Broken Branches: The Consequences of Food Fetishization

May 12, 2023

Nathan Yan, Low Entropy Volunteer Writer

Acai berries are dark blue berries harvested from the Amazon area of South America, and are a great example of food fetishization. After being praised as a “superfood” in articles and media, they’ve been incorporated into many products, not only in foods like yogurt and oatmeal, but also in powders, medicines and so much more. Foodies, people who are ardently interested in foods, were responsible for the popularization of acai berries, as articles about them spread like wildfire in their communities. Foodies constantly crave new and exciting food experiences, so there has been an increase of food fetishization on the internet.

The fetishization of foods is defined as a vehement devotion or interest in a specific aspect or item of food, to the point of glorifying it. Food fetishization can be found all over the internet. Influencers post photos of meals on apps and there are entire communities, such as subreddits, dedicated to sharing photos of aesthetically pleasing meals. This fetishization can be caused by a multitude of reasons, and the one most demonstrated online is aesthetic appeal.

When aesthetic aspects are shown online, it helps develop affection toward types of foods. Certain foods evoke a certain feeling with their aesthetics, and an example of this is cheese. A common trend online is depicting cheese as a gooey, stretchy substance, stretched between sandwiches or smothered on other foods such as pizza. This evokes a feeling of satisfaction and warmth. Another example is ice cream. A common post on social media is vibrant scoops of multicolored and multi-flavored ice cream. These pictures may also remind viewers of times when they experienced the refreshing effects of ice cream, and these memories would also be considered satisfying.

Foods are also fetishized for health benefits. The acai berry contains plenty of antioxidants, healthy fats and fibre. The acai berry reduces swelling, lowers blood-sugar levels and stimulates the immune system, and because of its many positive effects, the acai berry has received renown as a “superfood.” A superfood is an example of fetishization, as the term itself is a marketing term that highlights the effects on health that certain foods have. Other “superfoods” that are also fetishized online are fish, yogurt, olive oil and many more. Each of these foods provides a health benefit and is glorified, praised and advertised as an essential ingredient in common meals to maintain a healthy diet. This push for heavy inclusion of these ingredients encourages the sale or production of the food. 

Some of these food fetishes have extremely harmful consequences that occur when the demand for the ingredient dramatically increases. When one kind of food is in extremely high demand, a negative spillover effect happens in the labor market and in the industries that produce the food. For example, after acai berries became extremely popular, the amount of labor exploitation in acai farms drastically increased to increase profit. The farming of acai berries occurs primarily in rural settings and involves the scaling of tall trees with thin trunks. As a result, the exploitation in this process has ranged from extremely unfair pay to workers, who can’t bargain due to the scarcity of work in their location, to forcing children and smaller adults to climb the trees, from which they could plummet to their death. This exploitation has led to severe child endangerment, wildlife harm in farming locations and damage to the communities which are used to harvest the berries.

Furthermore, trends of overfishing or deforestation occur when foods like seafood or cocoa are popularized.

Another example of food fetishization having negative consequences is shark fin soup. In Asia, shark fin soups are fetishized as symbols of status at weddings. The result of this is extreme overfishing and overhunting of certain shark species, and this has caused a major threat to the well-being of shark populations and is pushing certain species to extinction. Furthermore, this food fetishization promotes an unhealthy trend, as due to the high concentration of neurotoxins in shark fins, the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s is increased.

There are many reasons for food to be fetishized, and we shouldn’t immediately follow the trends that we see on the internet. However, we also shouldn’t condemn certain foods for their negative consequences, as they do have health benefits. When considering what foods we want to procure and advertise to others, we should always be mindful of our effect on others and the environment.

Hi my name is Nathan Yan, I am a student at David Thompson Secondary School. I enjoy activities like debate, computer science and chess, and my favourite subject is math.

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