Designing 'Good food'

Designing good food: normative work in food-industry nutrigenomics


  1. How are knowledge, technology, and norms being co-produced in industrial nutrition practices and products?
  2. How can we use these insights to organise a dialogue between industry and ELSA researchers concerning the societal entrenchment of new genomics based products?

Duration: May 2008 - July 2012

This project aimed to study the use of genomics science and technology in industrial settings. In particular, the project focused on the production of normative claims concerning food products (e.g. health, sustainability, enhancement or personalisation of food). The incorporation of nutrigenomics in industrial and advisory contexts was expected to result in a different normative frame as compared to academic nutrigenomics. Knowledge and norms are created, integrated and balanced in the practice of foodstuff production. What constitutes “good food” is therefore the result of a co-production between science, technology and society. 

The project wanted to study this co-production in order to understand and improve the societal entrenchment of new food products. To do so, a platform for mutual learning was established between the ELSA research team and representatives from industry at Unilever R&D. The project at Unilever was designed to feature close proximity to actors in the field. This has taught the researchers that whether STS research or other forms of cultural analysis affects the practices that it studies is not so much a matter of intention – neither by the researcher nor by actors in the field – but a possible outcome of situated collaborations between researchers and research participants.

The researchers found out that science only plays a secondary role in the production of relevant products and innovations that greatly resonate with consumers and citizens. Food design – so the food industry displays, includes science, but it is not all about science. The inclusion of knowledge about issues, preferences, and other normative orientations of the ‘outside world’ are mobilised through critical inquiry, but also through marketing and consumer studies. If anything, marketing may produce ‘relevance’ more efficiently than science can. Besides that, the project explicitly reflected on the opportunities and challenges provided by the social study of corporate science.