The Political Ecology of Superfoods


In the past decade, the term “superfoods” has emerged to describe and market foods with exceptional nutritional characteristics, supposed curative capabilities, and linkages to indigenous food systems and “traditional” knowledge. Diverse products such as chia seeds, quinoa, acai berries and maca root are increasingly categorized as superfoods in marketing materials and promotional campaigns, a designation that has conferred sudden popularity upon each of these products in “developed” economies.

While this phenomenon has begun to receive attention among consumer culture researcher and critical nutrition studies scholars, the productive and political ecological dimensions of superfoods remain mostly unexamined.

This panel seeks to examine the production politics and commodity chains of superfoods from a political ecological perspective – focusing on the interconnections of power and materiality at various points in superfoods commodity chains and during their material and symbolic production. Drawing from the diverse cases showcased in the panel, we will work towards a formulating a preliminary academic definition of superfoods and point to how political ecology research can help us examine this phenomena.

Given the origins and production of most of these foods in developing nations and their sudden popularity in “developed” economies, the ways indigenous food systems and global markets come into play in complex ways, and the potential connection between boom/bust cycles and superfoods, the panel is based in the assertion that political ecological perspectives have much to contribute to the analysis of this phenomenon. We invite papers examining the production of superfoods, their commodity chains, and papers linking production and consumption politics. We aim to engage political ecology with theories drawn from critical nutrition studies, food studies, commodity chain studies. Potential questions include and are certainly not limited to:

  • Due to the often-explicit link between superfoods and origins with indigenous peoples – what sorts of questions about cultural appropriation and intellectual property arise with the superfood trend? How are native peoples working to keep control over their traditional foods that now have incredible value in global markets as superfoods? What challenges do they face in doing so?

  • Is there a link between superfoods and boom/bust cycles given their link to fashion cycles (Brondizio 2004)?

  • What is the geopolitics of superfoods?

  • How does the export of superfoods affect nutrition in producing communities and nations? Can Jason Moore’s concept of the metabolic rift apply to superfoods (Moore 2011)?


Please submit an abstract to Emma McDonell ( by November 17th.


 Alaska wild berries. Public Domain


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