Accepted Paper:

Rethinking health through bananas and their eaters  

Author:

Sandra Calkins (Free University of Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper suggests that attention to the ways in which Ugandan biologists care for experimental banana plants provides a window not only to examine manifold human-plant entanglements but also to rethink the notion of health itself in ways that do not automatically privilege the human.

Paper long abstract:

Banana plants (matooke) in Central Uganda denote fertility and life. They are nodes of sociality, making homes and families across generations. For many Ugandans eating their fruit means eating well - to a point of satisfaction. Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork, I examine a research project that strives to create nutritionally enhanced bananas for Ugandans, crossing conventional boundaries between pharmaceutical and food. I track the work of molecular biologics in transforming the banana genome and explore the different notions of health or healths that are thereby shaped. While benefits and risks for the health of human eaters still are the project's normative starting and endpoints, I analyze the care with which researchers attend to the wellbeing of their experimental plants in and outside of the lab, a care that is informed by a rich cultural-historical archive of thinking about and living with bananas. I suggest that the intimacies possible with plants that emerge from the laboratory and the hostility expressed towards "harmful" beings allow recalibrating the notion of health itself - away from the focus only on the human to include a variety of beings.

Panel P122
Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]