Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius said in the 1st century BC that what is food to one, may be bitter poison to others. In 2019, hyperconnected, health-focused consumers return to this premise and claim the obsolescence of one-size-fits-all dietary guidelines in favour of personalised nutrition (PN) approaches. Drawing on the recent advances in self-quantification technologies, affordable machine learning, and genome sequencing techniques, PN practitioners experiment with food products and services tailored to their individual lifestyle preferences as well as phenotypic and genotypic traits. These practitioners are often motivated by their distrust in official dietary recommendations issued by food and health authorities, and prefer a knowledge derived through self-experimentation. By measuring and quantifying their everyday food intake and outtake, they aim to develop a — supposedly precise — data-driven understanding of their bodies and diets. PN provides opportunities for empowered human-food relationships but also risks regarding limited scientific validity, health safety, and data security.
This talk presents findings from our long-term research on emerging PN technologies, practices, and issues. I will discuss a three-year ethnographic study of the Complete Foods community of ‘diet hackers’ replacing their daily meals with personalized food powders, and share insights from our recent DNA Diets project exploring the risks and opportunities of gene-based PN. The Complete Foods (CF) study (2014-2017) involved interviews with 65 CF dieters, a content analysis of three CF community forums, and two autoethnographic self-experiments where I probed the opportunities and limitations of the diet on myself. The DNA Diets study initiated in 2019, involves experiments with the Promethease service enabling a DIY analysis of personal DNA test reports, and crafting of dinner menus tailored to my and collaborator’s genetic codes. Findings from both case studies will be discussed within the broader context of food-tech innovation and data-driven optimisation of everyday food and health practices.
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