Rethinking food as animate

Rethinking food as animate

Shared by Lisa-Marie Gagliardi


With a magnifying glass over the lens of the iPad camera, Laura and I captured photos of decomposing apples. I posted these photos on the classrooms walls inviting responses from children, parents, and educators. The apples seemed to be unrecognizable as many people could not identify that the photo was of an apple. In addition to the photos, I collected remnants of my breakfasts –apple cores, strawberry leaves, banana peels, and left them on one of the classrooms shelves. Together with the children, we noticed the food leftovers transform and decay. Before long, fruit flies joined in as well.

Staying close with decomposing food invites opportunities to think with decay and death in unfamiliar ways. We sought ways to think with decay and death with a particular pedagogical commitment to disrupt the human-centered utilitarian logics that fuel ongoing environmental destruction and contribute to climate crisis and food insecurity. Unsettling Euro-Western logics of separation and human exceptionalism brought up an awareness of how “contemporary western identity has rejected the otherworldly significance and basis for continuity, but has given it no other definitive meaning, provided no other satisfactory context of continuity or embeddedness for human life” (Plumwood, 1993, p. 101). Confronting Euro-Western conceptualizations of death that sustain separation and human boundedness, we turn to ways of knowing that promote ecological responses to continuity in more-than-human worlds. Plumwood (2008) refers to Indigenous ontologies that foster an imaginary of life and death as circulatory, reciprocal and mutually nurturing, “as a gift from a community of ancestors, [in which] we can see death as recycling, a flowing on into an ecological and ancestral community of origins” (p. 325).

The decaying food was a lively multispecies event that offered an opportunity to think with the grammar of animacy (Kimmerer, 2013), which complicates food relations by thinking with the liveliness of food. To rethink food with the grammar of animacy draws attention to “the animacy of the world, the life that pulses through all things… this is the language that lets us speak of what wells up all around us” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 55). With the grammar of animacy, food pedagogies refigure food as alive and active. Perhaps most perplexing is how the grammar of animacy refigures food as a subject in food relations, which complexifies the relational logics that position food as an extractable resource and tool. How might thinking with food through the grammar of animacy unsettle, activate and rethink how to ethically be-, learn- and become-with food?

Unsettling the sedimented status of food as dead and inanimate makes food unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Drawing on black feminisms, Chen’s (2012) work on the productive and generative affordances of animate materials supports a rethinking of relational common food worlds. While human-centered logics position animacy as “shaped by what or who counts as human, and what or who does not” (Chen, 2012, p. 30), reimagining food as animate initiates a trajectory in which it is possible to attend to nonhuman animacy and enact an ethics of care. Disrupting the ways that humans hold food that at a comfortable distance – inanimate, insensate, dead – enlivens an obligation to care for nonhuman others and attend to the ways in which food animates socio-material life in significant ways. In this sense, “animacy itself can be queer, for animacy can work to blur the tenuous hierarchy of human-animal-vegetable-mineral with which it is associated” (Chen, 2012, p. 98).

Food animacies create an ontological shift in food relations that matter. Imagining food animacies as a pedagogical provocation interrogates consumerist logics, which perpetuate anthropocentrism and colonialism, and cultivate a hope for more liveable futures in the midst of ecological decay.



Chen, M. E. (2012). Animacies biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect. London, UK: Duke University Press.

Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the teachings of plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Plumwood, V. (2008). Tasteless: Towards a food-based approach to death. Environmental Values 17, pp. 323-330. doi: 10.3197/096327108X343103

Plumwood, V. (1993). Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge.

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