Eating the Ocean

Book Pages: 200 Illustrations: 29 illustrations Published: December 2016

Author: Elspeth Probyn

Cultural Studies > Food Studies, Ocean Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

In Eating the Ocean Elspeth Probyn investigates the profound importance of the ocean and the future of fish and human entanglement. On her ethnographic journey around the world's oceans and fisheries, she finds that the ocean is being simplified in a food politics that is overwhelmingly land based and preoccupied with buzzwords like "local" and "sustainable." Developing a conceptual tack that combines critical analysis and embodied ethnography, she dives into the lucrative and endangered bluefin tuna market, the gendered politics of "sustainability," the ghoulish business of producing fish meal and fish oil for animals and humans, and the long history of encounters between humans and oysters. Seeing the ocean as the site of the entanglement of multiple species—which are all implicated in the interactions of technology, culture, politics, and the market—enables us to think about ways to develop a reflexive ethics of taste and place based in the realization that we cannot escape the food politics of the human-fish relationship. 


"Elspeth Probyn wants to eat the ocean. I want to eat her book. It is one of the most profound works I have read on the sea, and the issues with which it presents us, in the 21st century, not least because it dares to digress and move into territories that other writers and academics have hitherto neglected."
  — Philip Hoare, Times Higher Education

"Eloquently written, Probyn's vivid detail brings us along her journeys following (and eating many) oysters, swimming with tuna, covertly eating endangered bluefin tuna, and tracking the history of herring quines and women's roles in fishing. . . . I learned so much about the state of our oceans, where our seafood comes from, the danger in always choosing tuna and salmon, and the role of aquaculture (which provides more than half of all seafood consumed by humans!), but most importantly, I was encouraged to think differently about what 'sustainability' means, which I think is so important as a person who works in this sphere." — Lisa Heinze, Sustainability with Style

"From a policy perspective, where queer and poststructuralist feminisms are completely absent from the framework, Probyn’s intervention is a much needed updating of sustainability discourses and food politics. As such, her account of herring wives and fish women is an important intervention into an environmental politics that either ignores women completely or that constructs them as virtuous consumers or vulnerable victims (105)." — Reese Simpkins, Angelaki

“I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well-argued and Probyn bases her judgement on sound research. I hope a philanthropist, one with a love of the sea, buys lots of copies of the book and sends them to all politicians who have a role in marine and fishing policy, to the many bodies that represent the fishing industries across the globe, the fishing companies, and to as many individual fishing boats as possible.”

— Geoff O'Brien, International Journal of Environmental Studies

"Eating the Ocean is fascinating in its emphasis on the interconnections and mutual influences among humans, ocean creatures and the ocean itself." — Carol J. Pierce Colfer, Agriculture and Human Values

"This slender but ambitious volume offers an excellent overview and discussion of contemporary social science and humanities literature and theorising about the sea and human relations to it.... This is a useful contribution and a significantly better approach than some social science literature about the sea that uses it as a metaphor without proper material engagement." — Penny McCall Howard, The Australian Journal of Anthropology

"This book is like a breath of fresh sea air, cool, briny, and gently laced with the scent of dead things.... In my experience, students love to learn about seafood. And this book provides a unique, and exciting overview of the topic. Meanwhile, it makes meaningful change to the politics of human-fish relations, and of gender in the social sciences more generally. Readers may also find the book an accessible introduction to fisheries research in the humanities, and to more-than-human ethologies in the social sciences." — L. G. Brown, FoodAnthropology

"Eating the Ocean is a call for a new kind of food politics, as much as it is a mapping of complex human-fish histories....Probyn’s imperative is to move the focus of contemporary food politics away from the domain of the terrestrial and its environmental limits." — Emily Potter, Australian Humanities Review

"Elspeth Probyn is without question complexifying how one might think about eating bivalves or fish, ranging from the tiny to the large, from the ocean. . . . [A] fascinating book." — Alexis Shotwell, Cultural Studies Review

"Eating the Ocean is a timely and masterfully judged intervention into debates in food studies." — Laura Colebrooke, Cultural Geographies

"Eating the Ocean guides its readers through the multiple and affective entanglements that constitute the complex web of relations that Probyn sets in motion. Her writing . . . will no doubt be of interest to many feminist geographers." — Beth A. Bee, Gender, Place & Culture

"Consistently thought-provoking. . . . Displaying a sophisticated grasp of recent developments in marine biology and drawing on a wide range of perspectives encompassing constructivism, postmodernism, cultural studies, and eco-feminism, Elspeth Probyn develops arguments that reveal the limitations of many simple prescriptions for managing human uses of marine resources and demonstrates the rewards to be derived from diving deeper into the complex forces that govern interactions between a variety of human actors and the physical and biological components of marine systems." — Oran Young, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Eating the Ocean is a recommendable piece for any reader interested in seafood politics, providing an intriguing journey to the entanglement of human and more-than-human life forms both under the surface of the ocean and terra firma. With its strong feminist approach, Elsphet Probyn’s book brings a refreshing sea breeze to the valuable work already existing about fish food politics." — Tarja Salmela, Gender, Work & Organization

"This is not a book to be skimmed. Readers will need to work their way through the various connections Probyn draws and think through how they feel about her assumptions. But they will be well rewarded for the time and thinking they invest. . . . Eating the Ocean offers a provocative perspective on how we consume the ocean and how we can do better." — Patricia M. Clay, American Ethnologist

"Beautifully written and full of profound ideas, Eating the Ocean engages the reader and surprises her at many turns. Elspeth Probyn complicates the current work being done on food politics, making this an urgent and necessary book for scholars of food studies, environmental culture, the materialist turn, consumer culture, and gender." — Sarah Sharma, author of In the Meantime: Temporality and Cultural Politics

"Once again Elspeth Probyn charts a contemporary site of contested encounters with style, humor, erudition, and wit. Moving on, through, and under the waves she provides a timely guide to eating the oceans more ethically by cultivating a metabolic sensibility more responsive to our entanglements with aquatic worlds." — Sarah Franklin, author of Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship


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Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elspeth Probyn is Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney and the author of Blush: Faces of Shame and Carnal Appetites: FoodSexIdentities.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Relating Fish and Humans  1
1. An Oceanic Habitus  23
2. Following Oysters, Relating Taste  49
3. Swimming with Tuna  77
4. Mermaids, Fishwives, and Herring Quines: Gendering the More-than-Human  101
5. Little Fish: Eating with the Ocean  129
Conclusion. Reeling it In  159
Notes  165
References  169
Index  183
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6235-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6213-5
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