ISG professor Dr. Hannah Landecker‘s paper “Food as exposure: Nutritional epigenetics and the new metabolism” is now available to read online at Biosocieties.


Nutritional epigenetics seeks to explain the effects of nutrition on gene expression. For social science, it is an area of life science whose analysis reveals a concentrated form of a wider shift in the understanding of food and metabolism. Rather than the chemical conversion of food to energy and body matter of classic metabolism, food is now also a conditioning environment that shapes the activity of the genome and the physiology of the body. It is thought that food in prenatal and early postnatal life impacts adult-onset diseases such as diabetes and heart disease; exposure to food is seen as a point of potential intervention in long-term health of individuals and populations. This article analyzes how food has become environment in nutritional epigenetics, with a focus on the experimental formalization of food. The experimental image of human life generated in rodent models, it is argued, generates concepts of food as a form of molecular exposure. This scientific discourse has profound implications for how food is perceived, manufactured and regulated, as well as for social theories and analyses of the social body that have a long history of imbrication with scientific models of metabolism.