Since the post–World War II “discovery” of global malnutrition and the concomitant rise of the development apparatus, various “miracle foods” have been proposed by international development organizations as solutions to chronic undernourishment in developing countries. This article draws on media analysis, development literature, and interviews to explore the “miracle food narrative” (MFN) in three cases: high-lysine corn, Golden Rice, and quinoa, which as the incumbent miracle food is the focus of the paper. The essay contends that miracle food narratives depoliticize hunger through a “curative metaphor.” This trope bolsters a paternal logic that blames malnutrition on the undernourished, and blurs problems of access and dispossession, locating “the solution” in Western philanthropy or economic development. The essay argues that quinoa’s interpellation as a global miracle food is directly related to the rise of “multicultural” and “sustainable” development paradigms, and corresponding changes in the roles of “culture/tradition” and “environment” in development discourse. While quinoa’s insertion in the MFN departs in some ways from the fable of the Western scientist designing the hunger antidote by representationally displacing authority in science with authority in “traditional ways,” this recasting of the actors leaves the broader narrative and underlying curative metaphor in place. As malnutrition alleviation programs integrate cultural difference, critical food scholars must pay close attention to the ways in which tradition and culture are invoked. To conclude, I draw attention to the fraught interaction of the politics of indigeneity and the politics of global malnutrition that arises with the shifting roles of science and tradition in quinoa’s adaptation of the miracle food narrative, as well as scale disjunctures between simple miracle food stories and complicated realities, a dynamic that underscores the need for agrifood and food policy scholars to pay close attention to complex interactions of scale.
Miracle Foods: Quinoa, Curative Metaphors, and the Depoliticization of Global Hunger Politics
Emma McDonell is a doctoral student in Indiana University’s Anthropology Department and Food Studies Program. She is currently working on a dissertation project examining the ways in which quinoa producers in the Peruvian highlands negotiate changing quinoa production and consumption practices in the context of increasing climate uncertainty. More broadly, she is interested in the politics of indigenous recognition in traditional food revitalization projects and how emergent food trends affect distant producer communities across the world. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and find her on Twitter @EmMcDonell.
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Emma McDonell; Miracle Foods: Quinoa, Curative Metaphors, and the Depoliticization of Global Hunger Politics. Gastronomica 1 November 2015; 15 (4): 70–85. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2015.15.4.70
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