Proto-Medicalised Practices. the Role of Functional Foods.

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Paulo MONTEIRO, Lisbon University Institute (ISCTE-IUL), Portugal
The relationship of man with food, as with drugs, testifies, at any time, the crossover between culture, technology and marketing. Regardless the apparent paradox between a sophisticated food science and the expansion of diseases related with food ingestion, in modern societies, food has, progressively, played a dual role: instrumental as a supplier of nutrients as well as therapeutic resource managed both in isolated and combined way. Functional foods, a category of processed food, are a product of food science and the marketing of the agro-food sector, that are supposed to improve health and well-being and prevent future disease,  fuelling a consumerist ethos leveraged by a growing reflexivity, knowledge and activism by the healthcare consumers. As a hybrid object they are a material expression of the blurring of boundaries between food and medicines and the natural and the pharmacological and bring the symbolic capital of medicines to the dining table.

Looking into the Portuguese reality, my current research as a PhD student will cross the results of the first national food and nutrition survey, with 1200 respondents, performed since mid-1980s, with the analysis of half a million transactions (period: 2013 – 2015), integrating any sort of functional food from a hypermarket chain´s loyalty cardholder database, to produce the portrait of profiles and consumer habits of functional foods by the Portuguese population. Further qualitative research through Focus Groups (n= 32 )  will try to uncover the logics of consumer’s adhesion to such “natural” tools, and explore the hypothesis that techno food’s therapeutic usage is a contemporary expression of medicalization, even if expressed in proto-medicalised practices, fostered by the market forces and the dispositions by reflexive individuals to consume food-based products, marketed and perceived as having drug-like qualities, reflecting the balance between risk versus efficacy.