Nutritionism, ‘Big Food’ and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition
The Harvard History of Science Department’s Modern Sciences Working Group and the History of Medicine Working Group host a special lunch seminar featuring Dr. Gyorgy Scrinis, Senior Lecturer in Food Politics and Policy in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His research has examined the politics, sociology and philosophy of food and nutrition, with a focus on nutrition science, dietary advice, functional foods, food labeling, animal welfare regulations, genetically modified foods and the application of the new nanotechnologies in food production. He is the author of Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice (Columbia University Press, 2013). Please see below for a synopsis of his talk.
Abstract: ‘Big Food’ corporations—the manufacturers of highly processed foods and beverages—have responded to recent health concerns associated with over and undernutrition by developing and marketing a range of ‘healthy' or ‘healthier' products. There are three nutritional strategies that I will identify that define these corporations’ nutritional engineering and marketing strategies: the micronutrient fortification of foods to address nutrient deficiencies; the reformulation of products to reduce harmful food components; and the functionalization of foods marketed as providing optimal nutrition through addition of functional nutrients. A common characteristic of these nutritional strategies is that they draw their scientific legitimacy from what I call nutritionism – the reductive focus on and interpretation of nutrients. Each nutritional strategy more specifically draws on one of the three nutritional paradigms that have been dominant over the past century—the quantifying, good-and-bad, and functional paradigms of nutritionism. Each of these nutritional paradigms is associated with distinct ways of understanding and engaging with food and nutrients, and ways of representing and experiencing the body and bodily health. In this presentation, I will define nutritionism and these nutritional paradigms, and examine the ways in which Big Food corporations have captured or appropriated these nutritional discourses as a means of promoting and growing the market for their products in the global North and South.
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