“We are What We Eat”

East and Central Harlem is one of the biggest food swamps in New York city, featuring the abundance of less healthy food, like high-calorie fast food and junk food, due to the limited access to healthy food options. Accompanying the skewed local food landscape is a significant higher rate of obesity and diabetes. The consequential prevalence of diet-related disease embodies the “thing power” imposed by the “vibrant matter” (Bennet, 4). According to Bennett, things that are often considered non-human and lifeless are actually in possess of material power vibrantly influencing the surroundings. Bodegas serves as a major source of food in East and Central Harlem. While food disparity brought by Bodegas seems trivial with regards to food as an object itself, the limited healthy food options exerts tremendous impacts on public health of local residents. Just as Bennett argues, “the figure of an intrinsically inanimate matter may be one of the impediments to the emergence of more ecological and more materially sustainable modes of production and consumption.” According to New York City Department of Health (DOH)’s report released in 2019, about 31% of adults in East Harlem and 27% in Central Harlem are obese, way exceeding the citywide obesity rate of 22%.

While the cluster of bodegas seems to supply the demand in the particular region, does the regionalized demand really comes from health behavior intrinsically endowed within certain groups? If the same bodegas are located in the vicinity of East and Central Harlem, the Upper East Side, they probably would go out of business. The disproportionate amount of unhealthy food supplier might be, in Brennan’s perspective, partially attributed to the “transmission of affect” in the relative low-income residential areas. 

In just 10 minutes walking down the street from Lenox Avenue and West 112 street, there are at least five different bodegas on the same side of the street. Attracted by the vibrant hued poster chicken sandwich, I entered a store called “Gourmet Deli”. Once I entered the store, I “smell” the atmosphere (Brennan, 9): the pungent smell comes from plastic bags and hot food station on the back. With a salty, greasy aura permeating the air, the store is a hodgepodge of artificial sugar, saturated fat, and sodium. There were two African-american teenage girls waiting for their order, two crispy chicken sandwich. On their back, the tiny fruit section on stacks of chips in the middle appeared so quirky of its presence in the store, demonstrating the only oasis, from my perspective. Unfortunately, the tidiness and intactness of the pile is with severe contrast of the scattered and vacant rack of chips, indicating its poor popularity. However, the “affect” here seems not triggering a “strong affective response” from me, as someone who grew up in an Asian family with a mother extremely obsessed with nutriology. Thought my thoughts that I attached to that affect, “remaining the product of the particular historical conjunction of words and experiences I represent (Bernnan, 7)”, the transmission of affect plays an important role in shaping the food consumption pattern in East and Central Harlem, particularly for people of color who are more likely to be exposed to these food disparities.

Works Cited 

Jane Bennett, Preface, Chapters 1 & 2 in Vibrant Matter, 2010 

Theresa Brennan, from The Transmission of Affect, 2004 

—-Mingkai

~ by Mingkai Zhang on September 23, 2019.

4 Responses to ““We are What We Eat””

  1. Most informative: I like how you were able to integrate statistics to further your argument about how 31% percent of adults in East Harlem are obese. Additionally, you did a fantastic job also explaining the interaction of people in the Bodega and how you saw two girls order fried chicken sandwiches.

  2. Most Affective: The images accompanied by text describing two patrons ordering chicken sandwiches– characters in your ecology–make this blog post the most affective. Descriptors like “smell” are extremely effective in an almost impossible feat of transmitting affect of a lived environment through a digital platform. I do not feel anyone else came as close. A line that stood out for me was “Attracted by the vibrant hued poster chicken sandwich, I entered a store called “Gourmet Deli”.”

  3. Most affective: I loved that photoshopped image of the single pieces of fruit in the bodega, and the detailed story telling you do about your site, as well as the personal connection you draw to your upbringing in an Asian household.

  4. Most informative: “Bodegas serves as a major source of food in East and Central Harlem. While food disparity brought by Bodegas seems trivial with regards to food as an object itself, the limited healthy food options exerts tremendous impacts on public health of local residents.” / The information is clear and shows directly how things we consume and usually perceive as inactive are affecting us and generating consequences through ecology and a precarity that constituted by both humans and nonhumans.

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