Concurrent with the rise of "drugs for life" in biomedical societies has been a growing trend of using food as medicine. How does "eating for life" respond to and shape ideas about the body, the politics of medical knowledge, subjectivity, and the limits of the human?
In light of recent theorizing about the rise of "drugs for life" (Dumit 2012) - drugs which are necessary to sustain life and which also must be taken for the duration of life - as a dominant trend in the biomedical toolkit, everyday technologies of the self have sometimes been overlooked. Yet technologies of food consumption remain of vital importance for the allopathic management of certain diseases that remain incurable by pharmaceutical means (food allergies) and increasingly important adjuvants in others (ADHD, autism, heart disease). By contrast, dietary techniques that have captured the imagination of sufferers without receiving the imprimatur of Western biomedical science (such as those adopted from Chinese, homeopathic, or other "complementary and alternative" or "traditional" medicines) can cause controversy and conflict when patient and doctor meet. Beyond the clinic, dietary regimes centered around toxins, detoxing, cleansing, and "clean eating" offer opportunities for the reasonably healthy person to seek an elevated state of health as part of the new ideology of wellness.
Ultimately, this panel seeks to propose answers to the following questions: What are the moral, intersubjective, political, or economic effects of eating for life? What controversies arise between experts, including between biomedical experts and lay expert illness and wellness communities? What does the growing use of food as medicine mean for the authority and credibility of lab- and clinic-based biomedical knowledge? And, finally, what happens to the moral, aesthetic, and cultural connotations of (particular) foods when they are appropriated as part of a para-medical eating regimen?
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
'Digestion, immunity and vitality': nutriceuticals, ready-to-use-therapeutic-foods, and the temporary as the future
The convergence of humanitarian governance architectures and corporate interests in nutrition interventions in South Africa rests on a future-oriented logic that employs ideas about digestion, immunity and wellness to reconfigure food supplementation in pregnancy and to the HIV positive population.
Food's reconfiguration as pharmaceutical in biomedical regimes of knowledge has been considered by scholars across two themes: (1) food supplementation as humanitarian intervention, predicated on a particular value of life and delivered in a situation of 'crisis', with a specific temporal horizon characterized by short term impacts, and (2) food supplementation as commercial entity, marketed as an enhancer of 'wellness' or potential, predicated on notions of risk across a much broader temporal frame. The more recent convergence of humanitarian design and corporate interest requires inquiry into the semiotic maneuvers by which such a shift has been possible, and we contend that the tropes of 'digestion', 'immunity' and 'vitality' are central to this reconfiguration. We consider nutriceuticals and ready-to-use-therapeutic foods as they are deployed by state and commercial actors in South Africa, where two key figures are the focus of state and corporate interests in nutrition intervention: the pregnant woman and the HIV positive population. These two figures, as biopolitical expressions of post-Apartheid regimes of knowledge, care, and governance, illustrate how state distribution and corporate marketing of food supplements in South Africa employ a future-oriented logic that appeals to notions of power, energy, and potential. The convergence of these two figures in relation to 'digestion,' 'immunity' and 'vitality' reveals the logic of therapeutic foods not merely as humanitarian technologies that reconfigure crisis as chronic condition - a case of the temporary becoming permanent - but as constitutively premised on new potentialities, in which the temporary can (re)shape the future.
Apricot Kernels and Chemo? Eating Away Cancer at a Biomedical Hospital in Germany
This paper focuses on the role of diet in a German cancer ward: Dietary education is practiced to instill agency in patients. This contradicts the biomedical idea of the docile body. I reflect on conflicting medical paradigms, thereby tracing the process of hegemonization of knowledge on diet and cancer.
Due to increasingly lengthy survival periods following diagnosis as well as newly developed treatments, many types of cancer are now regarded as chronic conditions. This shift has altered traditional treatment patterns and exposed new needs for continuing, long-term care. In Germany, four out of five patients with cancer use non-biomedical practices to improve their condition and/or ameliorate the side-effects of chemo- or radiotherapy. Most patients start with dietary modifications that are either facilitated through naturopathic practitioners or which they learn about through literature, the media or social contacts. In the last decade, biomedical practitioners have recognized this trend and now attempt to integrate dietary techniques and other naturopathic practices (e.g. homeopathy or water treatment) into their own institutions, thereby regulating access to these services and ensuring interpretative authority. This paper focuses on the role of dietary regimes in a German biomedical cancer ward. In this hospital, dietary education is practiced to instill a sense of self-responsibility and agency in patients that is intended to extend beyond their hospital stay. This contradicts the biomedical idea of the passive docile body which is exclusively healed by medics. The empirical data of this paper reflects shifting and conflicting medical paradigms, thereby tracing the process of hegemonization of knowledge on diet and cancer.
Eating less meat to 'save the planet'? Updating healthy eating advice
Sustainability criteria are beginning to be incorporated into official healthy eating advice, however this involves complex judgements about the impacts of specific foods. My presentation describes research to investigate the development of this new policy science in the UK, France and Denmark.
Recently published healthy eating guidelines in several countries - including the Nordic countries and France - have included sustainability criteria by, for example, advising individuals to eat less meat or consume local and seasonal produce. Incorporating evidence about the environment impacts of eating into these guidelines is a difficult task. Research into the effects of diet on health and into the environmental impacts of food production form two large bodies of research. Attempts to combine these separate bodies of knowledge into straightforward recommendations for the general public involve complex judgements about how to reconcile sometimes contradictory and incomplete evidence. Developing advice about ideal levels of meat and fish consumption seems to be particularly controversial.
Debates about these new technologies of food consumption, therefore, provide an excellent opportunity to investigate the development of a novel form of 'policy science' (Jasanoff, 1990). In my presentation, I will first outline the general characteristics of policy science, and then use case studies from twentieth century nutrition advice to discuss the sort of issues that arise in the development of nutritional guidelines by expert advisors and national governments. This presentation is based on the literature review for an interview-based study into the development of sustainable healthy eating guidelines, and, in conclusion, I will outline the more complex debates and issues that I expect my interviewees to discuss when describing the incorporation of sustainability criteria into such advice.
The Hygienic Sublime: Making Food Safe for Food Allergies
“The Hygienic Sublime” is an aesthetic of cleanliness and order that people with food allergy enact in order to live and eat safely. It is informed by American aspirations of progress and poses challenges to modern industrial food production.
For people with food allergies, even the smallest amount of contamination with the wrong food can precipitate a serious health crisis. To safeguard allergic bodies, food allergic people, advocates, and caretakers enact what I call the "hygienic sublime," a highly choreographed set of practices, demonstrations, and discourses meant to instantiate "safe," allergen-free conditions. Like David Nye's "American technological sublime," the hygienic sublime is suffused with American aspirations of progress and the pursuit of the Good Life. Ordinary, highly gendered facets of domestic hygienic labor, like cleaning and food preparation, are positioned as the key elements for ensuring the safety of food allergic individuals in both the home and in specialty food manufacturing. The same complicated industrial food supply chain management and production techniques that make buying "safe food" difficult for people with food allergies are also positioned, when properly domesticated, as offering the promise of safe foods. Ultimately, two things are at stake in my articulation of the hygienic sublime: first, can the answer to the problem of a globalized food system that responds to the financial logic of capitalism emerge from within the system itself, using its native techniques? Second, what new ways of thinking about illness and the evolving responsibilities of private industry and the state toward the chronically ill may emerge from these multiple enactments of the hygienic sublime?
This track is closed to new paper proposals.