Evaluating Food Assistance Policy in Oaxaca, Mexico: A Political Ecology of the Body (PEB) Approach

Authors: Fiona Gladstone*, University of Arizona - School of Geography and Development
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Medical and Health Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: political ecology of the body, Mexico, nutrition, food policy, neoliberalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Grand Couteau, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper applies Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy’s political ecology of the body (PEB) framework to analyze the contested forms of nutrition knowledge at play in government food assistance programs in rural Oaxaca, Mexico. Rural populations in Oaxaca are experiencing the adverse outcomes of a neoliberal era in which both their land and their bodies are enrolled in capital accumulation. While territories are threatened by government concessions for mines and wind farms, a lax regulatory environment for the food and beverage industry has seen the astounding rise of diabetes and other metabolic diseases. In recent years, government efforts to resolve the “double burden” of undernutrition and overnutrition in Mexico have rested principally on the expansion of food assistance programs targeting marginalized populations with a basket of “healthy” nonperishable goods, alongside cash transfers conditioned on health education. Drawing on 12 months of research including survey data from 87 residents of one rural municipality, participant observation in community food kitchens and classrooms, and semi-structured interviews, this study finds that targeted individuals’ visceral experiences often conflict with expert discourses on nutrition and disease. In this context, government attempts to solve the problem of “hunger” with nonperishable foods of unknown origin may undermine methods of combating the health problems caused by enrollment of bodies in capitalist accumulation processes. The paper concludes with reflections on how a political ecology of the body approach complements regional social movements’ struggles for territorial defense.

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