a row of metal milk containers

Call for papers: Microbes, food, and food systems

By Maya Hey (CSSM) and Sarah Elton (University of Toronto)

We invite submissions for a special section titled “Microbes, food, and food systems” in the transdisciplinary journal Gastronomica.

Microbes are hailed both as a peril and a promise to food systems. In a western context, microbes have been vilified as agents of disease and decay, giving rise to regulatory, infrastructural, and colonial containment strategies and rhetorics of hygiene which persist today. At the same time, microbes offer appealing alternatives to extractive food systems, with contemporary examples such as precision fermentation that bypass macro-organisms like cows and chickens, or bokashi composters that convert household food waste into soil nutrients without relying on agro-chemical industries. Growing momentum in gut microbiome research also increasingly connects health outcomes with biodiverse environments and food intake, such that microbes mediate and are mediated by encounters across eater, eaten, and eating contexts. Disparities across society also raise concerns about how some people are (made to be) more vulnerable to microbial toxicities due to physiological, historico-social, or geopolitical reasons. Further, the purported promises of microbial hacks and innovations are kept accessible only to narrow echelons of society, posing questions about justice and equity of human-microbe futures. Microbes have been—and will continue to be—in and around food systems and their attendant power relations, which warrants special attention by multi- and trans-disciplinary scholarship.

This themed section looks at where and how microbes tangle up with humans in food systems. We seek submissions that explore the myriad of ways that microorganisms are involved in the growing, harvesting, raising, slaughtering, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, purchasing, cooking, cleaning, and consumption of foodstuffs. Whether through practices (e.g., fermentation, composting, using antibiotic-laced animal/fish feed), products (e.g., probiotic supplements, raw milk cheeses), institutions (e.g., provincial/federal abattoirs, biotech companies like Perfect Day), or place-based interventions (e.g., post-Western “war on germs,” reverse osmosis technologies in Haiti’s cholera epidemic), microbes are ripe for analysis. This list is illustrative, not exhaustive, and we are open to other takes on microbial happenings in food systems.

We welcome research that spans, but is not limited to, laboratories, soils, fields, farms, kitchens, restaurants, markets, waste facilities, and the move from one space into another (e.g., lab to field, field to kitchen, kitchen to intestine). We also invite submissions from all geographic regions, as well as different disciplinary vantage points (e.g., humanities, social science, agroecology, biotechnology, culinary praxis, design, and beyond), and a variety of methodological approaches as well as artistic contributions. We can print full color photography or other imagery, publish long form essays, or even translations of relevant work. Thus we seek empirical, applied work, theoretical, speculative work, as well as arts-based explorations.

Deadline for submissions: we welcome abstracts (400-500 words) by 01 July 2024, with the expectation that selected full papers would be submitted by 15 December 2024. Please send your abstracts directly to our emails: maya.hey@helsinki.fi and sarah.elton@utoronto.ca. We would be pleased to discuss your ideas for submission in advance of the deadline.

Related people

Maya Hey
Postdoctoral researcher

University of Helsinki