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Healthy Food Blogs: Creating New Nutrition Knowledge at the Crossroads of Science, Foodie Lifestyle & Gender Identities

I’m delighted to share that my article, “Healthy Food Blogs: Creating New Nutrition Knowledge at the Crossroads of Science, Foodie Lifestyle, and Gender Identities,”* was recently published in the thirty-sixth edition of Yearbook of Women’s Historya special issue titled, “Gendered Food Practices from Seed to Waste,” edited by Bettina Bock and Jessica Duncan, available for purchase here.

My article explores the intersection of nutritional and foodie discourses within a selection of popular “healthy food blogs” in the United States. This subgenre of food blogs combines health-conscious recipes, nutrition education, and the theme of “clean living” with the stylized preparation, plating, photography, personal narrative, and consumptive lifestyle that typically characterize food blogs.

Through content analysis and close reading, I analyzed twelve blogs that were featured in Shape Magazine’s online list, “Our Favorite Healthy Food Blogs,” published in summer 2014. Google searches for “healthy food blogs” confirmed these blogs’ relative popularity among readers, and several blog authors have published cookbooks based on their blogs, placing them among a select group of well-known and financially successful food bloggers. This list of blogs also makes a useful sample because the Shape feature included interviews with the bloggers, which provide additional pertinent data of a nearly ethnographic quality. For example, these interviews summarize how each blogger conceptualizes “healthy food” and “good nutrition,” as well as how they position their own food blogging in relation to nutrition science.

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Thumbnail images from the healthy food blogs Shape featured.

These blogs create new knowledge about food, eating, and health. Principally engaging Gyorgy Scrinis’ concept of “nutritionism,” I examine how nutrition knowledge on these blogs—positioned at the crossroads of competing paradigms—is constructed, disseminated, and consumed, as well as how it might be renegotiated. I demonstrate how these healthy food bloggers construct authority and expertise through variable combinations of professional credentialing (for example, as registered dietitians or certified health coaches) and life experience growing, cooking, and eating food, as well as experience following a particular diet, losing a significant amount of weight, or mothering. I also explore how blog content aligns, contradicts, and/or renegotiates conventional dietary advice, such as government dietary guidelines that until recently promoted lower fat diets. This comparative analysis reveals the ongoing contest for the authority to speak for our bodies and to define a “healthy” diet and identities.

In the case of healthy food blogs, this authority is intertwined with the construction of a hyper-feminine domesticity that is distinctly white, middle class, and heteronormative, which potentially limits the transgressive potential of these media forms. I build upon past analyses of “food porn” to apply the concept of food pornography to the representation of bloggers themselves.

I investigate the role food porn plays in producing and sustaining food inequalities and the social politics of inclusion and exclusion. I thus consider not only spectacular representations of food, but also the highly curated aesthetics of food bloggers’ appearances, bodies, and social relationships. Just as food blogs display food porn through photography and presentations of unrealistic and remarkable food lives, these blogs also depict fantasies of hyper-femininity through Hollywood-esque friendships and courtships, dream weddings, blissful marriages, slim and “healthy” bodies, and perfect motherhood. Just as food porn renders food and cooking seemingly out of reach for many consumers, these representations of healthy food bloggers similarly limit “successful” performances of femininity, containing it within hyper-feminine, heterosexual, white, and relatively affluent bounds.

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Thumbnail images from the healthy food blogs that Shape featured.

Although these healthy food bloggers resist, negotiate, and transform conventional nutrition education and dietary advice, these representations of hyper-feminine domesticity are inherently part of the food, nutrition, and health knowledge that they produce. It remains to be seen if the highly curated pages of food blogs may also be a space for postfeminist action. This sample of food blogs reveals significant tensions between progressive and regressive representations of femininities, which curtail the socially transformative potential of these new food knowledges, even as they effectively decenter nutrition science’s dietary hegemony.


Acknowledgements

For their most helpful feedback, comments, and support of this article, I thank the organizers and participants of the 2015 Southern Foodways Alliance graduate student conference and the Graduate Association for Food Studies‘ Future of Food Studies Conference, as well as Fabio Parasecoli, Suzanne Enzerink, Lukas Rieppel, the reviewers, and the editors, particularly Jessica Duncan.


About Gendered Food Practices from Seed to Waste

This fascinating issue dedicated to the topic of food and gender contains ten articles and one showcase interview with Johanna Maria Van Winter, author of Food and Nourishment in Medieval Europe and Spices and Comfits: Collected Papers on Medieval Food, among many others. As mentioned in the special issue’s title—from seed to waste—editors organized the articles within the structure of the everyday food cycle starting with food growing before processing, selling, and serving; buying and cooking; and eating; then concluding with cleaning and disposing.

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Cover image of Yearbook of Women’s History 36.

The editors write, “The collection of papers contained in this Yearbook showcase that food practices have important implications for gender identities, social norms, socio-economic positions, relations of power, and bodies” and form “a curious, complex, and compelling picture.” It is available for purchase here.


* Yes, I’ve learned my lesson about giving articles titles that are way too long. I’ll never do it again. Learn from my mistake.

Featured image: Shape.

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