CFP: RHM Special issue on Food as Medicine

Download a PDF of the call: Food as Medicine. (*.pdf)

Proposal due: October 15, 2019 to

Sociologist Deborah Lupton wrote that “food has become profoundly medicalised in its association with health, illness and disease” (2000, p. 205). Historically, diet has, indeed, always been part of a medical practice regimen—throughout the long reign of humoral theory, and the modern updates of dietetics and modern nutrition science; furthermore, specific diets have always been prescribed for specific ailments. Food has also played a vital part in public health interventions, in which its production, regulation, distribution, and safety have been recognized as paramount for the health of the populace. Insofar as it enters the purview of the state, food has also been strongly linked with national character, prowess in war, and other such ideological constructs that problematize the notion of “the health of the nation” (see Veit, 2013). Governmental dietary guidelines (in the U.S. or elsewhere) have been highly contested and yet they have profoundly transformed the way many people eat. Food-related health concerns have been exacerbated in the Anthropocene, when unsustainable food production poses risks to both humans and the planet; for example, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets opens its most recent report with a stark statement: “Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both” (Lancet, 2019).

More recently, dietary habits have received increased attention from evidence-based medicine. While studies regarding correlation between food intake and health markers are notoriously difficult to conduct reliably (Ioannidis, 2013), an accumulated amount of evidence aligns with sensible advice regarding the importance of certain foods or food components (e.g., vegetables, fruit, fiber) for a healthy life. Certain foods, some claim, should be prescribed for certain conditions, and a recent study predicted that if such “healthier foods” could be covered by our health insurance systems, we could prevent disease and reduce healthcare costs (Lee et al., 2019). At the same time, such “prescriptions” can come with steep and unrealistic costs; in fact, another recent study in Lancetsuggests that it is not possible to reach the recommended intake of fruit and vegetables in most countries, even under the most optimistic economic predictions (Mason-D’Croz et al., 2019). Food access and quality, and the accompanying health correlates, have always been embedded in economic and demographic dynamics.

In affluent countries where food is abundant, we have also created the conditions for what some have dubbed an “orthorexic society” (Nicolosi, 2006/7), in which we are obsessed with “eating right.” The diet industry has long capitalized on a variety of fears (e.g., health, social capital inherent in thinness), and health and wellness gurus are replicating at an accelerated pace. Eating disorders abound and even proliferate (with orthorexia, a morbid obsession with eating right, being one of the latest additions to the more well-known triad of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder). Alternative medicine and health movements put food at the center of their concerns, although their language has been, in turn, coopted by the mainstream food industry (Kiedeckel, 2018). A preoccupation with our health and a belief that it is achievable through diet and self-control stems also from healthism—the idea that we are or ought to be personally responsible for our own health (Crawford, 1980). The idea that we can achieve perfect health via consumption of the right type of food (“clean,” organic, GMO-free, etc.) and via the correct balance of macronutrients (tailored or not to biological markers such as our genome or microbiome) has led to an explosion of food fads, biotechnologies, food delivery services, apps, and more, aimed at keeping us thin and healthy—so far with dubious results.

All of these topics lend themselves to rhetorical treatment. Rhetoricians have already addressed some of the implications of food rhetoric and its intersections with health and medicine, such as, among others: rhetoric of the slow food movement (Schneider, 2008) and of organic food systems (Nowacek & Nowacek, 2008); rhetoric of health citizenship and the moralization of healthy eating (Spoel, Harris, & Henwood, 2012, 2014; Derkatch & Spoel, 2015); rhetoric of racialized food politics (Schell, 2015); feminist rhetoric of food (Goldthwaite, 2017; Dubisar, 2018); rhetoric of food justice, activism, and agricultural systems (Dubisar & Roesch-McNally, 2018); rhetoric of public nutrition guidelines (Mudry, 2009; Hite & Carter, 2019). We invite papers that further this work by expanding these lines of inquiry in relation to the rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM), or explore some of the themes outlined below:

Rhetorical histories of dietetics, or, food as medicine

  • How has food been medicalized: from the ancient arts of dietetics to contemporary nutrition science?
  • There is a budding literature on the rhetoric of food, but how can we conceptualize the rhetoric of food-as-medicine?
  • How does the rhetoric of dieting fit into discourses of health?
  • What can rhetoric tell us about past or current complexities and controversies of nutrition science?

