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Regional Food Thinkers Seminar: Public Health Nutrition Seminar

Regional Food Thinkers Seminar at Plymouth University: “The social and environmental considerations of ethical eating, with a focus on ‘nutritional breakthrough foods’ (e.g. ‘superfoods’)”. 

Speaker: Professor Jane Dixon

When: Wednesday 1st February 2017, 4pm – 6pm

Jointly organised by Plymouth University, Exeter University, Schumacher College and Food Research Collaboration.



About the talk: An enormous global effort is underway to halt the rise of diet-related chronic disease. That effort is multi-pronged and multi-scalar and includes: nutrition education campaigns and consumer behaviour change strategies; agricultural research and development to enhance food’s nutrient values; nutrition –led product reformulation; and nutrition science evidence-based public policy. At the heart of these efforts – which can be summarised by the term ‘the nutritionalisation of the food system’ – lie corporate, state-sponsored and professional nutrition. Given the importance of arresting malnutrition in its multiple manifestations why is there a growing resistance to what these bodies are attempting to do?

This presentation begins by describing critical nutrition studies, which brings a range of disciplinary perspectives to analyse the pivotal role of nutrition science in conceiving dietary quality, food-related health risks, the act of eating and the practice of citizenship. An important part of the critique questions the unequal accumulation of power that follow from elevating the nutritional worthiness of foods. Less scrutinised are the social and environmental consequences of large numbers of consumers turning to the market to supply the latest nutritional ‘breakthrough’ food. To illustrate this point, the trend to superfoods will be explored especially as they become part of modern industrial diets.

The presentation will conclude by discussing the limitations of nutrition science in guiding the evolution of a sustainable, just and healthy food supply. It will also briefly canvas the emergence of a new field, biological economies, which re-positions food systems as the outcome of a host of bio-physical and social relationships rather than being driven by one or two narrowly conceived sets of values. Unlike a nutritionalisation approach, the biological economies approach is grounded in local conditions, and close relations between food producers and consumers. The implications of a biological economies approach for transforming food systems to become more healthy, sustainable and equitable will be thrown open to debate.

About the speaker:

For 15 years, Prof. Jane Dixon from the Australian National University has been conducting research at the intersection of sociology and public health, with a focus on the cultural, social and health impacts of food system transformations. Her fieldwork has taken place mainly within Australia and Thailand. During 2016-2017 she is based at the Centre for Food Policy, City University, London, as Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professor. She also has associations with the International Institute for Global Health, United Nations University, Kuala Lumpur and the Charles Perkins Centre Health Food Systems Project Node, Sydney University. Her most recent books include: Health of People, Places and Planet: Reflections based on Tony McMichael’s four decades of contribution to epidemiological understanding, co-edited with Colin Butler and Tony Capon (ANU Press 2015), When Culture Impacts Health, co-edited with Cathy Banwell and Stanley Ulijaszek (Elsevier 2013) and The Weight of Modernity, co-authored with Cathy Banwell, Dorothy Broom and Anna Davies (Springer 2012). She is the co-editor of two special symposia for Agriculture & Human Values: ‘Food Regimes Theory’ (2009) and ‘The changing role of supermarkets in global supply chains: from seedling to supermarket: agri-food supply chains in transition’ (2013). In applied research, she has been an advisor to the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office and has written the Food Systems Position Paper for the International Union for Health Promotion and Education.

For more information about Dietetics, Human Nutrition and Health research at Plymouth University, please follow this link:



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