Accepted Paper:

Medicinal food, social food, and the 'eating cure': scenes from an eating disorders ward  
Karin Eli (University of Oxford)Liron Cohen

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, we explore food as medicine in eating disorders care, examining tensions between refeeding as a technical process and eating as a commensal process. These tensions highlight the ontological liminality of food, as the means to both (social) recovery and (physiological) survival.

Paper long abstract:

In this podcast presentation, we examine constructions of food as medicine in eating disorders care. Our podcast traces the uneasy boundaries between feeding and eating, medicinal food and social food, as they were continuously drawn and redrawn in an inpatient eating disorders ward in Israel. Through ethnographic stories, remembrances, reflections, and flash-interviews, we explore food on the ward as it inhabited simultaneously medicalized and socialized realms. Specifically, we interrogate the tension between refeeding as a technical process that decontextualized food from eating, and eating as a commensal process that made food sociality a prerequisite to recovery. In its medicinal form, food was essentializing matter, reducing the patient to a universalized human body in need of nourishment, with mealtimes and their attendant practices stripped away. Medicinal food, then, presented a bare infrastructure of feeding: the patient, a medically-prescribed calorific liquid, and the measuring cup or naso-gastric tube that mediated between them. In its social form, food was bounded temporally and spatially - by mealtimes, by the dining hall, by the calendrical rhythms of Friday night dinners and Jewish holidays - with patients not only consuming their requisite calories but also resocializing into a normative eating habitus. Yet social food was also bounded by the measuring devices and rigid timings that regulated eating events, continuously pulling food away from commensality and toward medicalization. These tensions, we suggest, highlight the ontological liminality of food in eating disorders care, as the means to both (social) recovery and (physiological) survival.

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