Latest Posts

Reflecting on #OXYFOOD17, a Dream Food Studies Conference

Good conferences are sources of community and reflection, affirmation and critical discussion, exhilaration and satisfying exhaustion. #OXYFOOD17, the 2017 annual meeting and conference of the Association for the Study and Food and Society (ASFS) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS), was all this and so much more.

Hosted at Occidental College in Los Angeles, #OXYFOOD17 was the result of more than a year of planning by the conference team lead by John Lang. The writable walls in Johnson Hall welcomed us upon arrival (with a food pun), “All your wildest dreams have come to fruition.”

The event brought together hundreds of scholars from around the world, many motivated by the conference’s theme, Migrating Food Cultures. As ASFS President Krishnendu Ray remarked in his Presidential Address, the conference theme spoke to many of the most pressing food issues of our time, including food chain labor—not coincidentally the topic of the conference’s plenary panel, hosted and moderated by Evan Kleiman—and food policies, as articulated by Sharon Friel in her keynote address on how trade and investment affect food, nutrition, and health.

The conference theme and papers presented also addressed global flows of peoples, politics, ideas, knowledges, statuses, and identities. To pursue food studies and food systems now is to engage with these key concerns in all their plurality—to grapple with their stakes in our research, our teaching, and our service to communities both inside and outside of the academy.

With tools like the conference social media guide and resources from the “Social Media for Scholars” roundtable that I co-hosted with Katherine Hysmith and Fabio Parasecoli, our ASFS Twitter presence grows stronger and more lively each year. As a result, I’ve been able to craft more (and more dynamic) Storify stories from roundtables and panels throughout the conference in order to archive our event—here are the stories from last year’s conference, for reference.

Below are stories for sessions that I particularly enjoyed and learned from, but there were so many others. Check out #OXYFOOD17 on Twitter for the full feed of tweets. And if you create a post-conference Storify or blog post, please let me know and I’ll happily add it to the list!

Beyond incredible panels, discussions, events, and networking, #OXYFOOD17 was also a lot of fun, full of delicious meals, gorgeous California weather, and friends old and new.

I already can’t wait for next year’s conference and hope you’ll join us at the University of Wisconsin, Madison!

Listening to the Voices in Historic Cookbooks

“Listen to these cookbooks, to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. They are real voices.”

So declared Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, an eighty-five-year-old expert of culinary history and databases with a literal twinkle in her eye. Since 2009, she has taught the Reading Historic Cookbooks: A Structured Approach seminar at the Schlesinger Library in the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University—a women’s and food history treasure whose collection includes 25,000 cookbooks, 4,500 culinary pamphlets, and the papers of famed food figures like Julia Child, Elizabeth David, and M.F.K. Fisher.

I had the pleasure to spend last week there with Barbara Ketcham Wheaton and a baker’s dozen of seminar participants from around the world: professors, graduate students, bakers, historians, and cookbook enthusiasts. Together, we studied digital copies of hundreds of cookbooks from the 1390s to the 1920s from England and the United States, geographies limited only to keep the language requirements of the seminar accessible.

Group

Participants in Reading Historic Cookbooks, 2017. From left, first row: Paula Fujiwara, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Jeri Quinzio, Michael A. Denner; second row: Juliet Tempest, Emily Contois, Merit Hondelink, Pamela Cooley; third row: Maryellen Burns, Ali (Mary) Sharman, Katie Sampeck; fourth row: Tom Nealon, Marzena Keating, Audrey Faber. Not pictured: Kate Helfrich.

Cookbooks speak of more than what people ate or how they cooked in a particular time and place. Even as we began studying at the micro-level of ingredients, Wheaton remarked, “We’re looking at small details, but they tell big stories.”

Cookbooks tell us about joy and sorrow, feasting and fasting, the quotidian and the spectacular. These are stories of nature and humanity, seasonality, locality, and geography; of trade routes and global relationships. These are histories and transformations of religion, philosophy, medicine, and technology; of literature and literacy, markets and marketing.

Cookbooks also reveal much about identities and politics, such as the role and rights of women. During the early centuries of cookbooks, these texts were written by men and for men, most often the managers of court and estate kitchens, not for cooks themselves and certainly not housewives. The audience, tone, style, and content of cookbooks changed over time.

Cookbooks

A small selection of the English and American cookbooks from 1390s-1920s studied during the seminar.

From reviewing her massive corpus of digitized cookbooks, Wheaton estimates that the first cookbook published by a woman was in 1596 in Germany—home to the printing press and a Protestant country where literacy was promoted more democratically than throughout Catholic Europe. As a result of these dynamics, cookbooks published by women would not appear in Spain or Italy until the twentieth century. In England, Hannah Woolley started publishing cookbooks in the 1660s. Female-published cookbooks wouldn’t appear in France until the 1820s. Compared to these histories, women in what would become the United States were recognized as literate cookbook authors and readers from the beginnings of European settlement.

Acknowledging their vital position in history writ large and long, how does one read a historic cookbook?


The Structured Approach

Having conducted culinary research for more than fifty years, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton developed her “structured approach” when researching her book, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983) and in her efforts to develop a comprehensive database of cookbooks from around the globe. For her, a structured approach is about teasing apart the strands within a cookbook and developing a process of classification so one can see the whole, rather than just lists of ingredients and techniques.

Within the scope of the seminar, Wheaton broke down a cookbook, spending a day each on:

  1. ingredients
  2. the kitchen and everything in it
  3. the meal and menus
  4. the cookbook as a book and publication
  5. the cookbook as a socio-cultural object

As we began examining the ingredients within our day’s assigned cookbook, Wheaton prompted us to consider a robust series of questions: What ingredients appear regularly, and more rarely? How often would they have been available at the time of publication considering seasonality, life cycles, and trade routes? How would the ingredients have been procured: grown within the household, purchased at a market, bartered or traded for? What ingredients and flavors are combined together? What spices are used—and where would they have come from; how expensive might they have been? What were the ingredients’ sensory and nutritional properties? What would it be like to cook with them? To eat them? What ingredients don’t appear? What do these absences tell us?

