Rosalynn A. Vega, “Nested Ecologies: A Multilayered Ethnography of Functional Medicine” (U Texas Press, 2023)

Each body is a system within a system—an ecology within the larger context of social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental factors. This is one of the lessons of epigenetics, whereby structural inequalities are literally encoded in our genes. But our ecological embeddedness extends beyond DNA, for each body also teems with trillions of bacteria, yeast, and fungi, all of them imprints of our individual milieus. Nested Ecologies: A Multilayered Ethnography of Functional Medicine (U Texas Press, 2023) asks what it would mean to take seriously our microbial being, given that our internal ecologies are shaped by inequalities embedded in our physical and social environments.

Further, Rosalynn Vega argues that health practices focused on patients’ unique biology inadvertently reiterate systemic inequities. In particular, functional medicine—which attempts to heal chronic disease by leveraging epigenetic science and treating individual microbiomes—reduces illness to problems of “lifestyle,” principally diet, while neglecting the inability of poor people to access nutrition. Functional medicine thus undermines its own critique of the economics of health care. Drawing on novel digital ethnographies and reflecting on her own experience of chronic illness, Vega challenges us to rethink not only the determinants of well-being but also what it is to be human.

Joan Francisco Matamoros Sanin is an anthropologist dedicated to Medical Anthropology and Anthropology of Masculinities as well as public education and dissemination of anthropological knowledge. He has a MsC and a PhD in Sociomedical Sciences from Mexico’s National Autonomous University. Matamoros has ample ethnographic experience in urban and rural areas in Mexico and Ecuador. You can find him on his Spotify and YouTube Platform (AnthropoMX) and in New Books Network. Currently he is a tutor in the Center for Regional Cooperation for Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as a postdoctoral fellow in CIESAS-Unidad Pacífico Sur (acronym in spanish for the South Pacific Center of Research in Advance Studies in Social Anthropology).

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