Branwyn Poleykett

Research Fellow

What should we eat? How can we eat well while reducing the environmental impact of the global food system? My research is concerned with the promotion of “healthy and sustainable” diets, the struggle to define the composition of those future diets, and the specific ways in which dietary advice comes to ground in the West African city of Dakar. For the past three years I have been conducting research in the Dakar suburb of Pikine studying everyday eating and changes in how people procure, prepare and share food. People in Dakar are exposed to rampant food insecurity and hunger while they grapple with a new crisis: rising rates of diet-related chronic disease. My research has drawn out conflicts between nutritionism and local ways of valuing food and I have produced a series of publications on the senses, food and flavour; the translation and domestification of dietary advice; and care, eating and chronicity across the lifecourse. My work is increasingly concerned with the “sustainability” of diets. How should we define sustainable eating in this context? What kinds of cultural frameworks and social practices – from cultivation to cooking – do people use to imagine, interpret and practically assemble sustainable eating futures? And what can we learn from that for emerging “planetary” perspectives?

My PhD (LSE, 2012) examined recruitment to transnational medical research in Dakar and the construction of commercial sexuality as a risky practice. As a postdoctoral fellow with the Anthropologies of African Biosciences research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of Cambridge I developed a project exploring how scientific values are imagined and re-made in contemporary East Africa in the era of Global Health. From 2014-2018 I worked at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge as a Research Associate on an ERC-funded project on the visual representation of epidemics. The primary outcome of this post is my book manuscript Lines of Sight: Development, Decolonisation and the Image World of Senegalese Hygiene. The book uses visual analysis to examine how colonial and postcolonial authorities have used photographs, educational cinema, televisions clubs, manuals, diagrams, maps and murals to conjure, capture and communicate with publics. Challenging the idea that “good communication” involves breaking through what is doubtful or undetermined, I argue that global health has much to learn from everyday communication in Dakar, a city famous for its residents’ constant, expressive annotation of public space.

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