CookbooksFeatureCollage

We mostly read from digital copies, but were lucky to view a few texts, shared with the seminar by Tom Nealon. Photos: Emily Contois

When we considered the kitchen, we catalogued everything in it. Drawing from details in our cookbooks, we pieced together the kitchen’s size, location, and organization, as well as its equipment, appliances, tools, and furnishings, taking note of their materials like cast iron, copper, wood, tin, aluminum, linen, and paper. We paid attention to what fuel sources were used and how a cook attended to cooking temperatures and times.

While teasing out these details usually requires closely reading a cookbook line by line, page by page, Alexis Soyer’s The Modern Housewife or Ménagère, published in London in 1851, clearly listed in great detail a perhaps aspirational (and decidedly promotional) batterie de cuisine:

Batterie1

Batterie2

The batterie de cuisine outlined in The Modern Housewife, 1851

A master promoter whose previous book, The Gastronomic Regenerator had sold more than 15,000 copies, Soyer also used The Modern Housewife to advertise Soyer’s Modern Housewife’s Kitchen Apparatus, describing it as the central instrument in a well-outfitted kitchen.

KitchenApparatus

Soyer’s kitchen apparatus, 1851

Moving on from kitchens, we read cookbooks that devised menus and meals. We considered examples for how to live on very little (such as Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife, 1835, 16th edition), as well as how to spend it all and eat lavishly, like the menu of a feast for Richard II in 1387 that called for 1,100 eggs, as well as the slaughter and preparation of 2,500 live animals.

As we analyzed cookbooks as objects of publication, we examined their size, shape, design, paper, and processes for printing and binding, transport and sale. We were fortunate to have Tom Nealon of Pazzo Books (and author of Food Fights and Culture Wars) among the seminar participants, who let us touch, smell, and generally fawn over several rare cookbooks.

TomNealon_Cropped.png

Tom Nealon of Pazzo Books sharing rare cookery books with seminar participants; Photo: Emily Contois, 2017

Lastly, we pondered cookbooks as social and cultural documents, ones that link “the writer, reader, cook, and eater.” Wheaton encouraged us to explore: Who wrote cookbooks, why, and for whom? Who published and sold cookbooks, and at what cost? Who owned these cookbooks, and what would it have been like to cook from them?


Thinking on Historic Cookbooks

While our approach to studying cookbooks was well structured, the seminar itself also included a lovely amount of unstructured time, a week spent around a table with a group of experts, available to answer any number of questions like: What is a bustard? (A big bird, sort of like a turkey.) A pippin? (A type of apple). Or a breame? (A freshwater fish.)

Especially with such unfamiliar ingredient and dishes, Wheaton reminded us that recipes, such as those from the fifteenth century, were not written for us and must be judged on their own terms. Reading for silences is also an important task, as what is left out in a cookbook often reveals details that were so commonly known they needn’t be recorded. At the same time, reading historic cookbooks results in many presentist giggles over apple-less apple pies, cakes that call for thirty eggs and fifteen egg whites, batters to be vigorously beaten for two or three hours (#armsofsteel), and vegetables to be boiled for a full hour, if they’re included on the menu at all.

While historic cookbooks contain some recipes we’d rather not cook and taste, there are many recipes that have stood the test of time or deserve to be revived. I’m quite tempted to try this recipe for Fairy Butter from Mrs. Frazer’s The Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Pickling, Preserving, etc., Edinburgh, 1795:

Fairy butter 1Fairy butter 2

Or this one for pop corn in Cookery As It Should Be, Philadelphia, 1856, which calls for seville orange juice:

Pop Corn

All in all, the way I’ll treat cookbooks in my research and teaching has been forever enriched. I wholeheartedly encourage others to apply for the seminar should it be offered in future years.

For more cookbooks, recipes, photos, and general commentary on the Reading Historic Cookbooks seminar, check out #readingcookbooks17 on Twitter.


Top image credit: Emily Contois, 2017

SaveSave

Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste

Whether crispy, creamy, or juicy, texture makes taste. Changing a food’s texture can also remake its taste—to eaters’ detriment or advantage. These gastro-scientific transformations have significant consequences when considering how to make healthy diets interesting, challenging, tasty, and appealing.

These are the insights of Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste, a new book published in February 2017 by the Danish team of molecular biophysicist, Ole G. Mouritsen, and chef, Klavs Styrbæk, who wrote together Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste in 2015. Mouthfeel was translated into English, revised, and adapted for a broader audience by Mariela Johansen. The final product from Columbia University Press is a beautifully executed text packed full of relatively accessible food science, stunning full-color photographs, and thought-provoking recipes.

Mouthfeel1

Mouthfeel is a gorgeously produced text with high-gloss pages and many full-color photographs and images. / Photo credit: Emily Contois

Fans of Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (also from Columbia University Press) will find much to love and think with in Mouthfeel, and with a welcome focus on the culinary.

Of interest to me as researcher in food studies and critical nutrition studies was Mouritsen and Styrbæk’s assertion that foods that engage all of our senses provide not only gastronomic pleasure, but also a potential path for eating well and healthfully. While Mouthfeel addresses these points in its introductory and concluding sections, the bulk of the text reads more like a textbook than a monograph making a critical argument.

Nevertheless, Mouthfeel very usefully articulates a set of common definitions and understandings for terms often used erroneously and interchangeably:

  • Taste is the recognition of taste substances by the taste bud.
  • Flavor is a complicated, multimodal, and multidimensional impression that engages all five senses (including mouthfeel), which are rooted in the nervous system.
  • Mouthfeel is a part of the somatosensory system that senses the physical stimuli of food’s textural properties, which arise from food’s structural elements. Mechanically, mouthfeel involves the lips, tongue, saliva, teeth, jaws, and nerves, as well as tactile sensations of the eating process like the feeling of food, breathing, chewing, and swallowing.

Building upon these definitions, Mouritsen and Styrbæk attest that mouthfeel has been the most neglected contributor to the experience of flavor, but one that ought to be recognized and understood.

