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Does Food System Transition Need Public Health Nutrition Abolition

Monday 5th December 2022, 4.30-6.00 pm (UK time),

hosted by the 'Healthy Food' theme of Warwick University's Food GRP

Dr Lucy Aphramor
Associate Professor Gender, Power and the Right to Food

Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience Coventry University

Moderated by Rosemary Collier (Life Sciences)

Mainstream nutrition messages reproduce neoliberal ideas about ‘health’ as a property that is individually achieved. This – colonial - narrative relies on a liberal humanist construct of the body where the isolated, self-interested citizen has meaningful dietary options. In cases of diet-related disease, imprudent choice is the problem and behaviour change the remedy. Food is commodified as a vessel for nutrient transfer, the body functions as a calorie burning machine and disability, poverty and other realities that complicate the model are sidelined. Clearly, this theory has serious limitations. Not least, it ignores structural influences on public health and, within this, externalizes health hazards experienced by farmers, packers, catering staff and other food workers due to toxic substances, working and living conditions, low pay, migration issues and more.
Public health messages need to make a radical departure from the paternalistic, nonsensical, ableist, and anti-fat injunction to ‘eat less, move more’ if they are to align with, and prefigure, health justice and food sovereignty.
In this talk I explore concepts I have found useful in aligning my dietetic practice with agroecological transition, share mistakes I have made, and offer ideas for translating theory into practice.

My early pull to food and farming led me to study nutrition and dietetics at Surrey University, followed by a Certificate in Permaculture Design from Hong University (SPACE). A continuing education Certificate in Women’s Studies and Literature, again at Surrey University, introduced me to criticality and sparked a passion for poetry. After self-employment running a small market garden, an even smaller bakery, and several standard length marathons, I worked in mental health advocacy before entering dietetics in the NHS. Patient stories caused me to become concerned about fat stigma and to question the usefulness of a lifestyle approach to public health. What about trauma? What about racism? Disability justice? Poverty? I developed a health-justice approach, Well Now, that acknowledges the impact of power in nutrition-related conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. Subsequent contributions to research and scholarship were helped by my appointment as Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Justice, Coventry University. I’m interested in food work that takes seriously compassion, trauma, pedagogy, creativity, salutogenesis, white supremacy, story and more to serve social justice. I have taught - and performed social action poetry - widely in academic, activist, general, and LGBTQ+ community spaces at home and overseas. I left the NHS to run a social enterprise, later focusing on change through training, consultancy and performance. I am a founder member of the World Critical Dietetics Association and hold a PhD by Publication in Critical Dietetics from Coventry University. A significant flaw in my earlier work was that it neglected ontologies of interconnection (hallmarks of indigeneity, animism, liberation theology) and therefore unwittingly reproduced coloniality.

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