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Accepted Paper:

Food as a reproductive technology  
Edmée Ballif (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

Food is increasingly understood as a pivotal factor in facilitating or preventing fertility, fetal development and the fertility of future generations. Parallels between technologies of assisted reproduction and of food, I suggest, open up new pathways to think about stratified reproduction.

Paper long abstract:

While research on assisted reproduction has focused technologies that facilitate or prevent conception, the role of food and nutrition in shaping reproduction has been less explored. Medical research, epigenetic studies and the growing fertility industry suggest that following nutritional guidance and maintain a “healthy” diet impacts fertility rates as well as fetal outcomes as well as, potentially, the fertility of one’s children and grandchildren.

Drawing from ethnographical data of several research projects on experiences of pregnancy and child feeding in Switzerland over the past decade, I reveal a shifting understanding of nutrition as a pivotal factor enabling or disabling reproduction. I build on E. Yates-Doerr’s (2011) suggestion that nutrition may be regarded as a “reproductive technology” to exploring parallels with assisted reproduction. Nutrition introduces technologies (to track, measure and evaluate nutrition) into people’s food practices that transform eating and feeding practices. These technologies introduce new reproductive responsibilities, as reproductive subjects and parents are encouraged to think about the impact of their dietary practices on their offspring.

Much like access to assisted reproductive technologies, access to nutritional resources and healthy food is stratified lines of class and race. I contend that the unequal distribution of access to healthy food transforms food into a vector embodying social inequalities. By employing the framework of "stratified reproduction," I argue that understanding nutrition within reproductive experiences broadens our comprehension of socially valued reproduction.

Panel P141
Doing and undoing reproduction [Medical Anthropology Europe [MAE]
  Session 1