Mouthfeel and Cooking

Cooking transforms mouthfeel and by extension flavor as well. The authors argue that foods with appropriate and pleasing textures can be prepared with less fat, sugar, and calories, and thus positively promote healthy eating patterns. Think the positive opposite of the food industry trends chronicled by Michael Moss in Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us or by former FDA commissioner David Kessler in The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

Recipes throughout the text make these food science transformations more tangible. The recipes range from pesto, instant churned butter, and caramelized potatoes to grilled beef heart, apple “fudge,” jellyfish “popsicles,” and chewy almond-milk ice cream. Some recipes are suited for the home kitchen and average cook (albeit one with some leisure time on her/his/their hands), while other recipes better serve as inspiration and aspiration.

Mouthfeel2

Recipe for and image of “Parmesan-Flavored Smoked Cheese with Dried Radishes.” / Photo credit: Emily Contois

The Language of Food—and Mouthfeel

Drawing from Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, the text also codifies a descriptive vocabulary for naming mouthfeel with words like “crisp,” which happens to be the most frequently used word to describe texture in the United States and in much of Europe. Classifications of texture, and the language that describes them, consider food’s mechanical, geometric, culinary, and nutritional qualities:

  • soft
  • firm
  • hard
  • creamy
  • juicy
  • tough
  • crunchy 
  • crackly
  • brittle
  • gummy
  • soggy
  • dry
  • tender
  • leathery

Playing Around with Mouthfeel

Nearly 200 pages of Mouthfeel unpack various food preparation methods as ways to “play around with mouthfeel.” Sections address the properties of heat and temperature, gels, gums, bubbles, and glassy glosses, as well as the characteristics of specific ingredients and foods—milk, eggs, beans, grains, and vegetables, along with soups, breads, seafood, and desserts.

Mouthfeel3

Photographs in Mouthfeel depict “eggs, twelve ways.” / Photo credit: Emily Contois

Along the way, call-out boxes in the text include numerous entertaining stories and examples that bring the science of texture to life:

/ Fascinating for scholars of gastronomy, the authors credit Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste for identifying in 1825 “a rudimentary theory of taste” that in many ways holds to the present.

/ The authors demonstrate how chocolate’s deliciousness is due, in part, to its special mouthfeel, a result of the specific melting properties of cacao butter.

/ Chapter Five includes the recipe for and story behind physicist Amy Rowat’s “perfect American apple pie.” One of the “secrets” for improving the mouthfeel of the crust is to cut up the butter into pieces of different sizes that resemble both almonds and peas. The large pieces create necessary air pockets, while the smaller pieces ensure that the butter is evenly distributed throughout the dough.

/ Chapter Five also includes ethnographic accounts of the hardest food in the world (katsuobushi, a fish fillet that is dried, smoked, and then grows a fungus) and the softest food in the world (konbu, large brown algae), which are both specialties of Japan.

/ Chapter Six decodes mouthfeel in every dish of an eighteen-course lunch at Nerua, located in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.

Conclusions: The Future of Food and the Perfect Meal

Mouritsen and Styrbæk conclude pondering why we like the food that we do, positing that the answer is more personal than universal and as complex as the science of sensation itself. In the final chapter, they consider how to create “the perfect meal,” citing the work of Charles Spence, who argues that such an effort requires a deep interdisciplinarity, drawing from experimental psychology, design, neuroscience, sensory science, behavioral economics, marketing, and the culinary aspects of chemistry and physics.

Mouthfeel4

In their concluding chapter, the authors consider, “Why do we like the food that we do?” / Photo credit: Emily Contois

As Mouritsen and Styrbæk imagine the future of food, they disavow a meal in a pill or a tube. They assert,

It is quite possible to get by with food that is mushy, provided it has the right nutritional content. However, it is hard to imagine that one would like this kind of food for an extended period of time.

They argue instead that the solution to feeding the world lies in efficiently harnessing the power of mouthfeel. While Mouritsen and Styrbæk would surely reject Soylent, they find food system solutions in interesting vegetables, aquaculture, and plant proteins with meat-like texture.

All in all, Mouritsen and Styrbæk provide a fascinating account of food, eating, and cooking that novelly places mouthfeel and texture at the center of the equation. Their work sets the record straight regarding the contribution of mouthfeel to flavor—as well as to gastronomy and health.


I was fortunate to receive a review copy of  Mouthfeel from the publisher. Mouthfeel is the newest publication in Columbia University Press’ Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History series, which includes Nicola Perullo’s Taste as Experience (which I reviewed here), among a host of other fascinating books.

Photo credit: Emily Contois, 2017

Sports, Gender & Society…and Food?

On Friday, April 7, I was fortunate to catch the webcast of the Radcliffe Institute’s fabulous conference, Game Changers: Sports, Gender, and Society. Why was a food studies researcher jazzed to learn more about sports? Well, the more I’ve studied food and masculinity in media and consumer culture, the more salient sports and athletic themes have become in my work.

As conference presenters emphasized, sports in American culture do much to create and sustain the gender binary, to subordinate and marginalize women, to construct conventional masculinity, to maintain notions of male superiority, and to uphold existing hierarchies of power that privilege white, male, able bodies.

This is why sports are repeatedly invoked in the dude food, men’s cooking, and manly dieting that I research. It’s why Coke Zero ads incorporate and run during March Madness, and why Oikos Triple Zero yogurt features the NFL seal on every package and NFL quarterback Cam Newton as the face of the product. It’s the reason Guy Fieri had a cooking show solely dedicated to tailgate food. It’s why Charles Barkley, Dan Marino, and Terry Bradshaw have each served as spokesmen for men’s commercial weight loss programs. Despite Title IX, despite the successes of women in sports, despite general social trends toward (at least somewhat) increasing gender equity, sports remain strongly ingrained as masculine in the American imagination. As a result, food makers and marketers invoke sports to negotiate masculinity in and through their products.

