Ambiguous Eating and Bodies in Global Asia: Perspectives from Critical Food and Development Studies
Time & LocationSession 9
Fri 09:00–10:30 Room 1.404
- Judith Ehlert University of Vienna
- Nora Faltmann School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
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- Food Safety in Ho Chi Minh City's Markets: Chemicals, Negotiating Trust, and the Politics of Place Nora Faltmann University of Vienna
The presented research constitutes part of the dissertation ‘Food Safety in Vietnam’s changing Urban Foodscape – Of Body Politics, Access and ‘Beautiful’ Carrots in Ho Chi Minh City’. Set at the city’s market places, the presentation explores how issues of food safety (an toàn th?c ph?m) are perceived and negotiated in these marketscapes. Food safety issues discussed here predominantly relate to questions of food origin and chemical contamination. The contribution discusses how food safety concerns are negotiated through relations to trusted vendors and through physical attributes of food. In particular, questions of embodied knowledge in the identification of safe food are analysed. Moreover, the presentation looks at attempts by control bodies to test the quality and safety of food on markets. As the fear of chemicals in food is closely tied to the places of origin, I then go on to discuss what I have come to refer to as the politics of place around food safety. Tied to societal discourses on what constitutes safe and trustworthy food, I examine cases in which food safety debates touch on and are inherently about something other than food – in the case of food origin, this particular relates to the reputation of China in Vietnam. Food safety concerns are brought out to be a social phenomenon that permeates social relations, rather than a something people negotiate in isolation. Moreover, the social embeddedness of people’s everyday food shopping routines contrast governmental advice on ‘rational’ consumer behaviour, hence weaving in the emerging consumer discourse in Vietnam and its implications for food safety issues.
- Informal Approaches to Countering Dietary Deskilling of the Next Generation in Cambodia’s Food System Hart Feuer Kyoto University
Past interventionist policies to improve youth dietary behaviors have been a mixed success. In the last century, many countries have promoted food education programs for youth. Much hope has been placed on formal (school-based) pedagogy, ranging from home economics to the more vanguard initiatives in the Nordic countries and ‘sensory food education’ (Éducation sensorielle) in France. While some of these policies have helped dull certain harmful dietary trends, multilateral agencies consistently document how the negative impacts of the nutrition transition continue to impair youth food skills even in relatively successful countries. Simultaneously, many countries in the global south lack the public resources and the urgency to contemplate proactively managing the consequences of decreasing food literacy. In Cambodia, persisting rurality and poverty still elevate the value of skills such as foraging, food preservation, medicinal food knowledge, cooking, and parsimonious consumption. As a consequence, the small resources directed at this issue in government and civil society tend to focus on counteracting negative external dietary influences (such as “Western” food) rather than also exploring what contributes to positive lifelong food learning. Past research has similarly studied the harmful impacts of food marketing to children, disrupted family lifestyles, the decline in domestic skills, and rise of convenience stores and fast food restaurants (e.g. Jaffe and Gertler 2006). In this paper, in contrast, I channel attention toward the assemblage of young people’s food-related skills and their embeddedness in particular foodscapes. Through innovative benchmarking activities conducted with pupils in four Cambodian provinces, which measure food skills that are indispensable for thriving in the Cambodian agri-food system, I argue that ‘supportive’ food environments and social recognition of food skills are essential dimensions of lifelong culinary and nutritional skill acquisition.
In my past research, I have sought out successful and constructive models of healthy food environments and identified many in surprising places: under-served urban neighborhoods, textile factory slums, and small towns, in addition to rural areas. With this research, I am adding demographic and family dimensions to this picture, and in doing so also recognizing agency and strategic behavior of youth. With this, I can more directly point to the value of informal and passive approaches to building, or at least maintaining, everyday dietary skills. Places such as Cambodia, where diets are still healthy and food awareness among youth is relatively high without formal food education, can help suggest proactive measures for managing the nutrition transition in the global south while also inspiring critical reflection about the institutional approaches more common in the industrial north.
