An Ethnographic Investigation into the Cultural Dynamics of Future Eating

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How do people eat, who eats which food, why and what does it mean to eat?

Those are questions underlying our research that sheds light on eating and nutrition from an anthropological point of view. From this particular perspective, we look at eating as more than a functional intake of food, serving merely the continuation of existence – we regard eating as a cultural technique that is both meaningful and constitutive of meaning and identity. The aim is thus to carve out and analyze the social and cultural dimensions of eating and the everyday practices in which the intake of food takes place.

The methodology of an anthropological approach to food and eating as a cultural practice are ethnographic and experimental methods that allow for investigating the relations between societal contexts and divergent practices of food intake. In particular, an ethnographic approach is not limited to interview-based methods. Eating practices are often incorporated, highly routinized and socially conventionalized. How we ear and why we do so and not in a different way is often not even consciously knowable for the individual. Therefore, ethnographic methods are based on intensive and regular participant observation of specific situations in order to record actions as well as action processes, interactions and the dynamics of interactions, and the setting of particular practices, to later link these data with the data gathered in interviews and informal conversations.

By means of participant observations in diverse social settings in which individuals eat, prepare food, and in which interaction between individuals via food takes place and in which food and eating are being discussed, we aim at generating a deeper understanding of the ways in which social and cultural factors and crucial differences impact specific eating practices. The sample will be composed by carefully selected settings that are as diverse as possible, in order to capture the broadest possible range of milieus, professional groups, educational backgrounds, ages and gender etc. and generate a thorough analysis of eating practices.

In the context of the f4f project, the ethnographic investigation contributes importantly to diversify the perspectives on eating and nutrition. As F4F anticipates in an innovative way the future of food, it is crucial and highly relevant to enrich these perspectives on the future with an analysis of real-life eating practices and the social and cultural dimensions of food.

Text: A. Heitger, J. Niewöhner, IRI THE-Sys HUB

Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys)
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin


Project duration
August 2019 - July 2022

Interaction with f4f and associated partners

portrait of Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner

Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner

T +49 (0) 30 2093 66330

Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner is Director of the Integrative Research Institute Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His research focuses on environmental anthropology, science and technology studies, and the ethnography of cultural-ecological transformation processes. In food4future he leads the subproject "Ethnographic investigation of the cultural dynamics of future eating.

Portrait of Anna Heitger

Anna Heitger

PhD Student
T +49 (0) 30 2093 66438

Anna Heitger is a doctoral researcher at the the Integrative Research Institute Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In the context of food4future she conducts an ethnographic research of eating practices. Her research interests are ethnographic methods and practice theory approaches, new theories at the intersection of science and technology studies and cultural and social anthropology, as well as phenomena in which the relationality uf human and environment lies at the core.


Heitger, A., Biedermann, S., Niewöhner, J. (2021): More-Than-Human Eating. Reconfiguring Environment | Body | Mind Relations in the Anthropocene. In: Berliner Blätter 84, 35–48.
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