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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Food as Exposure: Nutritional Epigenetics and the Molecular Politics of Eating


Epigenetics raises questions about the governance of food and the environment more generally in the interests of human health. It remains to be seen how or whether this will translate into regulatory changes, for example, banning the use of Bisphenol-A in food containers, a rethinking of the regulation of supplements and functional foods, or renewed attention to the public health impact of improving prenatal care. Or how it might translate into individual action: as epigenetics becomes more familiar to public audiences through newspaper accounts, food health claims, and popularizations, it will be important to track how consumers incorporate this narrative into their food choices and their understandings of food and the body. At its heart, nutritional epigenetics represents a hope for intervention in the long-term health of bodies and thus the general health of populations, via the medium of food. Epigenetics has a very specific temporal logic to it, one that emphasizes the multigenerational impact of the environments surrounding fetuses and children. Given the social and cultural importance of food and eating and the fraught nature of contemporary parenting when it comes to feeding children, the unfolding generation of these specific links between nutrition and health calls for our continued critical attention.

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