Functional Foods: The Proto-Medicalisation of Everyday Life and the Biopolitics of Prevention

Saturday, 21 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Paulo MONTEIRO, Lisbon University Institute, Portugal
In spite of the apparent paradox, in modern societies, between a sophisticated food science, for one side, and the expansion of diseases related with the food regimen, for the other, food has progressively played a dual role: instrumental as provider of nutrients to sustain the biological cycle as well as therapeutic resource managed in an isolated or in a combined approach. Functional foods (FF), developed in Japan in the early 80’s, are the result of the convergence of food science and the food industry’s methods, with the express purpose of improving health and well-being as well as preventing future disease, fuelling consuming dispositions leveraged by a mix of believes, reflexivity, knowledge and activism from health consumers. In Portugal, the market of the different segments of FF is already quite significant and the current investigation combines the results of a national survey about nutritional habits, with 1200 respondents, which included a specific section about FF with the analysis, innovative for sociological purposes, of more than 500.000 transactions, integrating at least one FF, performed with a retail chain’s customer card with the purpose of establishing consuming profiles of this category of products. Favouring a mix-methods methodology, the analysis of content of 4 focus groups, comprising 24 participants, enabled the revelation of the logics and modes of adhesion to this ‘natural’ tool and exploit the big hypothesis namely the use of FF, mainly as a therapeutic instrument, as being a new contemporary expression of the medicalisation of social life, and particularly of the food act, in the context of a widespread biopolitics of prevention. Conclusions of the present investigation reveal the different gradients of acceptance of FF as a sign of the triple social dynamics such as normalisation, commodification and proto-medicalisation that characterise the food modernity in Portugal.