Food producers are looking more and more to social practices such as anthropology as a means to propose innovations and secure their development. That is the case with Groupe SEB. Groupe SEB doesn’t actually produce food, but makes small home appliances and cookware. It’s made room for anthropology, and Olivier Wathelet, Ph.D., knows this. Wathelet is currently an employee at Groupe SEB. However, before joining Groupe SEB he was a post doctorate in the area of anthropology at the Institut Paul Bocuse Research Center, near Lyon, France. While at the Institut his work was based at Groupe SEB. He looked at addressing the challenges of food and nutrition in modern society. The idea was to closely study culinary actions to better understand consumer behavior and then propose more accurate cookware.

Anthropology finds and translates situations and practices from the individual point of view (as the individual perceives them without any preconceived ideas). With this in mind, Wathelet identified competencies that played a role for realization, success or failure of domestic food preparation. Anthropology also describes real practices in real locations and situations (Institut Paul Bocuse had its own experimental kitchen with a video recorder) and can point out decision processes as well as actions. Groupe SEB uses this research to identify practices that may be implemented in new products as well as to validate a new product.

This use of anthropology might well be expanded all through the food chain. It is already the case in some areas. The color the English or Spanish prefer their egg yolk surely influences poultry feed formulation. But anthropology could go further. For instance, how do university teachers on the west coast of the U.S. ask for their meal at lunch time? The fashion is no longer “What about a good piece of beef,” but rather “What do you mean you want to eat a piece of beef? That’s not good for your health.”

During its conference at the last Space exhibition in Rennes, France, Hervé Juvin of the Eurogroup Institute pointed out that this gives us another view of fashion and the way that it can influence consumption.

The same fashion can also influence those in politics. There are two hot topics currently on the European Commission and parliament agenda: medicated feed and the return of animal proteins in formulations for poultry, swine and fish under the curtain of the feed ban, a heritage from the mad cow years.

Although experts say the security of protein production is certain, the social acceptance of this return has elicited a mixed reaction from the different member states. This is a time of opportunity: one might learn a lot right now by looking more closely at what food means to each section of the population.