Food, Wellness, and Alternative Medicine

  • How did food become a form of alternative medicine—e.g., see naturopathic claims about the power of certain foods to heal all manners of disease, Gerson therapy, etc.?
  • What is the role of gurus/media celebrities/social media celebrities in spreading messages about healthy eating/dieting? (e.g., Oprah, Dr. Oz, GOOP, Food Babe, etc.)
  • How can we cogently critique a variety of alternative food practices and beliefs (juicing, detoxing, cleansing, paleo, vegan, non-GMO, organic, raw, unprocessed, etc.) using an RHM perspective?
  • How can we better understand the rhetoric of “clean eating”?
  • How is food pathologized or lionized in matters of health?

Food Interventions as Public Health Initiatives

  • How can we better understand the rhetoric of public discourse about food as medicine/pharmakon (as prevention, treatment, or “poison”), from food that heals (chicken soup, DASH diet, sugar free, fat free, organic, vegan, etc.) to food that kills (from e-coli or BSE infestations to processed food or sugar/fat/salt promoting metabolic diseases)?
  • How do we interpret the rhetoric of food lobbies (sugar, soft drinks, dairy, beef, etc.)?
  • What is the rhetoric of public health communication on food safety/food scares?
  • How has food become an agent of good or ill health through excess, deficiency, quality, or other?
  • What are the rhetorical-ethical dimensions critiques of food production systems and the food industry in relation to their effects on individual and public health, as well as on the environment?
  • How can we understand governmental dietary guidelines and regulations through the prism of RHM?
  • To what point is food pathogenic or healing in the phenomenology of eating disorders? We invite pieces that may address food-related ailments, e.g. malnutrition, obesity, bulimia, binge-eating, anorexia, or orthorexia, in which food may be regulated, prescribed, and theorized as treatment or pathology.

The Future of Food as Medicine

  • What role do practices such as the appification of health and healthy eating, “biohacking,” and other Silicon Valley solutions to our dietary concerns play in how we view health and health citizenship?
  • How does measuring and quantification (of calories, nutrients, etc.) as a “social technology” (Mudry, 2009) change our relationship with food, our bodies, and our health?
  • What are some of the issues regarding growing food in the Anthropocene that reflect on our health and medical practices?

These themes are meant to be generative rather than exhaustive. The guest editor and RHM editors look forward to reading proposals for research articles, but are also eager to hear your ideas for the journal’s other genres—persuasion briefs, dialogues, commentaries, and review essays.

This special issue will be co-edited by Cristina Hanganu-Bresch in consultation with the RHM co-editors. Special issue proposals will be reviewed and ranked by this team and members of the journal’s editorial board, and manuscripts will undergo the same rigorous peer review process as regular submissions. Cristina is very willing to answer email queries at

Please email 500-1000 word proposals (excluding citations) to by October 15, 2019. Completed manuscripts for accepted proposals will be due March 25, 2020; the special issue is slated for Spring 2021.

Selected Bibliography

Biltekoff, Charlotte. Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health.Durham and London: Duke UP. 2013.


Bitar, Adrienne Rose. Diet and the Disease of Civilization. Rutgers UP, 2018.


Bobrow-Strain, Aaron. “White Bread Bio-Politics: Purity, Health, and the Triumph of Industrial Baking.” Cultural Geographies vol 15, no. 1, 2008, pp. 19–40.


Derkatch, Colleen, and Philippa Spoel. “Public Health Promotion of ‘Local Food’: Constituting the Self-Governing Citizen-Consumer.” Health, vol 21, no. 2, pp. 154–170.

Derkatch, Colleen. Bounding Biomedicine: Evidence and Rhetoric in the New Science of Alternative Medicine. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2016.

Dubisar, Abby M. and Gabrielle Roesch-McNally. “Representation, Resistance, and Rhetoric: Bananas Catalyze Campus Activism.” Present Tense, 7, 2018.

Dubisar, Abby M. “Toward a Feminist Food Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review vol.37, no. 1, 2018, pp. 118-130.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London:Routledge & Kegan, 1966.


