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‘Healthy’ for whom? ‘Healthy’ food’s effectivities, avocados, and the production of differentiated bodies

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Abstract

Current ‘healthy’ food knowledge revolves around characterizing food by its purported direct, causal effects on the body that ingests it, following a biomedical approach informed by nutritionism (Scrinis, Nutritionism: the science and politics of dietary advice. Columbia University Press, New York, 2013). As long as the focus is on the effects given foods or nutrients have on the ingesting body, a whole array of other effects that produce differentiated bodies beyond ingestion processes receive little attention. I draw on Grossberg (We got to get out of this place: popular conservatism and postmodern culture. Routledge, New York, 1992)’s notion of “effectivities” as a way of taking into account the heterogeneous ‘effects’ that ‘healthy’ food—as a discursive construct and a material object—has, and which occur in different realms (economic, political, agricultural, interspecies, health-related). Using the avocado as a means to illustrate my broader theoretical argument, I contend that ‘healthy’ foods’ effectivities can be observed in how they materialize in differentiated—here racialized—bodies. This raises the key question that permeates the critical stance of this article: whose health matters when it comes to defining ‘healthy’ food?

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Notes

  1. Elsewhere, I have explored how the biomedicalized food culture and the ‘healthy’ food knowledge it contribute to producing materialize in gendered bodies (Durocher 2021a) and contribute to affecting non-normative bodies, including fat bodies (Durocher 2021b). The goal is always to raise awareness about processes other than ingestion/digestion that affect unevenly certain bodies more than others and can materialize in differentiated bodies and health. This is done within the food culture analyzed and the particular sets of knowledge it contributes to producing/foreclosing.

  2. The avocado is one out of many other elements analyzed in the context a broader research project aimed at exploring ‘healthy’ food’s power related issues as they take form through what I designate as ‘healthy’ food’s effectivities. This broader research project aimed to break open the ‘black box’ of ‘healthy’ food (what it is, what it refers to, how it emerges differently in different contexts) in Quebec (Canada)’s food culture and to critically address how this social, cultural, and scientific construct produces and affects differently, different human and more-than-human bodies. I conducted the analysis from a cultural studies perspective, which led me to question the various power relationships and issues linked to and resulting from ‘healthy’ food knowledge and practices. Even if the research was conducted within Quebec, the emerging results and concerns are not limited to the Quebec context per se. For more details, see Durocher (2019).

  3. The analysis I propose here is very much centered in the Americas, even though the global trade of avocados has probably similar, yet different and localized effects in other producing countries. Mexico (which accounts for 43% of the world avocado exports, according to the International Trade Center Stevenson 2019) and some other South American producing countries were predominantly mentioned in the various news media article, reports, and excerpts of discourses used for the analysis. For this reason, many of the news articles and reports I mobilize throughout the case study are concerned with Mexico. I also use Serrano and Brooks’ (2019) research as their analysis of the impacts of the avocado growing market on local farmers in Colombia is relevant to explore ‘healthy’ food’s effectivities as they materialize in not only economic but also political and agricultural realms. More research could be done to further investigate how some of the power dynamics I discuss here emerge or materialize differently in other producing contexts.

  4. The notion of ‘biomedicalized food culture’ is inspired by the works of Clarke et al. (2010) on the biomedicalization of the social field. See Durocher (2020) for a more complete analysis with the notion of ‘biomedicalized food culture.’

  5. I also agree with many of these researchers that such matters should not be conceived as passive, pre-determined, a type of inert surface on which the ‘social’ is inscribed. For that reason, I will favor the term ‘materialities’ over ‘matters’ as inspired by works emerging from new materialism (Coole and Frost 2010) and feminists materialisms (Alaimo and Hekman 2008), in which materialities’ emergence and their modes of effectivity are productive and unpredictable and inflected by power relationships negotiated by and through matters.

  6. As Serrano and Brooks (2019) put it, “Avocados have come to symbolize conspicuous consumption among cash rich millennials – people born between 1983 and 2000 – across Australia, Europe, and North America (Bellet and Sihra 2017). […] Rising demand from China, the US, and Europe is driving international trade” (p. 349).

  7. The overconsumption of avocados in North American countries can also be read as the symbol of an appeal for exoticized Latin-American gastronomy (for instance, “On the menu: Mexico!”, My translation, Canalvie.com, n.d.) which raises important questions about cultural appropriation or even cultural food colonialism (see Dreher 2018; Heldke 2016). I will not develop further on this in the context of this article, but it is certainly a line of reflection that would be worth pursuing.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Irena Knezevic and Elspeth Probyn whose support and advice in writing this article have been greatly appreciated. I also wish to extend my thanks to the anonymous reviewers of this paper, who generously engaged with my text and proposed insightful advice. I would finally like to thank Samuel Thulin for the help and copyediting of this paper.

Funding

This study was supported by Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Société et Culture.

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Correspondence to Myriam Durocher.

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Durocher, M. ‘Healthy’ for whom? ‘Healthy’ food’s effectivities, avocados, and the production of differentiated bodies. BioSocieties 18, 389–409 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-022-00274-8

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