Food as cultural core

Human milk, cultural commons and commodification

Authored by: Penny Van Esterik

Routledge Handbook Of Food As A Commons

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138062627
eBook ISBN: 9781315161495
Adobe ISBN:


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Food is at the emotional heart of social life, but it is never an abstraction for us, because food becomes us. Culture and our bodily constitution help to explain how this transformation happens. Culture bridges the gastronomical, culinary and nutritional aspects of food by observing activities taking place in fields, factories and kitchens in different parts of the world. Nutritionists know the biochemical details about how our bodies absorb and use nutrients from our food. Anthropologists wrestle with the complexities of culture and how culture makes us human. In this chapter, I review culture as a conceptual tool, and then develop and apply it to understand food cultures. I then examine gender as one dimension of culture that often disappears from economic analysis of the global food system. In order to bring culture more directly into the commons, I use the example of human milk and the commoditization of both industrial substitutes and human milk itself to demonstrate the relation between culture and the commons.

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