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Julie Guthman is professor of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author ofAgrarian Dreams: the Paradox of Organic Farming in California(2nd edition, 2014) andWeighing In: Obesity, Food Justice and the Limits of Capitalism(2011)
Becky Mansfield is professor of geography at the Ohio State University. She is the editor ofPrivatization: Property and the Remaking of Nature-Society Relations(2008).
The past decade has seen an avalanche of paradigm-shattering studies in the biological, toxicological and behavioural sciences: from findings published recently inScience and in Nature showing that sperm carry the marks of a man’s trauma and undernourishment, which leads to depression and metabolic glitches in his offspring, to the steady flow of research from the lab of the reproductive biologist Michael Skinner. Skinner’s research at Washington State University shows that in-utero exposure to environmental chemicals, such as those in plastics and pesticides, affects reproductive development, obesity and a wide range of diseases in adulthood. The weight of argument behind such findings suggests a radical conclusion: namely, that the environment not only influences the human body, it comes into it, shaping what it is – and who you are.
Such thinking cuts against the grain of what we’ve always thought about the human body: that its boundary is impermeable, its integrity complete, its unity sovereign. It suggests that we humans are nothing of the sort. We are porous, changeable, plastic.