Living creatures relate to their surroundings in all kinds of ways. One of these is by eating from them and excreting into them. But what is eating? Incorporating other creatures or absorbing nutrients? A need of individual bodies or a pleasure that table companions share? The ERC project EATINGBODIES has explored such questions by studying various forms of eating.
Practices of eating are relevant to public health, justice, agriculture, sustainability. They help to shape daily lives and cultural traditions. With her team, Prof. Annemarie Mol has studied diverse eating practices and questioned current ways of understanding them. EATINGBODIES did not talk about eating as if it were a physical necessity first, to which a social meaning is added in a second moment ; instead, it investigated moments of eating in all their socio-semiotic-material complexity.
In this way, Prof. Mol and her team contrasted calorie counting with sensing satisfaction; traced what it is to taste in different contexts; explored the connections of dependency in which eating situates all eaters; wondered what people do to avoid wasting their food. They put their ethnographic methods to use in a wide variety of settings, from restaurants to private kitchens, from research laboratories to clinics.
In addition to rich empirical stories, this research also offers inspiration to shift vested philosophical understandings of what it is to be human. Since the actors-who-eat have semi-permeable boundaries, they are sustained by partially incorporating their surroundings and devouring the objects that they know and value.
The EATINGBODIES team has produced an impressive body of academic work. Upon receiving her ERC grant, Prof. Mol was appointed to a professorship at the University of Amsterdam. In 2012 she won the Spinoza Prize, the highest Dutch award for scientific research, and was invited to join the Dutch Royal Academy of the Sciences.