4S Panel Preview | Eating For Life: When Food Is the Best Medicine

Recent work in science studies has identified the use of “drugs for life” (Dumit 2012) – drugs which are necessary to sustain life and which also must be taken for the duration of life to have the desired effect – as a dominant trend in today’s biomedical toolkit. What has sometimes been overlooked are the everyday technologies of the self that coexist with these novel pharmaceutical regimens, like eating. The 4S panel, “Eating For Life: When Food Is the Best Medicine,” seeks to explore the intentional and incidental ways that dietary management is used to augment or stand in for pharmaceutical approaches to the maintenance of the human body.

Food as Medicine, or, What to Do When There’s No Treatment

Listening to my early research interviews can be fun. It can also be embarrassing.

For example, one question I asked in early interviews was: “What’s the treatment for food allergies?”

Now, I know that I should have asked, what medications do you use to manage food allergies? That’s what I was interested in: learning about what pills, injections, and other medical products people use to maintain their health while living with food allergies.

Why Study Food Allergies? Allergies, Medicine, and Morality

In communities where deadly infectious childhood diseases have largely retreated, food allergies have taken their place as a medico-moral cause célèbre for mothers, medical workers, and medical researchers seeking ensure the safety of innocent children. Their mysterious etiology – a combination of environmental exposure, heredity, and individual biology – unpredictable development, apparently sudden increase, and potentially deadly effects make them a source of fear for parents worldwide.