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date: 05 December 2023

Food Consumption and Power: Nourishment and Identitylocked

Food Consumption and Power: Nourishment and Identitylocked

  • Carla Guerrón MonteroCarla Guerrón MonteroUniversity of Delaware
  •  and Joan GrossJoan GrossOregon State University


All humans need food to stay alive, but food is also a complex social fact. As such, it is central to how people’s individual and collective identities are constructed and how others see us. Food is also associated in multiple ways with production and consumption processes; consumers influence these processes, whether they are motivated primarily by nourishment or by identity. Anthropology has been concerned with the study of food through different angles in connection with nourishment and identity, including the “classic” approaches (food taboos, gifts, and commodities, recurring commensality, food as material culture, hunger, food insecurity), while also taking new directions (the senses, culinary and food tourism, the nutrition transition, food sovereignty, food activism). Food consumption is embedded in webs of power that constrain food’s physical and social meanings. Food is nestled in systems of racism, sexism, and colonialism, resulting in embodied trauma. Yet, food also lies at the heart of reciprocity. Sharing food brings people together in their struggle for connection and agency. Whether we focus on physical nourishment or identity construction, food consumption is never separate from power.

Anthropology provides an effective way to study these complexities. The broad range of anthropological approaches allows for a deep understanding of food consumption’s complexities and power inequalities. Whether the question is approached from a physical nourishment angle or that of social identities, anthropological research has shown how the two cannot be divided. Similarly, anthropologists have taken a broad view of consumption, noting how recurrent commensality constructs the deep relationships that form the basis of human society. They have also shown the critical role that consumption plays in food production, distribution, and preparation. Robust critiques of the global food system have emerged from this work. They have led many anthropologists to work side by side with people attempting to improve their food systems to be more localized, nutritious, and fair.


  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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