Hardin, “Fasting for Health, Fasting for God”

October 19, 2013

Hardin, Jessica A. 2013. Fasting for Health, Fasting for God: Samoan Evangelical Christian Responses to Obesity and Chronic Disease. In Reconstructing Obesity: The Meaning of Measures and the Measures of Meaning. Edited by Megan McCullough and Jessica Hardin, 107-130. New York: Berghahn.

Excerpt: The motivation to write this paper was sparked during conversations with public health practitioners and Pacific scholars after returning from preliminary fieldwork trips over the course of three years. Whenever I would mention to Pacific scholars working in the United States or public health practitioners working with Pacific islanders that I was doing research on fasting, the response was generally: “Samoan people fast?” This motivated me to explore why the Samoan practice of fasting seems like such a contradictory idea.

The first part of this puzzle is that anthropologists often associate Samoans with lavish food presentations as a key dimension of exchange relationships; this association informs not only social relationships but also bodily idioms and subjectivity. For many public health practitioners, Samoa elicits an image of fast foods, fatty meats, obesity, and attendant diseases. The question arises, then, how and why is the practice of fasting a common topic of discussion among Samoan Christians when it seems, at least on the surface, to contradict Samoan food ideologies and anthropological understanding of the connection between consumption, body size, and abundance? How is fasting appropriated into a food ideology that values large body sizes and views eating as a central dimension of sociality?

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