What makes a superfoods “super”? The discursive construction of utopian edibles
Contributor(s)The 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy (02 Dec 2016 - 05 Dec 2016 : Melbourne, Australia)
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AbstractSuperfoods have emerged as an increasingly significant category of health food products and related popular discourse about food, health, and values. They are celebrated for their purported extraordinary nutritional and/or medicinal values, “natural” qualities, associations with “exotic” or “pristine” places of origin, and histories of traditional or indigenous use; in short, they are represented as utopian edibles providing not only a nutritional panacea but also an antidote to overly-technological and industrial modern food production practices. The term appears prominently in marketing, on product packaging, and in the media, where tentative scientific conclusions and studies funded by economically-interested parties tend to be presented unproblematically as facts (Weitkamp and Eidsvaag 2014). However, the term “superfood” defies precise definition, and both products and discourse and poorly understood by the public and regulatory bodies, leading to confusion as to what a food with such a label promises. Based on textual and visual analysis of superfoods books and product packaging, and focus group interviews with superfoods consumers, this paper presents a distillation of the discursive construction of “superfoods” as utopian foodstuffs. It demonstrates that the concept of superfoods is a composite of ideas about food, health, and values, and their associated politics, deeply embedded in Western thought and practice, and illustrates how superfoods have emerged and developed at the intersection of discourses of functional nutritionism (Scrinis 2013), nutritional primitivism (Knight 2015), and critical consumption (Yates 2011). Yet these discourses are not uncontested; because superfoods are positioned as existing between established social categories such as food and medicine, nature and culture, primitive and modern, they are both alluring and confusing to consumers and thus provide a distinctive lens through which to examine the tensions that pull at contemporary food culture. Understanding the real hopes, fears, anxieties, and moral dilemmas expressed through superfoods enables us to locate points of possibility to broaden discussions about “good”, “healthy”, and “fair” food and food systems, and how to achieve these goals, in ways that move beyond discursive dualisms and recognise the complexity of values that constitute contemporary foodscapes.
Proceedings of the 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy : Utopian Appetites, 2017