All posts filed under: Research

Toned Tummies & Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt & Gendered Digestion

In Experiencing Food and the Senses, one of the core courses in the MLA in Gastronomy program at BU, we shine a spotlight on all of the senses, especially those so often left out of scholarly inquiry. I continued my study of gender, coupling it with exploration of digestion as portrayed in advertising for Activia yogurt. Here is a taste from “Toned Tummies and Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt and Gendered Digestion.” Often considered a taboo topic in the United States, the promotion and popularity of Activia, a probiotic yogurt launched in the U.S. in 2006, has in some ways opened a dialogue among American women on regularity, digestion, and constipation. In studies exploring gendered perceptions of food, yogurt is often considered a feminine comestible (Kiefer et al. 2005; Jensen & Holm 1999). Furthermore, Dannon states that they have only ever marketed their products to women (Sandler, 2008). As a functional food sold to appease digestive ills, the female-focused marketing of Activia provides a new and different opportunity to analyze gender in Dannon’s marketing tactics. Activia’s probiotic market prowess takes place within …

April Showers Bring May Flowers—and Thesis Due Dates

Spring has finally sprung in New England and tomorrow looks to be a great day for the Boston Marathon. Luckily, I’ll be able to take some time to enjoy Patriots’ Day because I’ve spent the last few weeks glued to my desk chair, pounding out the second draft of my thesis, which examines the marketing of weight loss programs to men. Here’s a little taste… Over the past decade, much has changed on the twenty-first century landscape of dieting, as the “low carb craze” of Atkins and South Beach made way for today’s Paleo Diet, evangelizing the diet of Stone Age hunter-gatherers and encouraging dieters to “eat like a caveman.” Perhaps no change is more notable, however, than the new target audience of weight loss programs—men. Considered a masculine food in cultures the world over (Jensen and Holm 1999), the high intake of meat in low-carbohydrate diets made the Atkins and South Beach diets more popular among men than conventional low-fat diets. While men joined these diets in new numbers (Weinbraub 2004), Men’s Health Magazine …

From Domestic Space to Status Symbol: A Kitchen History Photo Essay

Later this week, I’ll be discussing not only trophy kitchens, but also the phenomenon of ornamental trophy cookbooks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference. Just as I’ve explored the phenomenon of expensively outfitted kitchens that are then rarely used for cooking, the panel, “Cookbooks as Works of Art and Status Objects,” will explore cookbooks (such as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Heston Blumenthal’s The Big Fat Duck Cookbook) that may find themselves more at home as coffee table art books than functional tools in the kitchen. And so on that note, please enjoy this photo essay of the evolution of the twenty-first-century trophy kitchen. UPDATE: Some content from this post appears in my article, “Not Just for Cooking Anymore: Exploring the Twenty-First Century Trophy Kitchen,” published in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, Winter 2014, pages 1-8! Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov straightforwardly define the kitchen in America’s Kitchens as: the domestic space where food is prepared…primarily an indoor space, the place where people go to chop, mix, roast, boil, and bake. Indeed, for hundreds of …

Ring in the New Year with Picasso and Dalí’s Food-Related Art

Whether you’re ringing in the New Year with a prominent party, a delightful dinner, or champagne in quantities worthy of a Gatsby gathering, I wish you a Happy Near Year—as, in this case, does the food-related art of Picasso and Dalí. A selection of works by these two artists uses food to provide intellectually elevated irony and humor, grounded in both linguistics and visual presentation. Hey—if nothing else, this post can provide you with enviable fodder for cocktail conversation on this New Year’s Eve.  Picasso linked food and linguistics in a playful, yet intellectual form of perceived realism. He repeatedly makes linguistic jokes through the purposeful and witty inclusion of textual ephemera in his collages. And yet, while he includes food advertisements and bottle labels in his pieces, he may be doing so without literal allusion to food, eating, drinking, or dining, but rather based on his personal adoration of typography. For example, in café scenes, Picasso repeats names and labels of dinner wines, brandies, and ales by pasting actual labels or newspaper advertisements onto the canvas …

Curating an Online Food Exhibit: “Making the Modern American Food System”

After studying the food views of second-wave feminists, the cuisines of the counterculture and the 1950s, and the foodways of turn-of-the century immigrants, Dr. Warren Belasco’s U.S. Food History course turned to specific histories of the industrial food system—from the Dust Bowl to the industrialization of milk production to the rise and triumph of refrigeration. At each stage, we pondered how these events, people, and institutions contributed to both America’s abundant, cheap food supply and the distancing of Americans from traditional food knowledge. The course culminated in our final project assignment: creating an online food exhibit dedicated to the creation of the modern American food system. And so I invite you to visit my online exhibit, “Making the Modern American Food System.”

Literature: A Novel Foundation for Symmetrical Dialogue in the Successful Physician-Patient Relationship

While I most often blog about food, I’ve been thinking a lot about doctors lately for family reasons. Thus, the energy that I usually so easily channel into my professional and academic life is at the moment uncontrollably directed into worrying. I’ve been attempting to cope by watching way too much television on Netflix, which has likely exacerbated the situation. In any event, the state of things has caused me to want to share with you a bit about a medical humanities course I once took as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. The course, Literature and Medicine, was co-taught by English professor, Ronald Schleifer, and physician / Medical School professor, Jerry Vannatta, MD. As Vannatta shares in a Sooner Magazine article (2005): The course examines the relationship of the humanistic study of literature and language with the art and science of medicine through literary and non-literary descriptions and narratives and examines somatic, psychological, scientific and social conceptions of illness and health. Here is where the double meaning of this post’s title comes in. Within the scope of …

“It’s Always Summer-time in Your Kitchen:” Food Safety as Depicted in Home Refrigerator Advertising in the Interwar Years

