Nutritional anthropology is a synthetic concept that deals with the interplay between economic systems, nutritional status and food security, and how changes in the former affect the latter. If economic and environmental changes in a community affect access to food, food security, and dietary health, then this interplay between culture and biology is in turn connected to broader historical and economic trends associated with globalization. Nutritional status affects overall health status, work performance potential, and the overall potential for economic development (either in terms of human development or traditional western models) for any given group of people.
Most scholars construe economy as involving the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services within and between societies. A key concept in a broad study of economies (versus a particular econometric study of commodities and stock markets) is social relations. For instance, many economic anthropologists state that the reciprocal gift exchange, competitive gift exchange, and impersonal market exchange are all reflective of dominant paradigms of social relations within a given society. The main forms of economy extant around most of the world today, in terms of a simple production, distribution, consumption model, are subsistence based and market economies. Subsistence refers to production and consumption on a small-scale of the household or community, while a market-based economy implies a much broader scale of production, distribution, and consumption. A market economy also entails the exchange of goods for currency, versus bartering commodities or being under continuing reciprocal gift exchange obligations. This is not to say that market economies do not coexist with subsistence economies and other forms, but that one type usually dominates within a given society. However, a broad array of scholarship exists, stating that market economies are rapidly increasing in importance on a global scale, even in societies that have traditionally relied much more heavily on subsistence production. This economic shift has nutritional implications that this entry will explore further.
The most important step in understanding the links between economics and nutrition is to understand major modes of production that societies have used to produce the goods (and services) they have needed throughout human history; these modes are foraging, shifting cultivation, pastoralism, agriculture, and industrialism (Park 2006).