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Conceptualising Food as Death: A Radical Environmentalist Politics of Food


  • Julie van Kemenade



Research into the politics of food cannot assume universal acceptance of what is meant by the term 'food' which has multiple meanings and significantly different associations. A semiotic approach demonstrates the meaning and value of this point. Food has variously been conceptualised as process and as commodity, nature or culture. None of these tropes are value neutral, but are associated with opposing priorities and conflicts of interest. Drawing from ecocentric and anthropocentric environmental philosophies, an alternative trope, that of food-as-death, can be developed, which challenges other, more dominant, tropes. Semiotics denies the notion that language 'mirrors' reality. Rather, language creates reality. Semiotics, then, can be useful in developing alternative realities. To conceptualise food as death is more than using death as a metaphor. Where food is prioritised as commodity, commercial/industrial food practices promote death: death of the body through malnutrition or over-consumption; death of communities through the power of transnationals and commercial interests; death of the natural world through the prioritisation of these human food provision systems. Food-as-death is a trope which privileges the destructive aspect of food over others such as pleasure, identity and nurturing. Power is invested in those whose trope gains the greatest acceptance. The challenge for environmentalism is to demonstrate the validity of food-as-death. The essential task therefore, is to demonstrate that food for humans can be organised in a way which affirms the well being of humans, communities and nature. This trope will be food-as-life.

Suggested Citation

  • Julie van Kemenade, 2011. "Conceptualising Food as Death: A Radical Environmentalist Politics of Food," Sociological Research Online, Sociological Research Online, vol. 16(2), pages 1-4.
  • Handle: RePEc:sro:srosro:2011-42-1

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