What is food? A thing we eat, a creator of cultures, an all-encompassing system? An object, a process, a way of understanding ourselves? A focus of transdisciplinary practice and study? A subject through which to altogether reimagine ‘study’ and ‘practice’?
This book aims to help students address these and other questions, providing perspectives and insights about numerous themes, while also opening up possibilities for ongoing exploration. It is also intended as a pedagogical tool with which to probe and transcend disciplinary boundaries, so that the stuff and significance of food itself might become starting points for learning and conducting research.
In developing this book, we began with the fundamental assumption that food and food systems are lively, intersubjective, and complex. This means that they change in time, resisting universal definitions and explanations. It also means that, even as we study food, it changes us and our perceptions of it. And, finally, as dynamic and adaptive assemblages, food systems need to be understood through pluralistic means. While positivism, science, and causality are useful frameworks for some aspects of food studies, so are poetry, wonder, affect, and un-knowing.
The three Ms of our subtitle—matter, meaning, movement—are our way of underscoring the pluralistic nature of food. Food is stuff that we eat, but it is equally stuff that we use to symbolize other parts of human existence, as well as stuff that we load with discourse and ideas. Moreover, as evidenced by the ways in which we transport edible things around the globe, process and transform them, and insert them into contexts from finance to fashion, food moves.
Even as we parse these elements of food, however, they remain intractably connected. Food is whole, always already entangled. Any examination of food’s materiality raises questions about how it is meaningful. Tracing the movements of food—whether conceptually or concretely—implicates its ingredients, its packaging, and its waste. Food, divided, ceases to be food; by its nature, food resists being reduced to distinct variables.
As you use this book, perhaps a transformed sense of food, food culture, and food systems will emerge—along with a new sense of your own place and role within them. Perhaps a particular method or practice from one of the chapters will resonate with a poem or illustration, helping to illuminate a scrap of theory you have struggled to apprehend. Perhaps a perception of how agriculture and economics and identity are linked will start to form in your consciousness, motivating you to take part in activism or art-making. Perhaps you will be inspired to draft a contribution to the second, third, or multi-volume edition of this book, and you will become a future editor of Food Studies, or a teacher of new learners. And then, together, perhaps we will all acquire an understanding of food that becomes, over time, as lively, intersubjective, and complex as this wonderful subject itself.