This is but one way that the themes of this conference apply to food (and my work), and there are certainly others. For example, the struggles of female athletes for access, resources, media coverage, and (well deserved) glory also mirror the challenges faced by female chefs for recognition and advancement. And in her comments, sportswriter Kavitha Davidson directly called upon advertisers to recognize female sports fans, noting (rightly) that women often not only consume the products advertised during sports broadcasts, but are the ones who purchase them. In many cases, these are food and beverages—and in the campaigns I’m researching, advertisers very frequently employ distinctly misogynistic messages that not only alienate female consumers, but also uphold and reinforce gender hierarchies.

Leaving food studies out of it, the conference panels, discussions, and remarks were fascinating in their own right and provide space to think about identities and justice more broadly in American society. I tweeted throughout the event and have gathered them here:


Top image credit: Emily Contois, 2017

Addressing Labor Across the Food System at the Just Food? Forum

The Just Food? Forum on Labor Across the Food System, held on April 1 at Harvard University, delivered a complex, layered, and expansive view of the challenges facing workers throughout the U.S. food system—addressing farm fields, dairies, meat processing plants, and fisheries; undocumented farmworkers, beginning farmers, restaurant managers, labor organizers, and food law experts; wages, worker living conditions, and the right to unionize (or not); sexual harassment, discrimination, racism, and threats of deportation; immigration reform, public health, and food justice—as well as what we as academics, citizens, and eaters can do to help and advocate for change in these areas.

As more and more eaters focus on what they eat, where it comes from, and how it is produced, we must all be just as deeply concerned for the rights and livelihoods of those who grow, process, transport, prepare, cook, serve, and dispose of our food.

 

I tweeted throughout this thought provoking event and have gathered them here as a recap:

This event was a collaboration of the Harvard Law School Food Law Society and Harvard Food Literacy Project, cosponsored by the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. For more information, see the program website.

Food Waste, Recovery & Insecurity: The Role of RI Colleges and Universities

Colleges and universities are untapped resources for fighting food insecurity. So said Becky Spritz of Roger Williams University on Friday, March 31 at a panel on food waste, food recovery, and food insecurity in Rhode Island, a state where 12% of households are food insecure, many of whom are working, but still suffering from poverty. This panel addressed the unique challenges and opportunities for colleges and universities to intervene in these issues.

Sponsored by the Providence Public Library, the Roger Williams University Honors Program, and the RWU chapter of the Food Recovery Network, the panel was moderated by Sue Anderbois, RI Director of Food Strategy and a Council Member for the RI Food Policy Council, and featured comments from:

From their insightful comments and those from audience participants, two main themes stood out to me:

While nearly universally embraced as “the right thing to do,” food recovery and food donation to food-insecure eaters requires navigating a series of tensions. 

A significant tension lies in that food recovery efforts must abide by food safety standards, requirements, rules, and codes. In some cases, these safeguards are onerous and worth revising or streamlining. In many cases, however, food safety remains an important consideration and one that often requires infrastructure that does not yet exist in some states and areas— like apps that immediately track available recovered food and route it to areas of need, as well as a team of refrigerated trucks with food safety certified workers to transport the food.

In addition, even food businesses that morally want to donate excess goods to feed the hungry must balance this imperative with their own fiscal responsibility and efficiency. A supermarket or restaurant donating lots of food each day, week, or month runs the risk of being perceived as, or actually being, irresponsible in their inventory planning, prep, and management.

Lastly, food business efficiency, food waste, food donations, and the needs of food insecure populations can represent competing goals and needs. Although food businesses increasing efficiency and reducing food waste are positive actions, they also reduce food donations, while food bank needs remain the same or, given recent economic conditions, even increase. If our current federal food programs and charitable feeding efforts remain constant, where will the food needed to feed the hungry come from if/when institutions meet their food waste reduction goals? Donald Ferrish of RWU proposed that in the college environment, administrators could transparently engage students in efforts to reduce food waste, pledging to donate funds gained from increased efficiency to the food bank so to contribute to the ongoing needs of food insecure populations.

As institutions and populations, colleges and universities pose specific challenges and opportunities for fighting food waste and food insecurity and promoting food recovery. 

Andrew Schiff commented that colleges have excess resources perfect for fighting food waste and food insecurity with student energy, knowledge, and empathy. Indeed, interest, activism, and volunteering among a select group of students often fuel food recovery efforts in university settings. Even if supported by engaged students, however, food recovery must constantly cope with the inevitable turnover of the student population.

Panel members also acknowledged the challenge of engaging the broader student body in sustainability and food waste reduction efforts. Steven Mello, director of dining services at URI, further elucidated the cultural nature of these challenges, arguing that students today arrive at college more demanding consumers and eaters, having grown up surrounded by food media. From dining services, they no longer seek a substitute for “mom’s home cooking,” but rather a buffet of options that rival restaurant fare, which increases food waste.

A final challenge lies in that while institutions of higher ed are poised to aid the food insecure in the surrounding community, colleges and universities are increasingly identifying, acknowledging, and addressing issues of student food insecurity. Much like how the United States balances food aid efforts internationally and domestically, universities must play a role in addressing these issues within their immediate campus population and their surrounding city and state community.

– – – – – – – – –

In the end, panelists emphasized that fighting food waste, ending food insecurity, and promoting food recovery require collaboration, coalition building, and culture change, which is slow and at times challenging, but urgent and worthwhile work.

“Lose Like a Man:” Gender & the Constraints of Self-Making in Weight Watchers Online

I’m pleased to share my newest article, “‘Lose Like a Man:’ Gender and the Constraints of Self-Making in Weight Watchers Online,” which was published in the spring 2017 issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, edited by Melissa Caldwell.

As a scholar of food studies and American studies, I find that analyzing the public faces of commercial diet programs gives me a way to examine and interpret American identity through what you could call an inverted foodways approach—not through what we eat, but through what we aspire so vehemently to limit and avoid. A nexus of discourses on food, bodies, health, and cultural ideals, dieting encapsulates the paradoxes and conflicts at the core of American identity: abundance and restriction, freedom and containment, aspirations and expectations.

