What is Good to Eat? The Big Question of our Times

Please cite the paper as:
Andrea Santos Baca, (2016), What is Good to Eat? The Big Question of our Times, World Economics Association (WEA) Conferences, No. 2 2016, Food and Justice, 5th November to 15th December 2016


Fernand Braudel points out the big centrality of food in the historical process of social constitution. When each human group in History delimited which natural objects were “good to eat” and which ones were not, that became one of the fundamental cultural act. Nowadays, food has gained a special centrality again, but it is a quite different one. 2008 has been named the Year of the Big Hunger but this was only one expression, perhaps the most terrible, of a bigger picture, consequence of a long list of problems that modern food systems have accumulated over the last century. Does the new centrality of food derived from its crises points to mankind’s current incapacity to provide sufficient and healthy food for everyone? It is not difficult to find evidence of this incapacity, as the current academic and public dispute about health effects of some foods, and the numerous and sometimes contradictory literature published. This state of confusion related to food doesn’t only concern rich consumers. In recent years, an issue related to possible future hazardous results of hunger-fighting programs in developing countries has emerged. In capitalist societies, who has the right to determine what’s is good to eat? Nutrition science? Social sciences? National and international food regulatory authorities? Consumer organizations? Individuals, through their free choice? In these conflictive, contradictory and messy state, identified as a situation of gastro-anomie, it is necessary to go deeper into the capitalist transformation of food relations, that is, the capitalist appropriation of the plants of civilization. This permits to identify the material conditions that gave rise to the increasing inability to define in Social sciences and in society as a whole what is good to eat. Food’s mercantile transformation, the abstraction process of its qualitative features and inner, essentially contradictory character, provides the conditions to understand capitalist shifts from a quality concern and questions addressing the substantive “what” and “why” to a concern about abstract quantity.

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Recent comments


6 comment

  • Pedro Abel Vieira says:

    Dear Andrea
    I recently heard the expression “Organization of Food Exporting Countries” in analogy to OPEC. In this organization Brazil will have a central position and, consequently, many implications for that country. Can you comment on this?

    • Andrea Santos says:

      Dear Pedro, unfortunately I do not have information about your specific concern. The only I can offered are some thoughts about this kind of practice. Already, the food world market is one of the most concentrated markets, with few-big exporters countries but specially concentrated by big corporations. Control of fuel market, with OPEC, had several effects on capitalist economies because the central role of energetic sources. But food, is not only central to capitalist system functioning, but for human life. In History, many times, food has been used as a war’s weapon. An “Organization of food Exporting Countries”, could be beneficial for some countries, maybe Brazil and USA, but certainly could be devastating for food dependent countries as Mexico. Not only in terms in economic performances but in life quality of millions of people. to my way of thinking food must cease to be considered a commodity.

  • MB-Y says:

    What’s good to eat? FISH of course!!!

    • Andrea Santos says:

      Well, yes fish in nutritional terms (?) but what I tried to explain in my paper is that what is good to eat is a very more complex question that involve concerns about social relations and our relation with nature. In fact, nowadays exist some evidence of the negative effects of European increased fish demand on marine ecosystems and on the seafood exporting countries.

  • foodconferenceadmin says:

    Dear Author,

    Indeed, an industrial food system that views food as a commodity cannot provide the necessary quantity and quality of food for everyone and will never achieve food secutiry. Beyond Marx, which be other references you suggest to enlarge the food transition debate and to develop a different narrative for our food system?


    Maria Alejandra Madi


    • Andrea Santos says:

      Dear Maria, the question, I think, must not be what is beyond Marx but what could be beyond capitalist food relations. My intention to take Marx into food debate is precisely to suggest that new and renewal Marxists theory interpretations, for example those made from a Latin-American perspective, can be useful to (re)think food in our societies and to grasp what we are facing. A Marxist perspective is specially useful in front of false solutions, as techno-fix (as GMO`s against hunger or the Climate Smart Agriculture as climate change and food insecurity solution) but also in front of romantic solutions, as a idea of return to a past idealistic food relations. Obviously, is just a proposal and this is not the unique. In my text I recognized that the Food Regime Perspective has made important contributions to food’s debate from a critical point of view. Also here in Latin America have gained force some food sovereignty practices (As Barkin’s paper also suggest) based on peasant and indigenous practices and resistances.