Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

Eat dirt! A modest proposal for sustainable health

Innovation showcase

By F/A/T, Food +  Aesthetics + Technoscience: Ana María Ulloa, Lecturer, Social Sciences Faculty, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia; Christy Spackman, Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society | School of Arts, Media and Engineering, Arizona State University; Ella Butler, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago; Hiʻilei Julia Hobart, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin; Nadia Berenstein, PhD, independent scholar and James Beard award-winning writer; Sarah E. Tracy, Lecturer, Food Studies, The New School University.


Superfoods claims have gained increasing notoriety in contemporary western markets and are expected to proliferate (Reisman 2019). What once were obscure foods only found in specific localities are now ubiquitous ingredients popping up in trendy restaurants and bakeries. Chia seed, amaranth, acai, and maca are all celebrated foods for their purported nutritional qualities and use by so-called ancestral communities. Other more common staples such as almonds, broccoli, cranberries, and avocado have also taken on the status of superfoods on the grounds of being nutritionally powerful and “natural”. Recent scholarship has turned its attention towards understanding this contemporary food phenomenon and how superfoods are produced, represented, and consumed in different markets (Loyer 2006, Lunn 2006, Loyer and Knight 2018, Reisman 2019). This scholarship highlights the critical role the concept of superfoods — as a marketing tool, and as an imaginary shaping individual dietary behavior — is playing in re-shaping contemporary food systems.

We draw on and expand this scholarship to propose a different take on the superfoods phenomenon. Rather than presenting a case-study, we will create and perform a hypothetical case scenario where we will “sell” what we have imagined to be the next big superfood: dirt! This critical performance/investigation into the making of a superfood is envisioned as a chance for us, as a collective of food scholars (running under the name F.A.T, Food + Aesthetics + Technoscience), to put into action and dramatize what we have learned from our individual studies of the industrial food system, and to bring forward under-examined aspects of how superfood as object and discourse function. For the conference we will create an innovative showcase booth that combines satire and critical analysis in a series of interactive performances (taste panels, market-testing, advertisements, etc.) that lay bare how a superfood is made, sold, and could be potentially consumed. 

Why dirt? Nadia Bernstein and Sarah Tracy, two members of F.A.T, were asked recently what they thought the next superfood would be. After playing with some realistic ideas (moringa, seaweeds) they settled on the most outlandish but equally most symbolic of foods: dirt, or soil as we as marketers would rather call the product. Its unique characteristics and diversity make soil a rich container for us to construct a series of narratives in relation to health, sustainability, culture, ecology, and the body. Dirt serves as a basis for addressing familiar cultural discourses about what seems to be wrong with our food. For instance, unhealthy, chemically treated, depleted soil is the perilous legacy of industrial, intensive, monoculture agricultural practices. In contrast, and as the material basis of all other produce, specially-sourced dirt from Eat dirt!™ is rich in what is missing from conventional soils and conventional foods. It is the basis of terroir, and as can be said of water, a vital source of health. Restore optimal health! Return to the source of goodness!

From our interaction with the public at Creative Tastebuds, we aim to raise intersecting issues surrounding the production, marketing, and consumption of superfoods, conflicting notions about what makes food “good,” “natural,” and sustainable, as well as how we learn to trust what carries an aura of folk tradition and authenticity.



Loyer, J. 2016. Superfoods. In Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics, ed. P.B. Thompson and D.M. Kaplan. Dordrecht: Springer.

Loyer, J and C. Knight. 2018. Selling the “Inca superfood”: nutritional primitivism in superfoods books and maca marketing, Food, Culture & Society, 21:4, 449-467.

Lunn, J. 2006. Superfoods. Nutrition Bulletin 31 (3): 171–172.

Reisman, E. 2019. Superfood as spatial fix: the ascent of the almond. Agric Hum Values, 1-15.