Founded in 1963, Weight Watchers has been one of the most popular, long-standing, and financially successful commercial weight loss programs in the world. As an institution and a cultural force, Weight Watchers not only sells diet products, but also communicates, represents, and manipulates gender—more than ever with the launch of Weight Watchers Online for Men in 2007, a program “customized just for guys,” marketed with the tagline “Lose Like a Man.”

In this article, I demonstrate how Weight Watchers constructs masculinity and femininity—and what “Lose Like a Man” really means—by conducting a side-by-side comparison of the 90-second “How Does It Work?” videos for Weight Watchers Online and Weight Watchers Online for Men, which depict program “success stories” Bonnie and Dan. I first argue that Weight Watchers engages aspects of hegemonic masculinity as they endeavor to construct “masculine” dieting as wholly unique from “feminine” dieting through contrasting depictions of food, the body, and technology use—and binaries like masculine/feminine, rational/irrational, unhealthy/healthy, satisfaction/restraint, and public/private.

For example, the videos depict the meaning of weight loss differently for men and women, which variably represent the body. At the beginning and end of her video, Bonnie is depicted alongside her “before photo,” and her motivations to lose weight are framed around personal aspirations and concerns for her health. Dan, on the other hand, never appears in the same frame as his fat body, and his weight loss motivations are presented as central to his career success, and as a military sergeant, to the health of the nation state as well.

Contois_Figure1

Bonnie and Dan depicted with and without their “before photos” at the beginning of their “How Does It Work? videos. Images from weightwatchers.com (2013) and weightwatchers.com/men (2016).

These videos also reinforce food gender stereotypes as normalized aspects of men and women’s eating behavior and weight loss efforts. While Bonnie uses program cheat sheets to dine out at a restaurant and make “healthy choices,” Dan eats out at a stereotypically masculine location—a sports bar, filled with round, high-top tables, backless stools, and flat screen TVs—and orders tacos and pizza. The videos also depict Bonnie shopping for and preparing “healthy” foods in traditionally domestic spaces like the supermarket and kitchen, while Dan is shown “on the go” at a convenience store (buying chips) and grilling his favorite food (steak) outdoors.

Contois_Figure3

Bonnie and Dan using cheat sheets in different ways to dine out and “stay on plan.” Images from weightwatchers.com (2013) and weightwatchers.com/men (2016).

Bonnie and Dan also discuss Weight Watchers’ online tools in entirely different terms. Bonnie engages these tools intensely. She literally sits at a desk before a computer as if at work, while Dan says, “The tools are kind of like a video game.” For men, weight loss tools are part of a game, creating distance between the work, effort, and self-discipline of weight loss.

Contois_Figure6

Weight Watchers depicts the work of weight loss differently for women and men. Images from weightwatchers.com (2013) and weightwatchers.com/men (2016).

Analyzing the difference in the weight loss experiences that Weight Watchers Online promises reveals that Weight Watchers not only reinforces a strict gender binary, but also makes limited types of self available to women and men. While acknowledging the constant dietary and physical surveillance Weight Watchers requires of women, I argue that Weight Watchers also portrays female dieters on a difficult but actualizing and empowering journey toward a new and better self. Conversely, Weight Watchers depicts male clients losing weight easily, even effortlessly, but retaining a stable and immutable masculine selfhood throughout the process. While a complicated and ambivalent distinction, this constraint upon self-making exposes how patriarchy subordinates even the men assumed to profit the most from its power, as the male weight loss promise withholds transformative potentials.

If you have access to Gastronomica, I hope you’ll read the entire article and, as always, I’d love to hear what you think. I also hope you’ll check out the other fascinating pieces in this issue:

TOC

My Food Studies Students Designed Dietary Guidelines, Here’s What Happened

For the past two weeks, my students in Food in American Society and Culture at Brown University have been diving into critical nutrition studies, an emerging field that approaches nutrition science as a cultural construct, a product of history, and inextricably linked to notions of morality. I wondered how students might view food advice differently after learning the basics of this field of thought. Beyond that, how might they reimagine dietary guidelines?

Critical Nutrition Studies

Critical nutrition studies questions the assumptions that form the empirical truth and presumed objective authority of science, as well as the connections between science and food, the body, and human health. To varying degrees, critical nutrition scholars examine, critique, and reject the primary role of nutrition science in how eaters (and stages throughout food systems) relate to food and eating. They endorse moves to decenter nutrition and destabilize its hierarchical position within food knowledge production. This creates space for aspects like food production quality, degree of processing, and truth in marketing, as well as heritage, tradition, culture, identities, gastronomy, taste, and pleasure—to name but a few. [For a far more complete definition of critical nutrition studies, read Charlotte Biltekoff’s “Critical Nutrition Studies” in the The Oxford Handbook of Food History, published by Oxford University Press in 2012.]

In my work, I’ve taken a rather unexpected path toward critical nutrition studies. As an undergraduate, I studied the liberal arts, but also took the prerequisites to become a registered dietitian. I ended up studying Public Health Nutrition, and as I completed my graduate course work, I taught Introduction to Nutrition six times as a Graduate Student Instructor, believing myself—and quite literally indoctrinating hundreds and hundreds of students—in a perspective that I now readily question, unpack, and deconstruct. It was in my years working in worksite wellness that I began to seriously question whether we in public health should be telling people what to eat at all. Finally, pursuing an MLA in Gastronomy, hearing a roundtable discussion on critical nutrition studies at the 2012 ASFS conference, and attending the Critical Nutrition Symposium at UC Santa Cruz in 2013 each drew me into a critical nutrition studies perspective.

Furthermore, my current research not only engages food studies and critical nutrition studies, but also how they both intersect, inform, and contradict another emerging field—the history of nutrition science, a fascinating subfield of the history of medicine, that grapples with the histories of this “young” science. [If you’re interested in these histories too, join our new H-Nutrition network.]