- Rice Ambivalence: Food, Body and Value Among the Mentawaians in Siberut Island, Indonesia Darmanto Darmanto Leiden University
This paper examines ambivalent relation between the Mentawaians and rice in Siberut Island, Indonesia. As tubers eater, the Mentawaians consider rice as prestigious, desirable and more delicious comestible than, but lack of richer properties of, traditional staple food. They love the sweetness of rice but claim the grain would not satisfy their body. They are keen to be rice cultivators but have always failed to produce it sufficiently. The paper finds that rice production on the island is largely tied to imbalance of state-society power, depends on uneven development projects, and requires hierarchal social organization, while rice consumption is strongly associated with the emergence of social inequality as only few Mentawaians, who obtain benefit from newly state and market institutions, can afford and consume rice regularly. Rice is also referred to the staple of sareu (non-Mentawaians, but particularly of Minangkabau people), the powerful and dominant ethnic neighbours, that have politically and economically mediated the Mentawaians and external world. Rice ambivalence, this paper argues, lies on the fact that its production and consumption have little contribution to the production of the Mentawaians’ body, generate social hierarchy, and undermine their most important value: egalitarianism. Further, this paper will contribute to discussion how ambivalence toward food is linked to the role of food in the production of personhood and social value (s).
- The Power of Food: Perspectives on Health and Access Among Chinese Participants of a Us Farmers Market Incentive Program Juliet Tempest School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
The truth is that we need food; food therefore has power over us. Any insinuation of non-humans’ power tends to invoke Actor-Network Theory (ANT), provoking ontological debates. I seek to make more modest claims about the world than ANT implies with its emphasis on ‘agency’, the false friend with which ‘power’ has been confused. I differentiate power from agency by focusing on the role of food during my ethnographic fieldwork distributing fruit and vegetable vouchers to Chinese-born participants in a Washington, DC, farmers market incentive program.
This paper outlines three scaffolding levels of food’s power: the power to 1) make us produce and consume; then 2) make us well or not; and 3) help them make us do things. The first level corresponds to the draw of free produce among my interlocutors; its theoretical analogue is the presumption of food’s ‘agency’—or what I deem ‘power’—within Actor-Network Theory. Applying this reimagined ANT, food is presented as an actor in the network of individual health, based on interlocutors’ comments regarding food’s therapeutic and toxic powers that blend tenets of Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine; such accounts of medical pluralism demonstrate the second level as well as the third, given internalization of new medical discourses. Exercises of biopower and power pure and simple rely on states and other agents leveraging this power of food to affect our health, evident in encouraging incentive program participants to consume more fruits and vegetables or threatening to withhold vouchers for disorderly conduct in the queue. Investigation of this last level thinks with and against Foucault, using the salient framework of biopower yet highlighting the role of resources over discourse in engendering unequal power dynamics. The argument meanwhile operates from the premise that the material and symbolic aspects of food’s power mutually reinforce each other.
The globalisation of the agro- and food systems have touched down and acquired new and huge markets in Asia, characterized by potent and aspirational consumers. Global economic integration is coupled with a growing commercial and consumerist interest in the body – also in the body that eats and is being fed. Striving Asian markets have thus attracted growing investment capital in the fields of body and beauty industries, retail, convenience food, gastronomic franchising and industrial branding. In the midst of nutrition transitions, regulatory policies and development interventions target persisting malnutrition, food-related diseases and food insecurities.
Having been subject to food insecurity over decades, consumers increasingly have to manoeuvre within diversifying food options coupled with questions of access and exclusion, conflicting food, body and health discourses and in a context in which consumption and production systematically decouple. It is the transgressive nature of food, its delineation, crossing and exceeding of spatial, discursive, behavioural and material boundaries (Jenks, 2003; Goodman and Sage, 2014; Ehlert and Faltmann, forthcoming 2018) that make this panel focus on ‘food anxieties’ to stress the ambiguous nature of the relationship between humans and food. Food, its consumption and surrounding discourses offer insights into people’s class-based, racialized and gendered embeddedness within global capitalist food systems. Moreover, it can be academically approached within codes of body ideals and conduct (Lupton, 1996; Probyn, 2000; Cairns and Johnston, 2015), social norms, taboos on food provisioning and responsibility (DeVault 1994) and productivity and governance (Featherstone, 1991; Foucault, 1977, 1978).
What forms of agency and new ways to connect to food do people pursue in their everyday lives in times where contradicting messages and normative accounts circulate, issued by the food industry, the media and developmental policies? How do governments, industries as well as notions and practices of development shape the structural conditions and ambiguities of transitioning food systems?
This panel invites papers that in one way or another relate to such conflictive moments and contexts of agency and structural power over what and how people consume food in Asia. Invitations from scholars working in the broad fields of critical food and development studies promises to open up space for constructive discussions from various disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical perspectives. We are looking for papers that focus (but are not limited to) on the following topics:
(Gendered) Food-related self-objectification, body policing and eating disorders; Food Safety and Food Insecurity; Food Waste; Counter Narratives and hegemonies: Social food movements, food policies and agro-food industries; Human-animal relations/animal welfare.