EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet
Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012
Disquiet eaters: uncertain materialities of scientific evidence (EN)
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30
This workshop examines the uncertainties that develop through the evidentiary practices of scientific measurements of food consumption. The papers consider the specific material properties of foods revealed by eaters' practices and scientific expertise in the field of nutrition.
The practices of eating and the bodies therein formed are topics of considerable debate. Concerns over food and eating vary widely, involving global hunger, the so-called globesity epidemic, normative approaches to body-size, and endocrine approaches to eating behaviors and disordered eating. We explore the ways in which these concerns coalesce around the mobilization of scientific facts about food and bodies, increasingly depicted through numeric calculations such as calories, grams of fats or proteins or body mass index metrics. This workshop examines the uncertainties that develop through the evidentiary practices of scientific measurements of food consumption.
In addition to concerns regarding the effects of food on health, certain foods (such as fats or sugar) are seen as having disquieting effects on eaters, subverting the subject's will. We invite papers that consider the specific material properties of foods revealed by eaters' practices or scientific expertise in the field of nutrition. While the category of the material generally comes to stand for what is fixed, the materiality of food is evanescent and the subject of scientific negotiation.
This workshop interrogates how eaters navigate the uncertainty of the boundary between the body and foodstuffs. In cases of "disordered" eating, disquiet may arise around how this boundary is materialised or traversed. While scientific practices tend to standardise, fixing the substances of consumption and the bodies of eaters in place, the papers in this workshop suggest that the tangible materiality of food/bodies often remains opaque and slippery.
Discussant: Marilyn Strathern
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
"Don't yuck my yum": negotiating physical health and moral goodness via food
Based on an ethnographic study of food socialization at an independent school in New York City, this paper examines how global discourses about agribusiness, obesity, and the nanny state fuel community anxiety over teaching children what, why, and how to eat.
Responding to national trends and parental pressures, Ridgecrest, an independent elementary school in New York City, has recently introduced school food change initiatives to provide less processed lunches and teach the benefits of fresh foods. As food change researchers attest, handing down new culinary options and curricular add-ons about sustainable agriculture and healthy diets does not definitively transform how children eat and think about food. Instead, these cultural values and practices transform erratically as contradictory messages broadcast by media, parents, and teachers are digested through everyday interactions among the children themselves. However, the "food fights" that have erupted within this community are instructive not only for food activists interested in changing the way the next generation eats but also for social theorists interested in analyzing the ways in which presumably objective facts about a topic as fundamental and sensitive as food are rejected, ingested, and/or transformed by those to whom they are presented. In this case, debates about, on the one hand, the ills of agribusiness and obesity and, on the other, the nanny state's inroads on an individual's freedom of taste are having an impact not only on the presumed targets of the new food initiatives (the children) but also many of the anxious adults as well. Through analysis of food discourse derived from interviews, focus groups, and natural interactions in classrooms and dining hall, this paper examines how consumers measure and negotiate the ingredients and techniques for achieving a state of physical health and moral goodness.
Devils, spies and sugar policy: exploring the pedagogy of sweetness in Danish upbringing
This paper explores the demonizing of sugar in Danish upbringing and pedagogy and discusses how children navigate their sense of sweet taste in relation hereto.
There is currently an enourmous focus on the danger of sugar in Danish health debates and policies. The uncertainty of what the sweet carbohydrates do to the body is especially expressed in relation to children.Parents quarrel about their children’s sugar consumption, every kindergarten has a so called sugar policy, school teachers discuss how a high sugar intake create noise in the classroom, the authorities produce posters displaying a sugar spy who can reveal how muchs ugar you eat, and recently a Danish songwriter published a children’s song about the sugar devil.
Based on the actual scientific uncertainty of the role ofsugar for health I trace how this dramatic scenery has developed in a Danish context and what it means for children’s experience of taste. Through a discussion of how children navigate and perform the paradoxes of sweetness I stress the moral dimensions of sugar and question the belief of sweet taste as natural.
Educating eaters: hungry fat cells and the molecularisation of overweight bodies
Fat cells influence metabolism, revealing that eaters' choices are affected by the materiality of foods. I examine the assumptions carried by health initiatives aiming to shape food choices with a focus on how social and environmental factors are understood to be enfolded in molecular processes.
While the causes of obesity are contested, emphasis is often placed on the shift between energy intake and expenditure in societies where energy-dense foods are widely available and aggressively advertised. The "natural" body is understood to have developed mechanisms that motivate eaters to seek out energy-dense foods, a hardwiring which is maladaptive in today's plethoric environment. International public health initiatives aim to inform eaters about food choices, in a manner that sometimes assumes that information straightforwardly leads to changed behaviour. The French Program for Nutrition and Health has been criticised for adopting a restrictive model in aiming to curtail individual eaters' consumption.
