2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Samantha King

Queen’s University
In the past two decades, a cultural obsession with dietary protein has emerged against a backdrop of escalating concern about links between meat eating and climate change. The multibillion-dollar industry that drives the protein boom has been built upon the nutrient’s reputation as a weight-loss aid, a muscle builder, a salve for exercise recovery, and more. While consumers rotate through the latest high-protein regimen (from Atkins to paleo to keto), meat and cheese intake continues to flourish, as do its ecological impacts. While the protein-environment tension is often presented as a newly contentious issue, our research suggests otherwise. Here, we explorethe contested history of amino acids within nutritional orthodoxy, focusing particularly on shifting understandings of protein within development discourse. We read debates about protein deficiency in post-World War II Africa—and what became known as the “great protein fiasco”—through an ecological, decolonial lens. As we trace how protein deficiency, and later hunger, became racialized through discourses of alterity, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, we also highlight moments of refusal, detailing how nutritional science and policy became sites for protein anti-imperialism. Finally, we show how historical manifestations of protein fetishism, and its discontents, inform contemporary ecologies and economies of fitness and food.