“I am 100% sure it is possible at any age to change our destiny into one of pain-free, vibrant health by intelligently utilizing the power of super-foods” (Wolfe, p. 6, 2009).
In the climate of health today, nutritional science no longer needs to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Instead, it focusses on enhancing our bodies. Food is not just fuel; it provides us with an opportunity for self-improvement. Food claims to be able to boost our brain power, bone density or immune function; it truly can make us super-human. Super-foods exemplify this, often claiming that one bite of these miracle foods can eliminate disease. Health-food bloggers regularly extol the virtues of these foods, for example Deliciously Ella writes about how the algae chorella can “improve the symptoms of depression” and how goji berries aid the “prevention of
Alzheimer’s” (Woodward, 2015). Even bolder claims than these come from author David Wolfe (2009), a man who describes himself as the “Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe.” With the “insurmountable problems of civilization,” Wolfe believes super-foods are the route to solving them, as they are “both a food and a medicine” (Wolfe p.7, 2009).
The medicinal power of food engages with a long history of culturally significance. The Israelites used wine to “treat infirmaries” (Fitzgerald, p.99, 2014) and the bible describes how bread can “strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:15). As the correspondence between our diet and health is expanding, Hippocrates’ famous quote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is ever more pertinent, especially considering that foods are increasingly eaten for their ‘functional’ use, rather than their taste or cultural roots (Smith, 2004 p.328).
Super-foods are praised for their highly packed, nutrient-dense contents, often containing compounds such an anti-oxidants that protect against the diseases of modern life. Sociologist Paul Atkinson equates their popularity to their exotic origins, as this provides them with “hidden wisdom, offering them a platform on which to reject modern western medicine” (Atkinson, p.12, 2009). Who could resist trying the natural healing powers of the African Baobab tree, Japanese Matcha powder or acai berries picked from the Amazon rainforest?
This, then is the basis for my photograph Let Food be thy Medicine, in which I compare super-foods to drugs in a pill-box. Whilst the therapeutic value of food should not be undermined, the super-food makes dubious claims, drawing consumers to believe in the power of a single, often expensive food: YouGov published research concluding that in 2011, 61% of people in the UK purchased foods they believed were superfoods, 11% believing they could prevent cancer (Shearman, 2014). With this in mind, I framed my photograph with a different super-food in each segment of the pill box. I was keen to have a mixture of colours and textures of the super-foods to show how many food are now idealised as holding miracle powers over health. For example, the blueberry has been barraged by the media as an anti-oxidant powerhouse. Turmeric on the other hand is one of the super-foods has been used historically for its anti-inflammatory properties in Indian and Chinese medicine (Prasad and Aggarwal, 2011).
Atkinson P. 2009. “Eating Virtue.” In The Sociology of Food and Eating, ed. Murcott A, 9-18. London: Indiana University Press.
Fitzgerald M. Diet Cults. The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us. New York: Pegasus Books, 2015.
Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. 2011. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, ed. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Shearman S. 2014. “Quinoa, chia seeds and kale: superfoods or supermarketing?” The Guardian.
Smith R. 2004. “Let food be thy medicine…” BMJ 328:0-g.
Wolfe D. 2009. Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future. Berkeley; North Atlantic Books.
Woodward E. 2014. “About.” DeliciouslyElla. URL:http://deliciouslyella.com/?s=healthy+eating. Accessed June 2015.