Food is not merely consumed for the sake of survival, but also to construct and to convey symbolic meaning.

The Symbolic Construction of Food Consumption in the Context of Food Insecurity (SYMBOLS)

This programme contributes to one of the three core research questions addressed by the CoE, namely: “Who are the ‘food insecure’, where are they located, what are their choices, strategies and opportunities when seeking food security, health, and well-being and how do these change in response to the changing food system?” It also constitutes one part of the theme on food contestation that offers perspectives on the food system from the point of view of the humanities. The core intuition of this project is that the consumption of food is situated within the social construction of reality and that cultural and religious symbols inevitable construct and distort the ways in which food is selected, prepared and consumed.

Values and beliefs play an important role in the interaction between societal structures and human agency with regard to the production, distribution and consumption of food at all levels – for the better but also for the worse. Food is not merely consumed for the sake of survival but also to construct and to convey symbolic meaning. This has implications for the ways in which food is acquired, prepared and consumed.

Values and beliefs also play an important role in the interpretation of the meaning of food in general and the consumption of food in particular. This project explores how the social construction of food takes place in contexts of deprivation and where food insecurity is experienced. How is the consumption of food symbolically reconstructed in contexts of food insecurity?

Social, religious and cultural meanings and value attached to food

The role of faith-based organisations in food security

Professor Ernst Conradie

Related Articles & publications
What do we do when we eat? Part 1: An inconclusive inquiry.

Conradie, E.M., (2016). What do we do when we eat? Part 1: An inconclusive inquiry. Scriptura 115, 1-17. doi:

Principal Investigators

Professor Ernst Conradie

Professor Ernst Conradie is based at UWC's Department of Religion and Theology where he teaches systematic theology and ethics. His...

Social Protection for Food Security

One in five children display stunted growth. Yet since South Africa's democratic transition in 1994, social protection programmes have increased dramatically.

Food Politics and Cultures: Humanities Approaches to Food

The POLITICS Programme explores human relationships to food, the power dynamics around food production and access and the meanings that food acquires in particular cultural and social contexts.

Food Governance and Policy Reform

The POLICY programme facilitates dialogue between researchers, the community and policy makers to inform policy making and shape research.

Persistence of Child Malnutrition in South Africa

The CHILDREN programme examines trends, determinants and consequences of food insecurity for mothers and children in South Africa

Shelves, Baskets and Plates

The PLATES programme investigates the dietary intake of poor and vulnerable South Africans, and details the food environments that shape food preferences and choices.

Food safety hazards that affect food security and how these can be...

If food is not handled, stored, distributed and prepared correctly, it can become contaminated and no longer be fit for human consumption.

Innovation and Technology for Enterprise Development

Organisational and technological innovations of food systems can help maintain and improve livelihoods through enterprise development for food security.

Understanding the National and Global Food System

The SYSTEMS programme is concerned with the structure, dynamics and influences on the South African food system and how this is changing.