One Meal at a time: Nourishment in the Cape Winelands

Master Thesis


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Emerging fields of inquiry in epigenetics and the 'Developmental Origins of Health and Disease’ (DOHaD) propose the 'first thousand days’ of life as a critical period for the formation of new life. During this time food is one crucial set of signals that edits life, and is particularly pertinent in the South African context where entrenched inequality is marked in statistics of hunger and food insecurity. A landscape of norms, both biomedical and social, comes to bear on the mother-child dyad, with a view to secure future health. This thesis tacks between this imaginary (noting registers of temporality and belonging), and everyday lived experience embedded with practices of care. Based on five months of ethnographic fieldwork in Kylemore in the Cape Winelands, I provide a detailed exploration of the space between prescription and practice. By tracking modalities of care, each chapter pauses at a meal or moment of ingestion. This attention reveals the complexity of food and sociality; the relationship of discourse to the everyday; and multiple, dextrous ways of providing care. Social precarity, shaped by the enduring political economy of the valley, made following the dictats of public health extremely difficult, as they pertain to the 'first thousand days’. I argue that a conceptual poverty exists around the complex forces shaping ingestion and social and biological practices, which presents a 'space between’ social and medical disciplines that requires attention. Nourishment, as an approach and concept is offered to this space, in order to help make visible the complexities of belonging and temporality that are active in between bio-social prescriptions and actual practices.