hunger as metaphor

We are repeatedly told by our culture’s dominant discourses that the hunger we experience is not “real” hunger. Our culture’s dominant discourses provide us with alternative ways to interpret our own everyday lived experiences, even our most fundamental and profoundly personal experiences of the internal workings of our individual bodies.

Our cultural discourses tell us that our feelings and our senses are LYING TO US.

Our dominant cultural discourses tell us that own lived experiences of hunger are imaginary…our hunger is “emotional hunger”, for example,  or our hunger is something that we each have the individual power to control and dominate (to “manage” better, or to tame, or to ignore, or even to feel proud about if it means we’re losing “unwanted” weight or if our hunger means that we’re maintaining a socially-approved size)—because, somehow, our hunger is (socially constructed as) a product of our minds, of our thoughts, of our individual psychological “health”—and therefore hunger is merely our falsely “perceived” reality, not REAL reality, not the reality that our culture says is the ACTUAL way things exist…no matter what our own LIVED EXPERIENCES show us—every single day.

Our dominant cultural discourses create a harmful consensus reality when we accept, without question, the following:

Our own lived experiences are faulty perceptions and irrelevant illusions and psychological “defenses” that can be changed if we correct our thinking to fit the appropriate (socially approved) beliefs.

Say, about hunger.

Gosh, remember when we used to react in shock, disdain, and horror at the news of Soviet Russians being sent to Siberia (or to “mental” rehabilitation facilities) for the purpose of “correcting” their “distorted thoughts” (their thoughts about the power of the State to dominate their lives)?

How hideous it was (to North Americans, for instance) to imagine such terrible injustice and inhumanity whereby innocent people would suffer under that kind of domination, would be forced to suffer from that much tyranny…living constantly, day after day, with those horrible social and political DEMANDS—to ignore and to DENY their very own lived experiences as evidence of suffering…struggling to survive under the political and social demands to trust the goodness of the State apparatus, to trust the goodness and soundness of State institutions, to trust the authorities given power by the State—while being required by the State to believe that their very own lived experiences were not worthy of trust.


How awful it must be, we all shuddered, to live in a society where a person is not even FREE to trust their own lived experiences as REAL.

How ghastly to ponder a society where the most powerful social institutions have the authority to decide the social “correctness” or “incorrectness” of a person’s VERY OWN THOUGHTS about their ACTUAL LIVED EXPERIENCES.

Oh. My. God.




It turns out that hunger—as it is socially constructed these days—provides a pretty damn good metaphor for understanding the nature of social domination and control. Hunger is visceral. It is gnawing and persistent and, yes, very real when it is being experienced. Yet somehow we have allowed ourselves, or so many of us have not so much allowed but rather accepted without question the dominant discourses about hunger (and weight, and dieting, and nutrition, and science, etc) even when our own lived experiences SHOW us otherwise.

We don’t even need the threat presented by a Siberian Gulag or a “mental correctional facility” hanging over our heads.

We simply require various forms of social pressure, social control and social domination—forms that we also learn—through socialization—to never notice, or certainly to never protest for fear of being labelled crazy or dishonest or…

Whatever it takes.

We deny that our hunger is real. It cannot possibly be real. Or it cannot be of any REAL consequence even when it FEELS REAL. We must be making it up, imagining it, constructing it  with our psychologically flawed minds as a defense for our own inadequate coping skills.

We deny that our suffering is real. We are fine. We are all fine. And when we are not fine, we know that it is a personal, individual problem to “manage”, to “control”, to “conquer”, to “cope with” because practically whatever personal pain we experience—any pain that seems to result from our actual LIVED EXPERIENCES—is not to be trusted as evidence of anything except our own individual need to change.

Our hunger is always something else, something that needs to be “reconceptualized” or reframed or “coped with” because it is not REAL hunger. Our hunger is not real so our feelings of distress and discomfort and pain are not real. Our suffering is not real suffering.

Our personal pain and suffering is something else—some “disorder” to be fixed, or treated, or analyzed, or transformed. Oh, it’s a problem, perhaps, but it is our own INDIVIDUAL problem, the problem is INSIDE of us, inside our bodies or our minds—or both.

Each individual therefore is supposed to “fix” the “problem”—which they experience as suffering—by turning to professionals (authorities) for “help” or for “care.”

The professionals, then, tell us whether or not our suffering is REAL…whether it is worthy of treatment. They can tell us if it is a REAL disease, or disorder, or “symptom” or…

Or whether it is something else.

Say, a personal problem that needs to be fixed by oneself or to be “coped with”—or, maybe, a personal problem that is actually the result of our own wrong thinking. Or our failure to psychologically adapt to “REALITY”.

When are we ever told that our own LIVED EXPERIENCES are showing us anything of value, anything worthy of attention, if those experiences conflict with the “REALITY” we are supposed to be experiencing?