Learning with My Students

As is often the case, working through these difficult concepts and questions with my students has been wholly satisfying. Over the course of two weeks, we read selections from several influential critical nutrition studies texts:

We were very lucky to have Charlotte Biltekoff in class with us to answer questions about her work. Using her comments and these texts, we also critically read primary sources offering dietary advice:

Students also contributed their own primary sources that answered the prompt:

Many sources within our foodscape tell us what we should eat—and as we’ve discussed through the aphorism “You are what you eat,” in effect tell us who we ought to be as well. Find an example of a source offering dietary advice and analyze it in 100-250 words, using Charlotte Biltekoff’s Eating Right in America as a point of reference. Consider: What dietary advice does your source offer? What and/or how does it say we should eat? How does the dietary advice and its author establish authority and expertise?

A few possible sources to get you thinking: family food advice, food advertisements, nutrition facts, food packaging, government dietary guidelines, magazine/newspaper articles, blogs, etc.

Students unpacked how sources as diverse as government dietary guidelines and food guides, BuzzFeed articles, Coca-Cola campaigns, Spoon University, fitness bloggers, diet books, and advocacy organizations each communicate dietary advice and expertise in ways that illuminate the complicated cultural politics of food and health.

Students’ Dietary Guidelines

Next, students accepted the challenge of designing dietary guidelines, informed by critical nutrition studies and aiming to make their dietary advice as inclusive, factual, and balanced as possible. Admittedly, this required accepting a set of assumptions, including the idea that we should tell people what to eat and that guidelines are a worthwhile tool, even if they can be moralizing and paternalistic. It was an experiment. We might fail, but we were going to try it out.

In groups of three or four, students titled their guides, set dietary goals, and drafted a set of recommendations, using a PowerPoint template I designed, so all design flaws and shortsightedness are mine.

Here’s what they came up with, shared with their permission:

As a class, we noted common themes that each set of guidelines endorsed and areas where they diverged, as well as the challenges inherent to designing guidelines in the first place:

Populations and Personalization

Students cared deeply about the challenge of making population level dietary guidelines that still made space for individuals: personal identities; ways of eating; bodies of various shapes, sizes, and abilities; levels of access and capital; and senses of self. They thought it was important for individuals to consider dietary information, but to make it meaningful to their own selves and circumstances, emphasizing themes of education, adjustment, and customization. Students cared about listening to one’s own body and learning what felt good on an individual level without judgement. At the same time, students struggled to create recommendations that were specific enough to be clear and meaningful without being exclusionary in at least some way. Furthermore, students acknowledged that writing pithy and concise goals and recommendations is a difficult task. In the end, many students felt like their recommendations ended up too vague to create an impact, developing a newfound respect for nutrition communication.

Joy, Pleasure, and Social Connection

Most groups endorsed the idea that food was a source of enjoyment, pleasure, and social connection, aspects worth emphasizing just as much as variety and portion control. At the same time, they struggled with identifying language that wasn’t moralizing. For example, even the recommendation, “Allow indulgences,” grew complicated. Students intended for it to endorse moderation in a positive way, but the very word indulgence incited debate, as it invoked a framework of good/bad and even redemption/sin that we didn’t want to support, but, at the same time, struggled to leave behind entirely.

Transparency and Inclusiveness

Students cared about what is in food, as well as where food comes from and about easily accessible and understandable information about food production and provenance. Charlotte Biltekoff’s message of “dietary literacy” resonated with them deeply—as did her clear claim that dietary advice embodies social ideals and by its very nature marginalizes and creates “unhealthy others.” More than anything else, students wanted their dietary guidelines to limit not certain foods or nutrients, but to limit paternalistic judgement and the moralization of foods, eaters, and bodies.

In the end, we might have ended up exactly where Charlotte Biltekoff in Eating Right in America said we would: that in questioning dietary advice, we end up in “a place of disorientation about what dietary advice is”—a first step to redefining and reimagining it. Here’s what we accomplished in two weeks. I’d love to find out where we might end up if we spent an entire term on these topics…


Have you engaged critical nutrition studies with your students or in your work? I’d love to hear about and learn from your experiences!


More about my food studies teaching:

What Is Food Studies?

In my editor’s note in the fifth issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, which launched online today, I considered how to define food studies, inspired by definitions put forth by Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik in Food and Culture: A Reader and by Jeff Miller and Jonathan Deutsch in Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods. What follows is a selection from that piece. You can read the entire essay here, and we hope you’ll enjoy the complete issue, here.


When tasked this semester to define food studies for my students, I proposed the following:

Food studies is a burgeoning, interdisciplinary, inherently politicized field of scholarship, practice, and art that examines the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience, including culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts.

I explained that our discipline is young, pointing to the emergence in the 1980s of texts now considered nearly canonical, such as Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power and Warren Belasco’s Appetite for Change, as well as the pioneering work of Mary Douglas and Carole Counihan. I declared food studies an interdisciplinary pursuit, one that is thrilling and innovative, if sometimes nebulous. I further clarified food studies’ scope as an academic field of research, writing, and teaching, but just as importantly, a field dedicated to building bridges between scholarship, practice, and art. Food studies is a field built on the connections between researchers and communities, addressing resources, assets, dilemmas, and solutions. I attempted to summarize the vast inclusiveness of our object of study, pointing to dynamics between culture and biology, individuals and society, global and local processes.

And I felt called to emphasize that our field is inherently politicized. Food studies scholars often assert that food—food culture, food access, and food sovereignty—is a human right. Food studies examines how food constructs identities. And food studies analyzes how governments shape and control food through food systems regulation, food labor policies, food and feeding programs, and support (or lack thereof) for food-related research and artistic expression.

As a result, food studies matters, now more than ever. I hope that this issue of the Graduate Journal of Food Studies incites critical thought, inclusiveness, and hope as we define and enact food studies in our current political climate.

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.

image-2

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.

image-1

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.

yearbook

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.

7 Things Food Studies Can Learn from Food Design

Food studies can learn from a similarly burgeoning and interdisciplinary field: food design. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 3rd International Conference on Food Design, organized and led at every step by Francesca Zampollo. The conference consisted of ten research and practice presentations and four keynote addresses, which were all shared online in a virtual environment. As my first virtual conference and my first food design event, I’m now reflecting on seven key things.

