From the imperial to the empty calorie: How nutrition relations underpin food regime transitions

Jane Dixon*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    106 Citations (Scopus)


    This article works in a recursive manner by using the tools of a food regime approach to reinterpret the nutrition transition that has been underway internationally for 100 years, and then describing the contributions of nutrition science to the 1st and 2nd Food Regimes and the passages between Food Regimes. The resulting history - from the 'imperial calorie' through the 'protective' vitamin to the 'empty calorie' - illuminates a neglected dimension to food regime theorising: the role of socio-technical systems in shaping a set of value relations that are central to class relations. Contestation over one such system, nutritionalisation, currently involves an ungovernable array of actors. In describing the protagonists to the system of nutritionalisation, a classic confrontation emerges between technical and lifeworld rationality. Representing the former approach are actor networks responsible for the 'trade-in-health' sector which produces foods and nutritional values aimed at both over-nourished and under-nourished populations. Clinging to a lifeworld rationality are 'culture eaters' worldwide, for whom nutrition value relations are secondary to communal and ecological relations. This dynamic appears within wealthier Asian states which are emerging as central to the trade-in-nutritional health sector while acting to protect their own customary dietary practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)321-333
    Number of pages13
    JournalAgriculture and Human Values
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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