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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

EATWELL: A Comparative Material-Semiotic Ethnography of Food Systems and More-than-Human Health in Bhutan

Alternative title: Matsystemer, helse og økologi i Bhutan: en komparativ etnografisk tilnærming (EATWELL)

Awarded: NOK 12.0 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2027


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Food systems—food from production to digestion and related contexts—contribute significantly to disease and environmental degradation. Hence, transforming food systems is thus key to improve sustainability and health, and requires attentiveness to the physical and meaningful aspects that affect food production and consumption. This project seeks to enrich the current sustainable-food-systems-for-health agenda by including important socio-cultural aspects besides the more common nutritional, biological, ecological, and technological aspects in the development of an integrated approach to food system. EATWELL pursues this holistic ambition with Bhutan as our informative and critical case. In a first stage, we will examine and describe the food system in the cultural heartland of Bhutan, exploring the cultivation, foraging, herding, eating patterns and the like. We will thereafter examine why the food system is constituted the way it is by examining its connections with broader environmental, cultural, and religious factors. After describing and explaining how food systems and practices are constituted, we will investigate their effects on nutrient intakes. In a second stage, we will scale-up this examination of the food system to additional sites across Bhutan. The methods for investigation entail ethnography, nutritional surveys and extended ethnographic nutritional case studies. The project has following key aims: 1) Turn food systems approaches more sensitive to local environments and cultures, 2) Learn from Bhutan’s approach to happiness and environment as they have been key in developing a more socially-oriented approach to development, 3) Improve health and nutrition in a culture-sensitive way by engaging stakeholders and relevant actors and end-users in Bhutan, and 4) Craft a model of food system development that contributes to Sustainable Development Goals in a culture-sensitive way and that can be replicated and adapted in different contexts.

EATWELL examines the entanglement of food systems and health in the context of One Health, Planetary Health, and the like, considering interconnections between people, animals, plants and environments that shape health. Yet, we seek to enrich these by deploying the concept of more-than-human health and by studying Bhutanese approaches to the environment, food, nutrition and health, and thereby critically assess the biological universalist assumptions undergirding these global approaches. Our interdisciplinary global team will examine the food systems in their complex entanglements with health, nutrition and biosocial environments. We first conduct a material-semiotic ethnography in Bumthang and subsequently scale up to four other sites in Bhutan for comparison. In these sites, we will examine key physical and socio-cultural aspects pertaining to cultivating, cattle and yak herding, foraging, buying, cooking, sharing and eating as well as how these vary according to different contexts, including everyday life, ritual events, healing and biomedical practices, gender and age (WP1 & 5). We add a particularly focus on the entanglements of food with different conceptualizations and enactments of body, health and cosmology (WP2 & 5). We will also conduct an extended ethnographic nutritional case study where food consumption and nutritional intake are measured, aided by our embryonic food composition table, and determine how intake is shaped by different contexts and practices. A nutritional survey of 1000 people further contextualizes our ethnographic findings (WP3). After Bumthang, we scale up in WPs 4 and 5 by training additional staff to expand the first three WPs to other locations and integrate and compare the research findings. To conclude, we will develop an institutional frame for continued interdisciplinary research on food and health, and for multi-sectoral cooperation in policy implementation in Bhutan and beyond.


FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam