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If Foucault Studied Food: An Analysis of Biopolitical and Neoliberal Appetites

Sun, August 13, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512G


In Foucualt’s (1978) writings, biopower—‘the right to foster life or disallow it to the point of death’—arises largely as a health project. Here, medicine allows biopower to work by counting healthy and sick bodies and allowing the categories of health and illness—and their repetitive, embodied effects—to regulate social bodies. Contemporary biopolitical projects examine how authorities use medical knowledge to govern pregnant, transgender, black women’s, and homeless bodies, among others. What is often missing from this research is the role that food practices—like grocery stores marketing certain items as ‘healthy’—play in governing groups of people.

My paper addresses this gap by asking: how do social institutions use food to govern populations? More specifically, how do these food practices regulate people’s health and well-being? To answer these questions, I analyze how spaces of consumption—supermarkets, migrant detention centers, schools, and farmers’ markets—use eating and feeding practices to regulate the people using their services. Specifically, I examine how these practices shape how consumers’ experience their health and how they operate within larger systems of power, like racism and gentrification.

I argue that food practices are strong conductors of biopower. As institutions regulate eating and feeding practices, they shape consumers’ experiences of health and well-being—in ways that are raced, classed, and gendered. In addition to marketing food and feeding people, institutions sell ideas about what ‘good’ food and ‘good’ health are—all the while contributing to biopolitical projects’ management of life and death.


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