If we feel despair, or we are suffering, we better have a damn good reason for it. We better have a damn good explanation. Something profound. Something medically treatable.

Ah. We can call it depression.

That’s something INSIDE a person. That’s now legitimate. Nothing else needs to change except the INSIDE of the individual, so it can now be made real. It is treatable.

If it isn’t treatable or manageable, apparently, it isn’t REALLY REAL. It’s inside a mind. Inside a person.

Thus, now, today, most people seem to agree that all “personal” suffering (including pain resulting from social injustice, poverty, inequality, stigma, bias…housing insecurity, food insecurity, racism, sexism, classism…WHATEVER…) has an individual solution—a way to change conditions or circumstance at the individual level. Person by person by person.

In other words, if a problem is REALLY real, then we can (each of us) use our own free will to find a solution…or, we can figure out, supposedly, one way or another, how to change reality for that particular individual who seems to be suffering.

In our culture, indeed, most of us seem willing to believe that if suffering is REAL then it’s probably diagnosable and treatable…or, perhaps, it can be “managed” or even cured by individual efforts—by individuals taking action to control or to change that pain INSIDE the person, to change the person’s experience of discomfort, or to change his or her PERCEPTION of suffering or pain.

If that kind of change—change at the level of the individual—does not seem possible, of course, then the suffering is not real suffering.

The pain is not real pain.

The hunger is not real hunger.

Or, alternatively, maybe in some rare cases we’ll grudgingly allow that the suffering is quasi-real…almost real but not REALLY real, so we’ll name it something else—something like, say, “emotional” hunger….but, naturally, in that case it’s self inflicted.

So. Here we are.

Or. Here I am. Here is where I find myself.

Here is what I’m noticing in my own lived experience.

Almost nobody seems to know (or even to ask nowadays), if a problem resulted from social domination—that is, as a result of widespread social dysfunction—how might that problem manifest in the REAL world, in our everyday lives?

If this so-called “domination” was actually a (serious or harmful) “problem” at the level of social organization…worthy of our attention and analysis and focus…then what forms might “domination” take in people’s lives, and how would it create suffering for human beings?

My lived experience at the bookstore, for instance, shows me row after row (after row) of MASSIVELY LONG BOOK SHELVES filled with self-help books, and New Age books, and pop psychology books, and diet books, etc…and the SOCIOLOGY section?

It is labelled “Social Issues” and consists of two very short shelves.

But. Strangely. I keep wondering why…

Many of us, or even most of us, seem to believe that if human pain or human suffering is REALLY REAL, then it can be treated, or managed, or controlled by individuals—at the level of individuals—sometimes by doctors, sometimes by professionals, sometimes by regular people who work really really really hard to change.


It’s not real.

5 thoughts on “hunger as metaphor

  1. Pingback: Let’s just say it about hunger. | it's the satiety

  2. Pingback: Let’s just say it about hunger – 2 | it's the satiety

  3. LONG (more or less coherent and related) Note to Self

    (all others should probably look away):

    Hmm…this ongoing (UNWANTED) insomnia brings thinking then brings babbling with written words as diversion…

    Thus, I’ve been pondering (as usual, lately) the MANY MANY ways in which social oppression and social domination (or control) manifests in individual lives every day—while social domination and oppression are seldom, if ever, understood and recognized by the suffering, oppressed victims of social domination.

    Fat people (FAT is not used disparagingly, please let’s be clear) are supposed to blame themselves for remaining fat—for refusing to live with constant hunger…refusing (or “failing”) to be forced to endure physical pain.

    For hunger, we seem to have forgotten as a society, is painful. Hunger becomes a lived experience of human suffering.

    Suffering is, therefore, demanded and expected from people whose body size exceeds the social norm.

    This demand for suffering is not commonly understood as resulting from social injustice and from widespread inequities.

    Similarly, people who suffer from food insecurity, housing insecurity, deprivation of basic needs, etc, are expected to hold themselves responsible for their own pain-filled and frightening fates. Indeed, as with hunger, people frequently blame themselves for suffering economic and material losses (for failing to predict and control future outcomes that are, in reality, beyond individual control), When they sense the horrifying injustice required by self blame, they may instead blame groups or organizations, without seeing the much wider systemic and linguistic and political policies that enforce the social conditions which create suffering.

    Examples: resources required for secure lifeworlds are withheld by forces of domination—not simply the State, or social institutions, but our cultural norms which APPROVE of inequality—indeed, for example, resources required to meet “basic needs” for security are withheld (or access to resources restricted) from so many people in desperate need (who are suffering REAL pain, REAL terror about their safety and security, REAL hunger from trying to avoid social stigma against fatness, etc)…yet these same kinds of basic-needs resources, required to alleviate or prevent unnecessary suffering, are heaped in the most vulgar and wasteful amounts on other human beings—people who are no more valuable or deserving, of course, than those who are deprived and restricted from access.

