Designing Dietetics For White Wellbeing Impedes Racial Justice

Lucy Aphramor
4 min readMar 15, 2021

or Who Says Food Isn’t Medicine?

A colourful wall mural of an elder’s face. They have long white hair and markings on their left cheek and from nose to chin in purple.
Photo by Giulia May on Unsplash

The exhortation ‘food isn’t medicine’ is doing the rounds on social media again.

It’s posted by healthcare professionals who share a concern about the impact of nutritionism, strongly allied with diet culture. Good. All food workers should raise awareness of harmful practices that masquerade as beneficial. We should all be arguing against nutritionism.

Nutritionism is a way of thinking about nutrition that turns food into a means of nutrient transfer and turns bodies into calorie-burning machines whose inner workings are fine-tuned by the calibrated delivery of nutritional substances.

Nutritionism arises from a western take on wellbeing, and eating, and what matters, that is rooted in a model of isolation. It isolates nutrients from foods, lineage, land. It isolates foods from eaters’ physiology, feelings, ancestors, companions, festivals. You get the idea.

So yes, let’s undo nutritionism. It’s a hazardous ideology that fuels suffering around eating and self-worth. It also disregards the earth. It embeds a false narrative of individual responsibility, for disease, and much else. This individualism contributes to, and glosses over, the very many sources of data in and beyond western science that show oppression and trauma are the real causes of health inequity.

Serena Williams didn’t have pregnancy complications because she was unfit. Eating blueberries will not reduce Black people’s increased risk of dying from Covid as compared to non-Blacks.

Of course, we can never know everything about how chemicals in food interact with other substances. It’s impossible to precisely document the impact that our mood, taste preferences, cultural upbringing, and a zillion other variables might have on our digestion and metabolism at any given time. That’s not what I’m getting at. Nutritionism isn’t a problem of gaps in a western nutritional knowledge base. It’s the imposition of a specific — neoliberal, colonial, capitalist — value system and thought system called scientism that is catastrophic.

This thought system sharpens the tools of white supremacy. By imposing separation, nutritionism denies inter-connection. This is…

Lucy Aphramor

Lucy Aphramor is a radical dietitian and performance poet. They are Associate Professor of Gender, Power, and The Right to Food at CAWR, Coventry University UK.