Our current political moment has incited numerous protests and with them a new cohort of protest posters, including ones that engage food as resistance in ways literal and metaphorical, scathing and humorous. Megan Elias has begun a public history project to archive these political ephemera—Dishing it Out: Food-Themed Protest Posters. Megan is a historian who writes about food in the US. Her new book, Food on the Page: Cookbooks and American Culture (Penn Press) will be out in June 2017. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about Dishing It Out:
Emily: What inspired you to start gathering these images of food-themed protest posters?
Megan: I noticed the shawarma poster at a protest that I went to in NYC and then a friend in Boston posted a picture of a sign about coffee. The connection jumped out at me because I’m always thinking about food’s roles outside the kitchen. I thought that if this was a trend it would be one worth thinking about.
What do you think these images tell us about food history—and about food politics?
I’m hoping to get other people to work this out with me. I think there are lots of different things going on. One thing that is fascinating for me is that some signs foreground the tendency to embrace the foods of another culture while keeping the people associated with those foods at arms length. Another thing I see is that this contemporary collection of protest movements incorporates humor really openly and that food can help people make their jokes. The use of cheetos to identify the president is a great example of this. It’s not just because they’re orange and he wears tanner—no one calls him Mr. Carrot. Cheetos carry some other code that people find useful for mocking Trump.
Which poster resonates with you the most?
The first poster I saw, “Who the Fuck Hates Shawarma,” still interests me most and is what made me want to start this collection. It’s so insouciant but also a great question: to what extent does our own self identification within the American political system shape what we will and won’t eat? You can take the sign literally: are there people who hate shawarma because it comes from the Middle East?
If you would like to add an image of a food-themed protest poster to this project, provide an update to any of the image captions, or contribute an interpretive piece based on the image collection, please use the contact form on the Dishing It Out website.