This paper draws on research on French obesity treatment programs that depart from cognitive restriction models - with their attendant focus on nutritional calculations - focusing instead on commensality and the sensory aspects of eating. These programs consider that dieting ultimately fails to bring about weight-reduction and leads to overall weight-gain or disordered eating in the long-term. Pleasure and the social context of food consumption are understood to affect the material action of foods in the body. Recent findings show that fat cells have a memory and actively influence metabolism by secreting hormones, revealing that eaters are not the only active term, but that the choices they make are affected by the materiality of the foods they ingest. This paper examines the assumptions carried by different models for educating eaters concerning the role of social and environmental factors and examines how these are understood to be enfolded in molecular processes.
Disquiet eaters of 'proper meals' at school
Through the material practices of eating everyday school meals, this paper describes the taut negotiations between nutritional expertise, religion, & affect that feed into what are defined as ‘proper meals’. It reveals the variegated networks of trust, risk & uncertainty in which they are entangled.
School meals in Britain (as also elsewhere in Europe) have emerged as a major public health issue in the midst of a 'childhood obesity crisis'. Successive governments have invested in intervention programmes such as the Healthy Schools Programme that seeks to provide increased access to free school meals freshly prepared everyday. These interventions are underpinned by notions of 'healthy choices' leading to 'healthy bodies', thereby seeking to reduce the burden of disease on the NHS in the context of scarce public funds. On the other hand, debates over the provision of halal food in British school meals and the possible ban of halal meat, have been intertwined with debates over the possible formalisation of certain aspects of Shari 'ah law under the mainstream British legal system, the display of faith symbols and making faith schools more 'inclusive', and 'multiculturalism' in Britain.
This paper focuses on the work of school meals in navigating these anxious debates. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on the material practices of consumption (and preparation) of everyday meals in a multicultural state school cafeteria in east London, it describes the dynamic interactions between nutritional expertise embodied in meal plans and food labels on the one hand, and the religious, moral and affective dimensions of such mundane practices on the other. It highlights the taut negotiations integral to such interactions that feed into what come to be defined and eaten as 'proper meals'. In so doing, it illuminates the variegated networks of trust, risk and uncertainty in which they are entangled.
Searching for global hunger
This paper analyzes international health constructions of “global hunger” to address how anthropological methods might examine negotiations between bodily experiences and scientific standardizing practices.
Renewed fears about rising population rates and climate change have coincided with mounting concern for global hunger. Yet 'global hunger,' although it mobilizes considerable energy among international health and development organizations, is hardly a stable or steady thing. In some sites hunger is measured through national population and agricultural statistics. Others make use of qualitative surveys that ask about perceived levels of satiety. Still others depend upon caloric or nutrient intakes and body mass averages. While each of these approaches crafts divergent embodied materialities of what hunger can be, they generally claim to represent 'hunger' as though the term has a universal meaning. The consolidation of this multiplicity is all the more apparent with attempts to quantify global hunger, which represents diverse experiences and sensations of desire for food, and various methods for assessing dietary wants and needs within a single metric. This paper moves between research conducted with international organizations working to account for global hunger and fieldwork in a Latin American community routinely characterized by the global health community as having a high rate of hunger. I ask how various metrics of hunger hang together, where they begin to fall apart, and how policy makers negotiate the uncertainties present within the standards they employ. More generally, I raise questions about ethnographic possibilities for examining global facts, whose representative forms diverge from the description of everyday life experiences typical of anthropological fieldwork, but which also circle back to influence quotidian practices in influential ways.
This paper addresses the sociomaterial ontology of nutrients and discusses how the scientific concept exists in multiple social forms. The presentation analyzes how obesity surgery patients and conscripts in military service make sense of and manage their eating through the concept of nutrients.
This paper addresses the sociomaterial ontology of nutrients. It discusses how the scientific concept of nutrients exists in multiple social forms and often in processes which involve body, technology and discourse simultaneously.
Nutrients are the scientific objectification of food; a tool to scientifically identify and quantify metabolic processes and thereby measure them. In this definition, foods are made up by nutrients as bioactive and functional components which give energy and build tissue. They either provide the body with energy (macronutrients as carbohydrates, fat and protein) or regulate body processes and metabolic functions (micronutrients e.g. vitamins). Consequently nutrients are conceptualized as building blocks and food acquires a 'character of causality' producing specific effects in the body.
With the popularization of findings within nutritional research, this 'nutrition narrative' has become common knowledge and science terms like simple sugars, trace elements or omega-6 fatty acids have become household words. Although exactly what nutrients do is a mystery to many, the objective measurements acquire an ontological status. The concept of nutrients thus heavily influences how people think of their food and manage their eating. By translating the properties of food into numerical standards, food items are fitted into a classification system where specific qualities count and others do not. Depending on the social setting, these properties may acquire different meanings and uses.
