Tasting food: tasting between the laboratory and the clinic

For a long time cultural anthropologists have sought to add their own specific knowledge about bodies to that of their biologically and biomedically minded colleagues. Bodies, they argued in various modes and modalities, are not just bags of organs, cybernetic systems, or collections of functions – they are also a matter of meaning, experience and identity. And while the human being’s physicalities may be universally the same, or almost, the way bodies are interpreted varies from one cultural context to another. Great studies have been written to develop this. They draw on ethnographies of daily life, fashion, dance, labour, healing practices, and so on, undertaken all around the globe. Some have concentrated on the symbolic side of things, others have shifted to practices that bodies engage in. Some have concentrated on movements or looks, others have shifted to bodily involvements in eating and drinking. (Among my favourites here are: Mintz 1996, Farqhuar 2002 & Holtzman 2009.) I have no argument with this work and yet in this chapter I seek to do something different. I will ask questions about how our biologically and biomedically minded colleagues study, treat and care for ‘the body’. In doing so, I insert myself into another tradition, one that draws on ethnographies of – primarily and/or predominantly Western – scientific and professional practices. In this tradition ‘biological work’ and ‘biomedical work’ and what it makes of ‘organs, cybernetic systems, or collections of functions’ becomes the object of research. Thus, biology and biomedicine are not supplemented. They are opened up.

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