Sensory labor: considering the work of taste in the food system

Christy Spackman, Jacob Lahne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The taste of foodstuffs has shaped entire economic systems. Yet many scholars have understood how one tastes as only a matter of aesthetics. New forms of doing work through the senses, associated with twentieth-century industrialized food production, have made it clear that the sensations produced by mouths and noses do more than mark class—they carry economic value. It seems that it is time we attend more closely to this sensory labor and its place in the food system. Recognizing perception as a form of labor mobilized throughout the food system offers to dissolve the apparent dichotomy between a focus on food as an object of consumption, evaluated on its aesthetic principles, and of production, evaluated on its ethical implications. Sustained examination of sensing as found in the essays in this issue demonstrates that the types and modes of sensory labor mobilized in the provisioning, making, and eating of food are not neutral—rather they coproduce modes of food production. In doing so, these essays not only open the door for valuing otherwise unacknowledged work, but also point towards opportunities for critical intervention in how we talk about and practice taste and, in the process, make society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-151
Number of pages10
JournalFood, Culture and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019


  • Sensory studies
  • coproduction
  • food consumption
  • food science
  • labor
  • sensory evaluation
  • value chains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies


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