What is Good to Eat? The Big Question of our Times
Andrea Santos Baca
PhD student in Economics at PPGE-UFF, Brazil. Selected honors include an OAS-GCUB fellowship and the first prize of “Premio Internacional de Investigación en Desarrollo Económico Juan F. Noyola 2012-2013”, by UNAM and UN-ECLAC. Other publications include works on water usage and contamination by agricultural activities, through Political Economics and Marxist theory perspectives.
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.