Date of Award

Summer 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Imtiaz Habib

Committee Member

Manuela Mourão

Committee Member

Chandra de Silva


In the second half of the nineteenth century, a retired Victorian undertaker named William Banting (1796-1878) dramatically altered attitudes toward fat by initiating the profoundly consequential idea of the diet as a saleable commodity capable of marking identity within particular social and racial contexts and connecting obesity with degeneracy, illness, and evil. His work Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the General Public self-published in 1863 describes how, with physician William Harvey, Banting reduced his weight by nearly fifty pounds by following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Banting and his dieting phenomenon transformed the English cultural consciousness of fatness, and created a Victorian cultural craze that valorized slimness as a marker of privilege and prestige by drawing on the escalating regularization of medicine and the conventions of medical discourse that were increasingly popular among readers. Though there were both positive and negative reactions to Banting, his work undoubtedly became a subject of busy popular conversation, challenging and transforming Victorian notions of body, self, and power in social and national contexts. After its importation into India, the diet served as a way to maintain colonial control and to reify the English imagination of its imperial identity. It likewise established a form of control over Indian subjects of the British raj, who, after the Mutiny of 1857, were seen increasingly as a threat that needed to be addressed. A study of Banting's work thus invites skepticism of the various ways such anti-fat discourses are deployed to further entrench hierarchies of power and preference. It also recognizes the perpetuation of the colonial episteme in modern discourses about healthful dietary practices