    Fat people are stereotyped as food addicts or food hoarders or out-of-control consumers (taking more than their FAIR share, supposedly, of food and/or “OUR precious health care” resources) but the REAL forces of injustice and inequality (unfair distribution, mass over consumption by privileged few, and the refusal to fairly share global resources)—now THOSE (REAL) sorts of infliction of human harm mostly get a pass.

    The cultural (now global) obsession with OMG OBESITY!!!! is a dramatic social construction which distracts our attention from true gluttony and waste by systemic (socially approved and supported) hoarders of power and status. Thus, fat people who refuse to live with perpetual hunger are stigmatized. “Lazy! Gluttonous!” etc. But. Professionals and power elites who REFUSE to speak out against oppression, refuse to fight against social inequities, and refuse to take a public stand against social domination are rewarded for their REFUSAL TO MOVE AND TAKE ACTION (but theirs is never called “lazy” inaction, of course)—indeed, for their INACTION, they are often rewarded with material wealth, access to health care and guarantees of far greater personal safety/security systems…unimaginable security for average folks made to feel ashamed (and called “lazy”) for becoming “obese.”

    Yes, all additional evidence of still more crazy making—accepted as the norm.

    We gasp at “hoarders” of “junk” in their yards, homes, attics, and so forth…as if we are in shock over these “hoards” and accumulation of “excess stuff” (OMG stuff addiction!…) but we shrug off—or simply accept—laws and rules that ensure privileges and lifetime material security to those who hoard land masses (property), who hoard corporations, who hoard people (low paid employees, for instance)—in fact, hoarding of material wealth in socially approved forms has become our culture’s favorite religion (ideology) du jour; we are socialized to admire and support a supposedly inalienable (guaranteed) right to UNLIMITED consumption and ownership and accumulation of essential “natural resources” or “commodities” (everything from ecologically fragile waterfronts, to our earth’s minerals, to our precious life-giving forests, to people’s entire “work-lives”… )

    Now, all those latter “hoards” are admired and lauded as the results of WISE INVESTMENTS and good business decisions! Why should we make wealth accumulators SUFFER unfairly by demanding they share (pay higher taxes on, for instance) their accumulated resources and power? WHAT A SCANDALOUS NOTION!


    “Excess” adipose tissue on a human body? Now THAT is REALLY too much! In that case, expected endurance of lifelong hunger is not considered a significant sacrifice or a cause of suffering. But it shall of course be called “healthy” dieting, and rewarded with a bit of social status or privilege—in other words, people will be considered privileged when they suffer hunger to avoid the cruelties and suffering caused by fat stigma.

    Hmmm. Methinks I’m much over tired today. Sleep deprivation (long, exceedingly long, story) is a vicious task master.
    Please send me good wishes for sleep with sweet dreams. No nightmares. (((HUGS SELF HERE)))

  4. Just now reading. Hope you slept after this. You are right, of course.

    I’ve always thought it a silly philosophy that we don’t want to “punish achievment” by requiring fair taxes on the wealthy to pay for the benefits of our shared society (benefits which they enjoy more than anyone). NO! Heaven forfend! Instead, throw money at the wealthy and they will presumably create magic jobs producing objects for which there is no demand. And if you don’t throw money at them, they’ll withhold those magic jobs. And if you elect the candidate they don’t like, they will withhold those jobs, because of the “uncertainty.” Uncertainty about what? That they may not hold on to their wealth? They conspire amongst themselves and suggest that the economy may collapse (which is possible under any party’s reign), but try to make that a self-fulfilling prophesy under the “wrong” candidates, in order to make a point, punish and better control the poor people. Social domination.

    You are right. They just hoard and invest, with our blessings, and pass the hoarded green along to another generation, but we dare not call that generation “lazy.” Words like that are reserved for those who are poor or fat and, by definition, lack for personal responsibility.

    • Wow. Debra. How is it possible that I did not respond to this comment from You? Seriously, I really love the way you explain about “magic jobs” and the threat of “withhold[ing]“—I had not thought about the threat of domination and social control that way before, even though it so damn blatant. Threatening to ruin people’s lives (livelihoods is such an innocent innocuous term for the means to exist and survive), basically, if the big (HA!) important people don’t get their own way…WHHAAAA!!!…like playground bullies, or of course much worse, like predators who feel that they deserve whatever they can coerce out of victims…the arrogance of corporations is tragic because corporations are things, actually, not people, and we have turned our wills and our lives over to these conscience-less things…to these amalgamations of imaginary numbers and dollar signs, aka bottom lines and profit margins….and we keep telling ourselves we are free. As if the that word actually has some meaning in our actual lived experiences, some meaning that represents human value. Wonderful comment, again, and thanks for showing me another way to experience these truths that are so hard to put into words with our current dominant metaphors and worldviews…

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