Epicurean Endocrinology uses food and vernacular cooking to examine the intersections of food production, endocrine disruptors, corporate/institutional influence and cultural ideology as they relate to biopolitics. By framing careful examination of the ways in which food affects hormone production and use in human bodies through the communal and culturally resonant act of cooking and consumption, we are bringing awareness to the ways in which endocrine disruptors permeate food through biological processes and by industrial agricultural externalities. Central to the project is investigating and representing the ways in which food affects notions of gender and entrenches gender norms, and the ways in which corporate and institutional actors influence endocrine systems in ecobodies through industrial waste, agricultural runoff and other “residues of neoliberal pursuit”.
Epicurean Endocrinology wants to explore the potential of food as an emancipatory technology and act of resistance against marginalizing forces. We seek to facilitate criticality toward the marginalizing forces of corporations and institutions through their definitions and entrenchment of “norms”, and provide a framework for harnessing and deploying these residues of neoliberalism against the very system that allows them to proliferate public space.
The human endocrine system produces the hormones responsible for growth, sleep, reproduction, mood, and our internal sense of time - amongst other things. It is the body’s operating system, its clock, its calendar, and its pharmacy. The hormones responsible for physical sexual development in adolescence, as well as sexual function, are present in both sexes to differing degrees. The primary sex hormones are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Many external factors can alter the body’s internal hormone production and distribution system. Organic factors include body composition, muscle mass, activity level, nutrition, light and temperature exposure. Humans have learned to synthesize our hormones in order to regulate fertility, speed healing, and promote muscle growth.
Other influences are human-produced and largely unintentional. For instance, in the past decade there’s been growing alarm about the amount estrogens being passed into the water table via the urine of women on hormonal birth control and hormone replacement therapy. Research has shown that hormone-mimicking and hormone-disrupting compounds are present in many commonly used products such as plastics, cosmetics, and cleaning products.
Endocrine disruption also occurs via agricultural processes, including agricultural pesticides and herbicides, as well as hormones used in milk and meat production. The best known of these compounds being atrazine. The effects of these disruptive influences are as widespread as the distribution of industrial agriculture and pharmaceuticals. The presence of these hormones and endocrine reactive compounds is thought to be linked to cancer, infertility, early menarche, feminization of males, and other (mostly ill) effects. Slightly more to the outfield, holistic practitioners posit that certain health phenomena such as systemic yeast infections, obesity, ovarian cysts, low testosterone, and endometriosis are caused by the hormone disrupting effects of certain foods.
As we know from witnessing the changes brought about by puberty, the body reacts swiftly and visibly to shifts in sex hormones. Hormones taken to alter the body for the purpose of fertility or sex transition also cause rapid and broad changes in body composition, mood, sensitivity, and even personality.
While corporations honed a gender-based marketing strategy in the twentieth century, many new chemicals with hormone-mimicking properties wound up in the industrial food supply -- chemicals which endocrinologists now understand, can alter sex-linked physical characteristics and reproduction on an ecosystem scale. Ironically, the gendered symbolism of food products and the sexual valence of their chemical contents often do not align, failing on a level that few consumers would notice to uphold the normative promises of commercial imagery. When the public does discover such disjoints, it's often the occasion for conservative outrage about the “unnaturalness” of modern life. Epicurean Endocrinology proposes that prying open the gap between consumer symbolism and the workings of our industrial food system is critical and empowering.
Epicurean Endocrinology encompasses a number of projects, presentations, and writing about food, gender, sex, ecology, and hormones. Past endeavors include phyto-hormone infused Masculinizing and Feminizing Meals, which presented meals containing as many plant and animal food-based estrogens and androgens as possible. Down-Home Molecular Gastronomy uses mutated tropes of haute-cuisine to investigate the intersections of class and the perception of food as entertainment or commodity.