Building Nature's MarketThe Business and Politics of Natural Foods

Building Nature's MarketThe Business and Politics of Natural Foods

Laura J. Miller

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226501239

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book provides a history of the American natural and health foods industry and its leadership in the social movement oriented to spreading a natural foods way of life. The natural foods case is used to consider the broader question of what possibilities open up and what limits emerge when private enterprise is involved in movements advocating for broad-based social and cultural change. Beginning with the first American natural foods advocates in the early nineteenth century, and continuing to the early twenty-first century, this history shows how the leadership of the natural foods industry was central to transforming natural foods consumption from a culturally marginal activity associated with religious minorities, immigrants, the elderly, and the infirm, to a hip lifestyle associated with the young, the fit, and the affluent. In the process, industry helped lead the natural foods movement away from an emphasis on asceticism and simple living, and towards a valuation of indulgence and material comforts. The book argues that instead of acting as a singularly eradicalizing force, the natural and health foods industry reinforced the natural foods movement's often radical rejection of medical expertise. The natural foods case demonstrates that business interests promote a flexible approach to cultural meanings and symbols, which undermines cultural authority and catalyzes cultural change.