STS Circle at Harvard
Heather Paxson (MIT, Anthropology) on "Regulating Microbial Ecologies: Policy and Practice in Artisanal Cheesemaking"
Lunch is provided if you RSVP. Please RSVP via our online form before Thursday morning, November 13.
Abstract: Cheese is a fermented food, alive with bacteria, yeasts and molds whose metabolic activity generates the aromas, flavors and textures that account for an enormous diversity of cheese types. Yet, as a microbial ecosystem, cheese can also host pathogenic organisms whose presence can pose public health risks. Regulating the diverse microbial ecologies of cheese production to promote public health and safety is no straightforward task. For much of the 20th century, the microbiopolitics of cheese in the U.S. presupposed and promoted industrial methods and standards. Over the past four decades, however, domestic interest in producing and consuming artisanally made cheese has risen dramatically. This paper will report on recent regulatory battles over the health and safety of domestic (and imported) artisanal cheese. At issue in these debates are ideas about the nature of milk, the validity and efficacy of technoscientific v. "traditional" methods and equipment, understandings of what cheese is, the appropriate role of federal government, and international trade politics.
Biography: Heather Paxson is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies for the HASTS program at MIT. Her recently taught courses include "Art, Craft, Science," "Food, Culture and Politics" and "Rethinking the Family." Heather's second book, The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (University of California, 2013), draws on 8 years of episodic ethnographic fieldwork among artisanal cheesemakers, cheesemongers and dairy scientists in the United States (centered in New England, Wisconsin and northern California). The Life of Cheese won the 2014 Diana Forsythe Prize from the Committee on the Anthropology of Science, Technology and Computing and the Society for the Anthropology of Work. Heather received her PhD from Stanford University and taught at Stanford, NYU, Princeton, CUNY and Pitzer College before coming to MIT.