Signals of satiety

by Rob Horning

14 February 2006


I’m still thinking of that nefariously inconvenient fruit, the apple, and how nature had the gall to make it seem, well, natural that you would eat one apple and then stop, rather than eating apple after apple mechanically with little thought or enjoyment, as would suit the world’s apple growers. The saga of agribusiness’s war against the apple reminded me of how industry in general has triumphed over what were once natural signals of satiety, how successful it has been at alienating us all from such instincts. It’s a familiar story, how capitalist abundance and affluence leads individuals to lose all sense of deprivation, rationing, and true hunger. In the absence of the experience of true hunger, they substitute a faux hunger, the ravenous and insatiable quest for novelty, for luxury, or for whatever else society at large promotes as distinctive and desirable. As a manager for Nestle Foods notes in a BusinessWeek article about Russian consumerism, “As soon as people step out of poverty, they become potential Nestle customers.”

The point is that signals of satiety have long ceased to come from nature or our own instincts—if ever they did. Rather, they come from social cues, indications that you’ve had enough, you’ve had all that’s appropriate for you. These cues are open to manipulation, be it by an oppressive state or a well-organized private propaganda industry, and what’s more we the people are likely to be thankful for the guidance from these institutions, which is preferable to having no parameters within which to exist. A rigid class structure complemented by sumptuary laws helped establish and naturalize limits in the past, but now our culture seems preoccupied with the project of naturalizing limitless desires, amking endless acquisitiveness a social mandate—we are all required to keep up in our own ways, with information (trivial or otherwise) if not material things. Obviously this is not a bad thing, but it’s not conducive to relaxation either. Relaxation is a pretty paltry goal, anyway; it’s a false solution to the problem of stress, which is the physiological manifestation of a deeply flawed system ill-suited to the needs of the human species

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