Accepted paper:

'Digestion, immunity and vitality': nutriceuticals, ready-to-use-therapeutic-foods, and the temporary as the future


Thomas Cousins (University of Oxford)
Michelle Pentecost (Kings College London)

Paper short abstract:

The convergence of humanitarian governance architectures and corporate interests in nutrition interventions in South Africa rests on a future-oriented logic that employs ideas about digestion, immunity and wellness to reconfigure food supplementation in pregnancy and to the HIV positive population.

Paper long abstract:

Food's reconfiguration as pharmaceutical in biomedical regimes of knowledge has been considered by scholars across two themes: (1) food supplementation as humanitarian intervention, predicated on a particular value of life and delivered in a situation of 'crisis', with a specific temporal horizon characterized by short term impacts, and (2) food supplementation as commercial entity, marketed as an enhancer of 'wellness' or potential, predicated on notions of risk across a much broader temporal frame. The more recent convergence of humanitarian design and corporate interest requires inquiry into the semiotic maneuvers by which such a shift has been possible, and we contend that the tropes of 'digestion', 'immunity' and 'vitality' are central to this reconfiguration. We consider nutriceuticals and ready-to-use-therapeutic foods as they are deployed by state and commercial actors in South Africa, where two key figures are the focus of state and corporate interests in nutrition intervention: the pregnant woman and the HIV positive population. These two figures, as biopolitical expressions of post-Apartheid regimes of knowledge, care, and governance, illustrate how state distribution and corporate marketing of food supplements in South Africa employ a future-oriented logic that appeals to notions of power, energy, and potential. The convergence of these two figures in relation to 'digestion,' 'immunity' and 'vitality' reveals the logic of therapeutic foods not merely as humanitarian technologies that reconfigure crisis as chronic condition - a case of the temporary becoming permanent - but as constitutively premised on new potentialities, in which the temporary can (re)shape the future.

panel T139
Eating for Life: When Food is the Best Medicine