Joshua Frye, Michael Bruner (Eds.)The Rhetoric of Food: Discourse, Materiality, and Power.New York, London: Routledge, 2012.


Goldthwaite, Melissa A. (Ed.) Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics. Chicago: Southern Illinois UP, 2017.


Grey Stephanie Houston. “American Food Rhetoric.” In: Thompson P.B., Kaplan D.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics. Springer, Dordrecht, 2014.


Grey, Stephanie Houston. “An Acquired Taste: The Flavors of Rhetoric in Food Politics,” Rhetoric and Public Affairsvol 19, no. 2, 2016, pp. 307-320.


Hall, Kim Q. “Toward a Queer Crip Feminist Politics of Food.” philoSOPHIAvol. 4, no. 2 2014, pp. 177-196.


Hite, Adele H. and Andrew Carter. “Examining Assumptions in Science-Based Policy: Critical Health Communication, Stasis Theory, and Public Health Nutrition Guidance.” Rhetoric of Health and Medicine vol. 2, no. 2, 2019, pp. 147-175.


Kideckel, Michael S. “Anti-Intellectualism and Natural Food: The Shared Language of Industry and Activists in America since 1830.” Gastronomicavol. 18, no. 1, 2018, pp. 44-54.


Lee, Yujin, Dariush Mozaffarian, Stephen Sy et al. “Cost-Effectiveness of Financial Incentives for Improving Diet and Health Through Medicare and Medicaid: A Microsimulation Study.” PLOS Medicinevol. 16, no. 3, 2019: e1002761.


Deborah Lupton. “Food, Risk, and Subjectivity.” Health, Medicine and Society: Key Theories, Future Agendas, edited Michael Calnan, Jonathan Gabe, and Simon J. Williams. Routledge, 2000, pp. 2015-218.


Mason-D’Croz, Daniel, Jessica R Bogard, Timothy B Sulser, et al. “Gaps Between Fruit and Vegetable Production, Demand, and Recommended Consumption at Global and National Levels: An Integrated Modelling Study. Lancet Planetary Healthvol. 3, 2019: e318–29.


Mudry, Jessica. Measured meals: Nutrition in America. New York: State U of New York P, 2009.


Nicolosi, Guido. “Biotechnologies, Alimentary Fears and the Orthorexic Society.” Tailoring Biotechnologiesvol. 2, no. 3, 2006/07, pp. 37-56.


Nowacek David M. and Rebecca S. Nowacek. “The Organic Foods System: Its Discursive Achievements and Prospects.” College Englishvol. 70, no. 4, 2008, pp. 403-420.


Retzinger, Jean. “The Embodied Rhetoric of ‘Health’ from Farm Fields to Salad Bowls.” Edible Ideologies: Representing Food and Meaning, edited Peter Naccarato and Kathleen LeBesco Albany: State U of New York P, 2008, pp.149-178.


Schell, Eileen. “The Racialized Rhetorics of Food Politics: Black Farmers, the Case of Shirley Sherrod, and Struggle for Land Equity and Access.” Poroi: Journal of the Project on the Rhetoric of Inquiryvol. 11, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-22.


Schneider, Stephen. “Good, Clean, Fair: The Rhetoric of the Slow Food Movement.” College Englishvol. 70, no. 4, 2008, pp. 384-402.

Spoel, Philippa, and Colleen Derkatch. “Constituting Community Through Food Charters: A Rhetorical-Genre Analysis.” Canadian Food Studiesvol. 3, no. 1, 2016.


Spoel, Philippa, Harris, R, and Henwood, F. “The Moralization of Healthy Living: Burke’s Rhetoric of Rebirth and Older Adults’ Accounts of Healthy Eating.” Healthvol. 16, no. 6, 2012, 619–635.


Spoel, Philippa, Harris, R, and Henwood, F. “Rhetorics of Health citizenship: Exploring Vernacular Critiques of government’s role in supporting healthy living.” Journal of Medical Humanitiesvol. 35, 2014, pp. 131–147.


Veit, Helen Zoe. Modern Food, Moral Food: Self Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: The U of North Carolina P, 2013.

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