1. The ongoing definition of a field is a good thing.

Just as food studies continually immerses itself in processes of interdisciplinary self-definition, so too does food design. In an editorial in the first issue of the International Journal of Food DesignFrancesca summarized multiple definitions for the field, excerpted here. And Francesca further clarified the field of food design, identifying key categories:

  • food product design
  • design for food
  • design with food
  • food space design
  • eating design
  • food service design
  • critical food design
  • food system design

In their conference presentation, Ludovico Pensato and Alessandra Ivul of Panem et Circenses conceded their discomfort with having their work categorized as food design, which in Italy refers nearly exclusively to industrial design, invoking commerce and architecture more so than art and performance. In the end, such wrestling with a field’s definition, boundaries, and meaning ensures innovation and invention, commitment and care.

2. Play possesses enduring value.

Food designers incorporate a sense of play, which illuminates their work and passion for food. Even when discussing food dilemmas—like the tension between health and indulgence—Deger Ozkaramanli, of the Delft Institute of Positive Design, asserted that food solutions can be inspired, creative, and playful, like chocolate to-do lists to maximize motivation, productivity, and pleasure, all at once. In their CHIL-DISH project, Kristos Mavrostomos and Anna van der Lei capitalized upon children’s sense of play and fun, as they created fully functional, kid-designed tableware with items like a house-shaped teapot and a bolt-shaped mug. And Léa Bougeault and Aude Laznowski of Miit Studios endorsed playfulness as a business strategy, arguing that positive childhood food memories make for natural points of connection, communication, and conviviality between people and companies. Somewhat similarly, Júlia Nasa argued that creativity is as important to consider as nutrition, sustainability, or safety, as a sense of curious creativity can enliven these other aspects of food and food systems.

3. Food and the senses remain central.

Food design foregrounds sensory experiences. Beatrice Lerma, Doriana Dal Palu’, and Eleonora Bugatti shared how the sounds made by food packaging—for example glass, clay, and plastic containers for yogurt—shaped how consumers perceived flavor, as well as characteristics like quality, craftsmanship, and genuineness. In her presentation, Slow Tofu, Weiwei Wang highlighted tofu not as a high-protein meat substitute with mutable flavor, as it is so often characterized in the West, but as a delicious and complex food unto itself, eaten in various ways and possible to prepare on one’s own with simple tools: a plate, a handmade basket, and a bowl. Ivana Carmen Mottle further explored how sensory tasting events can merge the experiences of eating and tasting, performance and art, entertainment and learning, conviviality and identity.

4. Food space can be transformative.

Food design often engages a strong sense of place and space. In her presentation on the rise of solo dining in urban areas, Emily Cheng posited ways for restauranteurs to spatially consider the needs of diners who eat alone in public, an activity that often carries social stigma. And Alexandra dos Santos presented the results of her work with a local market opening its doors after hours in an effort to engage customers and create a greater sense of community. Centered around the market’s space and building, the evening event incorporated not only locally produced goods and sellers, but also conversation, music, photography, drawing, and design.

5. Food experiences traverse the life course.

Projects shared at the conference engaged food at moments across the life course, from childhood to adulthood and into older age. In their CHIL-DISH project, Kristos Mavrostomos and Anna van der Lei engaged children as young as five in the processes of food design, cooking, and reflecting on food culture. Liza Murphy from The Big Picture research firm shared results from a study of one hundred Millennial and “Generation Z” consumers, revealing how young eaters are shaping the future of eating, snacking, and thinking about health. Additional projects at the conference navigated food in later stages of life. Annet Hoek shared the results of her study which incorporated the principles of molecular gastronomy to improve the culinary experience and nutritional status of elderly patients with swallowing difficulties. Jonas Pariente shared Grandma’s Project, a collaborative web series of recipes and stories, featuring grandmas from around the world.

6. Virtual conferences can be effective, fun, and meaningful.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how this virtual conference promoted the exchange of ideas and provided opportunities for social networking, collaboration, debate, and intellectual growth. All of the presentations were streamed with Google Hangouts, live on air, and then immediately available on YouTube for further viewing and sharing.  Presenters shared their interests and contact information with digital business cards:

Throughout the conference, presenters and attendees interacted  in the chat rooms, through direct messaging, and on Twitter. And even now that the conference is over, its entire structure still exists online with presentation abstracts, the conference proceedings, and recordings of all the presentations and Q&A ready and waiting, forever, to be further discovered and explored.

7. Aesthetics make an impact.

Lastly and perhaps unsurprisingly, designers produce beautiful things—including their presentation slides, videos, and materials. (Check out Emily Cheng’s lovely slides here.) Food studies academics could certainly learn a trick or two from the visually stunning ways that designers present, represent, and summarize their ideas!


As for my presentation at the conference, I shared “Designing Gender: Masculinity and Food Packaging.” You can read the abstract here and watch the presentation below, starting at approximately 4:00.

As Francesca would say, Happy Food Design!

Food-Themed Protest Posters as Resistance

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 PostersMegan 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?

dishingitout

Travel Ban Protest, Battery Park NYC, January 29, 2017.


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.

20 Food Studies Books for Black History Month

“For Black History Month, I’m sharing works of African American foodways scholars and cookbook authors that shape my own research.” So tweeted my friend Katherine Hysmith, who is a PhD student in American Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, last week. I couldn’t help but jump on her great idea too with this post, dedicated to books on African American food and culture, which ought to be read and discussed all year round. I’ve ordered the list chronologically by year of publication. As the list indicates, this is a rich, important, and growing area of food studies research that is gaining momentum.

These books matter as they address many themes, including: the significant contributions of African and African American foodways to “American” food culture; the knowledge, expertise, and agency of slaves, expressed through agriculture, cooking and domestic labor, botanical medical traditions, and food commerce; the meaning and historical trajectory of soul food; and the intersections of food with the black body, health, medicine, and power.

If you have suggestions for books to add, please let me know in the comments! And find even more academic works, as well as historic and contemporary cookbooks from black chefs and restauranteurs, on Black Culinary History’s fantastic website.


