(A25)
Trouble swallowing? Food, technoscience and publics
Location Cavendish Lecture Theatre (Faraday Complex)
Date and Start Time 28 Jul, 2018 at 09:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • Mascha Gugganig (Technical University of Munich) email
  • Laurie Waller (Technical University of Munich) email

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Short abstract

This track explores how food mediates public engagement with sociotechnical issues, and in turn how public engagement shapes what food has come to be. We ask how policy agendas seek to 'democratize' food systems, while 'disruptive' innovations may spark new forms of public engagement.

Long abstract

Food - its nature, technologies, production systems and nutritional values - is once again receiving much political and public attention. Food innovations are promoted as solutions to global food problems while regularly sparking public controversies about the 'nature' of food. Longstanding issues - whether pesticide use, GMO regulation or fortified food - demonstrate that edible things are not only consumption objects but also mediate public engagement with technology and nature. Indeed, many inventive approaches to public participation have emerged in response to food controversies: from tasting trails to activism 'in the field' to dietary movements. Consumers' refusal to swallow technologically enhanced food is often interpreted as 'lack of trust' in science and regulation. Yet, STS research shows that consumer resistance is also a response to attempts to use food for governing populations, producing 'good citizens' or 'economizing' public relationships with nature. Food innovation is thus shaped by existing ideas of democracy, citizenship, and cultural belonging, and conversely provokes new knowledge ways, subjects and social orders.

This track invites explorations into how food mediates public engagement with social, technical and environmental issues, and how in turn public engagement shapes what food has come to be. We seek to interrogate how contemporary policy agendas, like responsible research and innovation or citizens as co-creators, contribute to ideas of further 'democratizing' food systems. Likewise, we inquire how 'disruptive' innovations, such as vertical farming or lab-grown meat, may spark new forms of public engagement with socio-technical challenges, e.g. with climate change or food security.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Cultivating engagement with 'citizens' and 'consumers' - doing a citizen participation forum on vertical farming at a European food innovation consortium

Author: Mascha Gugganig (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

This paper discusses what kind of European citizen and/or consumer is co-produced with a technoscientifically innovated European food system by discussing the EU consortium EIT Food and the social scientist's role in convening a citizen participation forum on vertical farming as part of EIT Food.

Long abstract

In the last decade, The EU's research scheme has emphasized the support and financing of large public-private innovation partnerships, so-called Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs). More collaboration between research institutions, universities and industry is to spark more innovative solutions for contemporary (social) problems through its "knowledge triangle" of innovation, education and business creation. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology on food - EIT Food - as the newest KIC has included a fourth pillar, namely Communication. It is aimed towards a more consumer-centric approach that shall allow European citizens to become "change agents" in a healthier, more transparent and sustainable food system.

In this talk, I will discuss the (intended and inadvertent) slippage between citizens as co-creators and consumers as active collaborators at EIT Food, which serves as an example of a large-scale EU-funded public-private food innovation scheme. I will do so as involved social scientist leading an EIT Food Communications project - a citizen participation forum on vertical farming - by sharing preliminary insights from conducting such work in a small research team. By juxtaposing EIT Food's vision of citizen/consumer engagement with my experiences conducting a citizen participation forum, I wish to demonstrate the peculiar co-produced - both imagined and participating - citizens/consumers with 'disruptive' food technologies, in this case vertical farming.

Sensory and embodied engagement: situating anticipation of biotechnological flavours in everyday practices

Author: Robert Meckin (University of Manchester) email
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Short abstract

Current policy agendas urge innovators to engage publics and anticipate issues arising with their technologies. The production of biosynthetic flavours and fragrances offers a sensory entry point into exploring the ways that citizens anticipate technoscientific innovations in everyday practices.

Long abstract

Current political and scientific policies urge researchers to engage citizens and stakeholders and anticipate issues arising with novel technologies. Synthetic biologists, advocating an approach to life sciences where multidisciplinary teams apply design principles with an aim of making biology easier to engineer, have targeted flavours and fragrances such as menthl for biomanufacture research. Consumer products containing menthol and mint, such as muscles rubs, shower gels, sweets and chewing gums occupy spaces that are often not-quite-foods and not-quite-pharmaceuticals, yet are important components in diverse enactments of care, hygiene, leisure and illness. The paper explores the intersections of biosynthetic menthol with these everyday practices and what this means for anticipatory engagement.

