. In fact, our coin wouldn't be an Australian five cent coin without that side.

It's like the Kellogg's Nutri-Grain motto: "you only get out what you put in". I argued that the "getting out" had been used by the dominant class as a "technology of power" (you can thank Foucault for that term). But didn't really consider the "putting in".

Anyways, you get the drift.

Since then, I've read "You aren't what you eat: Fed up with gastroculture" by Stephen Poole. He's kinda (used in the weakest sense of the term) like Foucault - minus the impressive grounding in and contribution to theory and plus a lot of anger. Poole is hilariously critical of the way we think about food - from the food porn of Masterchef to the "orthorexia" (obsession with eating right) of yuppies to the way many people think that food can take us back in time, or propel us towards utopia.

Until reading this, I'd never realised just how similar the dominant discourses concerning ultrarunning - and fitness in general - are to the dominant discourses on food.

I'll just offer some examples of the latter, through the eyes of Poole, hoping that anyone who's trawled a few ultrarunning blogs, or read Men's Health, or Liked a fitness motivation page on Facebook, will recognise the similarities with the former. I will give some prompts anyways.

- Food [fitness, running] is not only a 'safe passion' (in the tellingly etiolated modern sense of 'passion' that just means liking something a lot); it has become an obligatory one (Pg. 8).
- The orthorexic [ultra-runner]...displays a 'search for an identity and spirituality in eating  beahaviour' [running], just as foodists [(that is, food elitists)] do. The orthorexic's eating behaviour [runner's training habits] 'generates a feeling of superiority over the lifestyle and eating habits of other people', just as that of the foodists does (17).
- A cook [runner] ought to be 'socially engaged, conscious of and responsible for his or her own contribution to a fair and sustainable society'; and, moreover, 'through our cooking [running], our ethics and our aesthetics, we can contribute to the culture and identity of a people, a region, a country', and 'we all have a responsibility to know and protect nature'. Only cooks [running], it seems, can save us from bad politics, cultural decline, and ecocidal apocalypse (26).
- You might think that, to deserve the name, a person's life 'meaning' ought to transcend her function as an ambulatory digestive tract [as a pair of moving legs] (27)
- The preference for what is designated 'heritage'...bespeaks the foodist's [hippie ultrarunner's] anti-modern prejudice that what is currently eaten [done] by the masses is a degraded industrial hybrid, and that by guzzling [running] our way back to the rural past we can recover something like authenticity in our food [lives] (88).
- Through foraging [running], Redzepi [Anton Krupicka, any other hippie ultrarunner]...'got connected to the sea and soil, and now they're an integral part o me. I experience the world through food [running]' (125 - beginning of quote altered to insert the foraging chef's name).
 These are just a few examples. I wont explore this side of the coin any further, it's not my place (I know little about foodist culture), but I think the parallels between dominant food discourse and dominant ultrarunning discourse throw up some interesting questions about the relationship between the two, their place in the "technology of power" and their use for class distinction.

It seems to indicate that, in general, people try to assert their position of dominance now less than ever by having (possessions), but more by knowing (about food, the best restaurants to go to, etc...) and doing (eating particular foods, running ultras, etc...) particular things. This is probably because of the fact that mass industrialisation has made the possession of high quality material goods more widely available.

Our five-cent coin probably merits further examination, but for now I'll let it rest, and let some more ideas brew.

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