  1. Maurice M. Manring, Slave in A Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima (University of Virginia Press, 1998).
  2. Doris Witt, Black Hunger: Food and the Politics of U.S. Identity (Oxford University Press, 1999)—reissued as Black Hunger: Soul Food and America (University of Minnesota Press, 2004).
  3. Judith A. Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard University Press, 2002).
  4. Andrew Warnes, Hunger Overcome?: Food and Resistance in Twentieth-Century African American Literature (University of Georgia Press, 2004).
  5. Psyche A. Williams-Forson, Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power (The University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
  6. Debra A. Reid, Reaping a Greater Harvest: African Americans, the Extension Service, and Rural Reform in Jim Crow Texas (Texas A&M University Press, 2007).
  7. Anne Bower (editor), African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2008).
  8. Frederick Douglass Opie, Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America (Columbia University Press, 2010).
  9. Rebecca Sharpless, Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
  10. Judith Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (University of California Press, 2011).
  11. Jessica B. Harris, High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America (Bloomsbury USA, 2012).
  12. Adrian Miller, Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time (The University of North Carolina Press, 2013).
  13. Angela Jill Cooley, To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South (University of Georgia Press, 2015).
  14. Toni Tipton-Martin, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks (University of Texas Press, 2015).
  15. Jennifer Jensen Wallach (editor), Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama (University of Arkansas Press, 2015).
  16. Mark S. Warner, Eating in the Side Room: Food, Archaeology, and African American Identity (University Press of Florida, 2015).
  17. Anthony Ryan Hatch, Blood Sugar: Racial Pharmacology and Food Justice in Black America (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
  18. Adrian Miller, The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).
  19. Michael W. Twitty, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South (Amistad, August 1, 2017).
  20. John Gennadi, Flavor and Soul: Italian America at Its African American Edge“Chapter 3: Everybody Eats” (University of Chicago Press, March 2017).

Top image credit: Emily Contois, 2017  

Gyorgy Scrinis on How the Food Industry Captured Nutritionism

Gyorgy Scrinis of University of Melbourne presented “Nutritionism, Big Food, and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition” at Harvard University on December 7. The talk provided a fascinatingly concise summary of Scrinis’ work on nutritionism to date and previews his new work, which directly engages how the corporate food industry has captured, appropriated, and co-opted the discourse of nutritionism in food product development and marketing.

The event was sponsored by Harvard-based working groups on the History of Medicine and Modern Science and organized by my friend and colleague, Lisa Haushofer, a PhD candidate in History of Science at Harvard.

I live tweeted during the event and have curated the talk’s main points below. Learn more about Gyorgy Scrinis and Nutritionism here.

Read More

Food Studies at Brown Welcomes John Lang to Speak on Genetically Modified Food

On Friday, December 2, Food Studies at Brown warmly welcomes John Lang, Associate Professor of Sociology at Occidental College, to speak at Brown University on his recently published book, What’s So Controversial About Genetically Modified Food? All interested parties in the Providence area are warmly invited to attend.

As a sociologist of food who explores the intersection of consumption, culture, and trust, Lang could not have found a more compelling case study. Lang places the debate around genetically modified (GM) food and our current “menu of choice” in social context. He demonstrates how controversies about GM food are but “a proxy debate” that articulates larger issues of social and political power, cultural values, corporate responsibility, intellectual property, democratic practices, science, and technology through concerns regrading risks and benefits, expertise and knowledge, fear and trust.

Lang novelly argues that genetic modification is not only a complex issue, but perhaps one that has misguided our attention and political activism. Going so far as to describe GM food controversies as “largely symbolic in content,” Lang points us to the heart of the issue as he writes:

Time, energy and money have been dedicated to debates about whether GM food has more potential for good or evil, yet these resources might be better spent seeking solutions to known problems in agricultural practices and systems, like contaminated and inadequate water supplies, degraded soil quality, stresses of climate change and persistent distribution problems. That we have become so focused on genetic modification controversies is the biggest problem of all. The scientific tool of genetic modification is not the ultimate problem, but rather a distraction from the persistent problems that plague our international food system.

After spending more than a decade researching this topic, Lang shares, “I hold a relatively neutral position on GM food.” He asserts that rather than narrowly focusing on genetically modified foods or issues like GM labeling, we will be better served by broadly advocating for increased social responsibility and local adaptability throughout the food system. Such a focus seeks to dismantle the links between profit, industry-wide consolidation, scientific hegemony, and intellectual property law—which form the current foundations of genetically modified technology.

In the end, Lang finds inspiration in Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary: The Long Lost Novel; that we can make good use of “the continuing tension between restless idealism and an impending sense of doom” to fuel our search and activism for more just and culturally appropriate solutions within our global food system.


Please Join Food Studies at Brown for:

The Tension Between Idealism and Doom: Our Future with Genetically Modified Food

John Lang | Associate Professor of Sociology, Occidental College

December 2, 2016 | 3:30 pm | Smith-Buonanno 106, 95 Cushing Street (Map)

Warmly open to the public

Co-Sponsored by Brown University American Studies, Science and Society, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Anthropology, and BIOL 0190U: Plant Development, Structure and Function


About Food Studies at Brown

Food Studies at Brown began in spring 2016 and currently involves dozens of faculty members across disciplines such as American Studies, Anthropology, Biology, English, Environmental Studies, Medicine, and Public Health. Courses offered by Food Studies at Brown affiliated faculty explore food, culture, and identity; food systems, agriculture, and sustainability; food policy and issues; nutrition, health, disease, and medicine; and food writing and media; among other topics as well.

Food Studies at Brown approaches food from a broad and interdisciplinary perspective. We examine the relationship between food and all aspects of the human experience, including culture and biology, individuals and society, global pathways and local contexts. Across our campus, faculty, students, and staff engage with food in myriad meaningful ways. Food Studies at Brown endeavors to bring food-related research, teaching, projects, activities, and events together in one place so that we can synthesize our efforts across campus and the community.

For more information regarding Food Studies at Brown, contact Emily Contois at emily_contois [AT] brown.edu.


Top image credit: Emily Contois, 2016