The presentation seeks to answer how obesity surgery patients and conscripts in military service make sense of properties of food and manage their eating through the concept of nutrients.
Enforced materialisations and intangible materialities: exploring conceptualisations of eating in anorexia and its treatment
This paper explores interactions between bodies and foods as they are imagined and mobilised by eating disorders treatment and anorexic individuals. It thereby interrogates how diverging conceptualisations of anorexia(s) and selves differently frame the materiality of foods and the act of eating.
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in an English eating disorders unit this paper explores how eating disorders treatment and individuals affected by anorexia conceptualise eating. It interrogates what is made material through the enforced eating of treatment and what matters in the day-to-day starvation practices of anorexics. The rationale underpinning treatment praxis is a conceptualisation of anorexia as an addendum to an individual's self. A 'food-as-medicine' paradigm frames eating - ingesting weighable portions and quantifiable calories - as the modality of (re)materialising this previous self. Bodily perimeters become markers of illness or health, yet intimate trajectories of food through corporeal spaces are paradoxically 'immaterial.' In contrast, to many anorexic informants, anorexia is self. Eating is not experienced as (re)producing, but as threatening, informants' sense of themselves; it materialises an absence. Food is conceptualised less in terms of the effects of its material properties on bodily perimeters and more in terms of its agency. Through eating, food becomes body by creeping, agential but hidden, through its corporeal spaces; it is intangibly, as well as tangibly, material. Food also 'sneaks into' the body through smells or skin contact. Ingesting and digesting are thereby mapped beyond the body's depths as eating is negotiated across its surfaces, and the perimeters of both body and self are threateningly open. Thus, by tracing divergences and convergences between clinical rationale and anorexics' subjectivities as they coalesce around eating, this paper interrogates uncertain boundaries and food's materiality. In so doing, it engages with informants' disquiet to explore what eating is.
Avatars of exclusive breast feeding: an anthropological account of uncertain breast milk science from postcolonial fights against infant mortality to the prevention of HIV
The paper explores the genesis of “exclusive breastfeeding” as a “biological norm” in public health. It describes the ontological shifts from unstable breast milk enacted in the relational becoming of infants to a multiple biochemical object in search of a universal remedy against structural violence and global food anxieties.
Exclusive Breastfeeding during the first six months of life is the gold standard of the Global Strategy for Infant Feeding, including in contexts of HIV transmitted through breast milk. By contrast, this recently defined feeding method has never been commonly practiced worldwide. The paper explores the genesis and multiplicity of "exclusive breastfeeding" as an evidence-based public health measure, from postcolonial fights against infant mortality to current prevention efforts of HIV. Through an analysis of scientific literature, policy reports as well as expert interviews, I will explore the key moments and untidy connections that led to past and present exclusive breastfeeding policies and science. It describes a dynamic of purification, both material and ontological, of the gift of milk from contaminating waters, weaning foods and viruses. Similarly, breast milk became a shield against various nutrition disorders such as allergies and obesity. The history closes with the new WHO infant growth standards based on exclusive breastfeeding as a "biological norm". The paper discusses how the above-outlined account relates to the ontological shifts that transformed the unstable, relational substance of breast milk into an autonomous, yet multiple biochemical object in search of a universal remedy in contexts of structural violence and global food anxieties. Breast milk remains however unfixed, because it is enacted through the relations of infants, mothers and others in the procreative making and remaking of bodies, persons and collectives.
Contaminated lineages: intra-uterine environments and the transmission of fat
What does it means to say that you are what your grandmother ate? This paper examines how the fetal origins hypothesis has come to represent a particular ‘biohabitus’ that positions women as central to scientific and popular understandings of obesity.
This paper critically examines the most significant paradigm shift in reproductive medicine, the fetal origins theory of adult disease, or Barker's hypothesis. Fetal origins scientists argue that chronic adult diseases have their origins in the intra-uterine environment, so a pregnant woman's diet may result in underweight babies, thus 'programming' fetuses into metabolic pathways of chronic adult diseases (such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes). In line with increased clinical research and public attention to obesity, this 'new science' has been mobilised to explain a common sense and casual relationship between fat mothers, fat babies and the transmission of obesity through generations. Maternal obesity is said to increase the transfer of nutrients across the placenta, thus inducing permanent changes in appetite and metabolism that can 'accelerate' obesity through future generations. These scientific 'facts' about pregnant bodies and the ingestion of certain foods, intersect with historical discourses concerning women's appetites and reproductive bodies. In this maternal lineage of fat transmission obese women's bodies are presented as harming fetuses, and it is the uncontrollable appetites of mothers-to-be that are blamed for the obesity 'epidemic'.
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.