Accepted Paper:

Food as a node: constructing agency for "demented bodies"  
Noa Vana (Tel Aviv University)Haim Hazan (Tel Aviv University)

Paper short abstract:

We focus on food as a node in the study of caring for people with advanced stages of dementia living at home. We contend that families construct an agency for the "demented bodies," through food-related caring practices; one which is differentiated from their non-existing subjectivity

Paper long abstract:

Emanuel Marx (1980) suggested that anthropologists should focus on nodes; i.e. a reference point, an aggregate of social relations to which they devote considerable time and effort in their observation. We employ this approach and consider food as a node in the study of caring for people with advanced stages of dementia living at home.

We analyze data gathered from online forums for family members caring for these people.

Our findings suggest that people with advanced stages of dementia are "unbecoming subjects." Family members tend to their physical needs but are unable to intelligibly communicate with them. They are restricted to their rooms, and more specifically, to their beds. Their hands are bound to prevent them from pulling out medical equipment that makes them suffer; and, they are not allowed to wander outside of their designated space. However, families focus on feeding as a caring practice that reintegrates social relations and cultural preferences of taste and smells into their life. They try to postpone as much as possible artificially feeding their loved ones. They sing to them while feeding them with teaspoons (or a syringe); they allow them to smell food they once loved; they include them in family dinners (especially during holiday meals,) even if they are unable to eat; and they try to evoke mutual long forgotten memories through the tasting of food.

We contend that family members utilize these tiny "crumbs" to construct an agency for the "demented bodies;" one which is independent of their non-existing subjectivity.

Panel Med03
Food as medicine: biosocialities of eating in health and illness