The opacity of reduction: nutritional black-boxing and the meanings of nourishment

This article explores the process of consolidating technical and historically contingent ideas about nourishment into seemingly straightforward terms such as vitamins and minerals. I study the adoption of scientific principles of abstraction and reduction as strategy of nutrition education in three Guatemalan highland sites: an elementary school classroom, a rural clinic, and the obesity outpatient center of Guatemala’s third largest public hospital. I show that despite its pretense of simplicity, the reductionism of nutritional black-boxing produces confusion. Moreover, dietary education not dependent upon simplified and fixed rules and standards may be more intelligible to people seeking nourishment in their lives.

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