Recent debates regarding public participation have highlighted a range of biases that include privileging discursive methods and abstracted versions of futures in engagement processes. This paper addresses some of these critiques and describes a method of anticipatory engagement that focuses on sensory and embodied interactions with technoscience. This argument draws on theoretical discussions in STS and other disciplines to describe an approach to the future involving object-elicitation interviews and home tours that situates anticipation in mundane material practices. Mint and menthol are widely used flavours and fragrances that have distinctive interactions with the human senses. The paper shows how sensory engagement can stimulate rich discussions about people's ethical commitments, how they anticipate the possibility of consumer products that could contain biosynthetic menthol, and indicates a complementary approach to contemporary technology governance.

The co-production of (fake) meat and masculinities

Author: Martin Winter (Technische Universität Darmstadt) email
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Short abstract

Veganism is on the rise. While meat is gendered masculine, the gendering of vegetarian meat alternatives is strongly contested. I will analyse how in processes of production and marketing (fake) meat, knowledge, gender and (gendered) bodies are co-produced.

Long abstract

The interest in vegan and vegetarian foodstuffs, fake meat in particular, is still growing. One of the major factors for the growth can be seen in collaborations between vegetarian NGOs and traditional meat producers, for instance "ProVeg" and "R├╝genwalder" in Germany. At the same time the traditional masculine connotation of meat is reinforced, while the more feminine gendering of vegan and vegetarian alternatives is contested by vegetarian NGOs, who try to promote veganism especially to men.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at food-related trade fairs and qualitative interviews with actors in the field of food research and production, I will analyse processes of gendering meat and its alternatives. Therefor I build upon (feminist) STS and conceive foodstuffs as technologically manufactured and designed "biofacts". These relate in specific ways to knowledge and the eater's bodies: gender, bodies and biofactual foods are co-constructed in complex arrangements. I analyse how masculinities and different kinds of (fake) meat are simultaneously produced. Further, this analysis brings insights into the way different public, non-governmental and commercial players in this field interact.

Preliminary results show that the gendering of food is transferred to the level of macromolecules and mainly protein gets a masculine gendering. Vegetarian NGOs are no longer opponents of the meat industry. Rather they play the role of mediators for designing and marketing meat alternatives. Further, they strategically de-feminize vegan foodstuffs and thus making them more attractive for either flexitarians or men who aim for an ideal, i.e. strong and muscular, body.

Embodied citizenship - politicizing gendered inequalities in local food networks

Author: Carla Wember (University of Kassel) email
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Short abstract

Food is a site of gendered inequalities. How is this addressed in local food systems that promise to be alternatives to an unsustainable agricultural system? This paper shows that, while local food systems perpetuate inequalities, they can also be sites of emancipatory food citizenship.

Long abstract

Local food systems promise to be alternatives to a crisis-laden hegemony of the industrial agricultural system. Yet, researchers of critical geography question the notion of localization as a panacea. They propose a specification towards diversity-receptive localizations. This reveals food (politics) to be focal points of social inequalities - materializing in economic access to food, gendered responsibilities in its provision or unequal distribution of food production resources. This paper asks how local food practices (re)produce gendered inequalities and in what ways these inequalities can be politicized. For that, findings from an empirical study, conducted in summer 2016 in Toronto, Canada, are adduced. The argumentation is guided by thoughts on the local from critical geography, understandings of food and gender from Feminist Food Studies and ideas on publics, citizenship and transformation from Feminist Political Ecology. It can be shown that that there is danger of reinforcing gendered inequalities through local food systems while simultaneously sites of breaking gendered scripts, initiating material redistribution and politicizing both emerge. Secondly, it appears that through embodied experiences in local food networks new forms of socio-material connections can be imagined and practiced, embracing their often hybrid and contradictory formations. For the conception of locality, a turn to its political possibilities rather than its mere economic character is proposed. Political regulation and deliberation should be included in theorizations of local food networks. Since lastly it becomes apparent that local food organization goes beyond a mere re-definition of production-consumption-relations and collective spaces emerge to politicize socio-ecological inequalities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.