In my other blogs on bio food in Belgium, I have explored bio food through people’s personal and bodily relation with it. I have dealt with how people bodily relate to and experience this food, how its sociocultural aspects (symbolic incorporation) have to be seen together with one’s actual bodily incorporation of food (literal incorporation). Even if personal and bodily is also interpersonal, intersubjective and intercorporeal, and the subjective is also the objective, it remains to address the question if bio food gives rise to a bodily shared sociality which I call biosociality.
By bio food’s sociality or biosociality, I do not mean when people, for instance, work together with bio food at a farm or in a shop. Working with bio food in one way or another, namely having a professional relation with it, does not mean that people have also a personal relation with it, and, more importantly, that bio food is the main reason why they work together with others. I argue that two main conditions have to be met to talk about bio food as forming bodily shared sociality. First of all, people need to have a close personal relation with it and, second, bio food needs to be the main purpose, goal or ‘drive’ that brings them together. To be together and materially engaged with bio food, people need to be physically together, which also suggests that they are somehow connected and know each other.
Biosociality is then an intercorporeally and mutually engaged formation of people brought together and maintained mainly through its members’ close relation with bio food. Such a sociality is not an ‘imagined community’ at all (Anderson 1983). Even if, as an interlocutor working in a bio shop observed, bio food ‘is more and more living amongst people’ when more, especially younger, customers come to the shop, my interlocutors and I do not see ourselves as belonging to or being part of a biosociality or collectivity simply because we shop and eat bio food, have a relation with it, or may have similar experiences like others.
Looking for biosociality
In fact, I looked more into voedselteams with hope to ‘find’ biosociality. I hoped that since voedselteam (‘food team’) is a group of people who live close to each other, and buy mostly bio food from local producers, some voedselteams would be ‘biosocial’, that is, a cohesive group which regularly ‘socializes’ through different activities related to bio food.
However, as the interviews with the four members of three teams revealed, there is hardly anything social about their teams. Relevant and important things concerning food, orders, payments and producers are done and discussed online and not in person. And, normally, teams organize a get-together event only once a year. Besides being a member mainly for practical reasons rather than due to having a close relation with bio food, the interviewed members, for instance, also do not cook together or share bio food with other members. In a word, bio food does not bring the teams together, and so there is no biosociality.
For my interlocutors biosociality exists to some extent or at best only in their nuclear families. But this is far from being generally applicable. Only for two interlocutors bio food is a socializing element within their family. For others, as well as for me, bio food is an individual matter even within our own families.
Thus, as my fieldwork and personal experiences have clearly indicated, by and large, bio food in Belgium seems quite ‘individualistic’. Even if my interlocutors have friends or acquaintances who are also into bio food, they do not socialize with them through bio food. This is not to suggest that people do not influence each other. Bio food’s ‘asociality’ seems to be strongly linked to the assumption that food is one’s individual choice, which people are expected to respect. This is based on the idea that one’s body is one’s responsibility. One is free to eat what one wishes just like one can freely ‘use’ one’s own body.
Fragmented, alternative biosociality of bio food
Although it is obvious that the individual (personal, bodily) is never just ‘individual’ (completely unaffected by anything outside the individual) but intertwined with the social and the cultural, in the final analysis and under normal circumstances, food ingestion is an individual decision and (in)ability. In this respect, it seems that bio food divides people rather than brings them together: ‘It is your choice to eat it, so do not tell me to eat it too.’ Or, as my personal experience suggests, those who do not eat it, construe bio food and those who eat it as ‘the other’.
Although I do not eat just bio food, and do not blindly accept it either, this does not stop people from identifying me with bio food and treating me as if I was a ‘biofoodarian’. They in a sense exclude me and make from me a ‘marginalized other’, which puts me in the position of having to defend myself.
At the beginning of my research, I thought I would find a functioning biosociality and research it. When that did not happen, I first thought I failed to find it or get access to it. But then I simply accepted my fieldwork experience, and saw it as part or an expression of the reality of bio food in Belgium.
Surely, bio food, people’s relation with it and biosociality have to be understood within a broader context, which is that we live in a society that is increasingly technologically mediated, but physically and emotionally disconnected and which thus diminishes direct bodily engagements and reduces materiality to a vehicle for representations, images or ideas. This helps us to understand bio food as a largely ‘immaterial’ phenomenon in progress characterized by uncertainty, confusion, exclusion and fragmentation. Bio food is not or has not yet become a ‘normal’ or normalized sociocultural phenomenon, even if food stores and discourse may indicate otherwise. For now, one can talk only about a fragmented, alternative biosociality.
My other food consumption ideas and research blogs can be found here
This blog is a slightly adapted part of my thesis What is your relation with food like?: Examining the embodied relation between people and bio food in Belgium (Master of Social and Cultural Anthropology); References available upon request.