What follows is an expanded abstract for the paper, “‘It’s Always Summer-time in Your Kitchen:’ Food Safety as Depicted in Home Refrigerator Advertising in the Interwar Years.”  Americans currently live in an age when food safety scares are headline news and an issue of concern for consumers. Take for example the ever-expanding peanut butter salmonella recall. While foodborne illness is a product of a long and complex food supply chain, its effects are often experienced in domestic environments of food consumption, such as the home kitchen. In fact, the evolution of the modern kitchen sits within a larger historical narrative of consumer food safety. Consider the home refrigerator, for example. Several scholars herald household refrigeration as one of the most important food safety achievements of the twentieth century (CDC 1999: 906; FPT 2011: 132; Roberts 2001: 29). Perhaps not coincidentally, the rise in home refrigerator ownership was coupled with, and fueled by, fervent consumer messaging from refrigerator marketers and home economics specialists alike. In his analysis, Peter Grahame argues that there is great variance among the content of …

Curating the History of American Convenience Cuisine

In the years following World War II, the United States took on a new shape and so did the way Americans ate. The 1950s witnessed the rise of “packaged-food cuisine,” a dietary change and gastronomic phenomenon that had as much to do with the postwar military industrial complex, women’s issues, and class-consciousness, as it did with food. This selection of five images explores these themes, using convenience food as a lens to explore the socio-cultural context of the 1950s. 1. The Evolution of Betty Crocker, 1921 – Present Created in 1921, the name and face of Betty Crocker has appeared in American grocery store aisles, pantries, and cookbooks for more than 90 years. Betty Crocker was developed as a “live trademark” by Marjorie Child Husted for Washburn Crosby, the company that made Gold Medal flour and would become General Mills. The Betty Crocker character formed bonds between customers and brands at a time when convenience cuisine was in its infancy, but primed to grow quickly. A combination of fantasy and reality, Betty Crocker was an instructor …

“Older Bird” Chick Flicks: Romance, Feminism, and Food for the Over-50 Crowd

What follows is a section from the paper, “Something’s Gotta Give in the Kitchen: Viewing Nancy Meyers’ Older Bird Chick Flicks through a Food Studies Lens.” Read another section from this paper in the post, “Transcending the Screen: Trophy Kitchens in Two Nancy Meyers’ Films.”  Called “Middle-Aged Chick Flicks” by Mimi Swartz and “older bird movies” by Cherry Potter, there is a recent trend of what Potter describes as “comedy dramas about the sexual awakening of middle-aged women.” A handful of film critics and scholars have considered this new genre. For example, Thane Peterson defines the older bird demographic as, “Affluent aging women who worry that they’ll never find romance — or even basic human respect — in our youth-obsessed society.” Margaret Tally offers her own analysis: What these recent ‘older bird’ films may also be reflecting, then, are the contemporary struggles to redefine what middle age might be for a generation who has lived through the women’s movement and the struggle to have children at a later age than earlier generations. Sexuality and motherhood become, …

Eat Up: ‘A History of Violence’ Sandwich

While by no means a “food film,” food plays an interesting role in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005), a marvelous film — albeit as you can likely deduce from the title quite, ahem, violent. I’ll focus on two food-centric scenes, which sandwich much of the violent action of the film. A man with a history of violence, Tom Stall, played by Viggo Mortensen, has a new family-centric, pie-serving, church-going, All-American life, which is astutely symbolized in the business he owns, Stall’s Diner. As discussed in the BBC News article, “Why the Diner is the Ultimate Symbol of America,” a diner proves to be the perfect food-centric foil to the violence of Tom’s past. The freshly wiped-down surfaces, the democratic side-by-side seating at the counter, the ever-flowing coffee on the warmer, the simple “open” sign on the door, and the “friendly service” tagline on the sign that marks the storefront — all of these features clearly delineate the wholesome character of Tom, the loving Stall family, and the small, supportive community in which they live. The Main Street diner also …

Food Journals in Popular Culture: Confessing Diet Sins or Legit Rehabilitation?

At times, diet literature offers the same recommendations that dietitians and eating disorder specialists proffer, but accompanied by an underlying message of guilt—in this case of biblical proportion. In the article, “Diet Confessions” from the June 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, Jim Karas (Chicago-based trainer to the stars and the common man alike) discusses keeping a food journal as a weight loss strategy. The article is accompanied by a disturbing image of a thin young woman kneeling as if at worship itself with her hands pressed together in fervent prayer. A scale lurks forebodingly in the background, a menacing crucifix. Upon her face shines the light of whichever god one confesses dieting sins. Karas discusses food journals utilizing religious descriptive language, including:  coming clean  every bite you take, every vow you break  confessing what you’ve eaten The article portrays an extra cookie as a sin that must be confessed to the food journal. Susan Estrich also refers to food journals in her diet book, Making the Case for Yourself: A DIET Book for SMART Women (1997), saying, …

Transcending the Screen: Trophy Kitchens in Two Nancy Meyers’ Films

Nancy Meyers’ older bird chick flicks, Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and It’s Complicated (2009), provide both escape and hope to middle-aged female audiences, whose views on love, sex, and relationships are both informed and complicated by life experience — including marriage, motherhood, and divorce — and the stereotypes that accompany being middle-aged. Something’s Gotta Give is the story of fifty-three-year-old Erica (Diane Keaton), the successful, divorced playwright who in the setting of her luxurious Hampton beach house falls in love with both her daughter’s sixty-three year old boyfriend, Harry (Jack Nicholson) and a handsome thirty-something doctor, Julian, (Keanu Reeves). It’s Complicated also tells the story of an accomplished, divorced woman in her fifties, Jane (Meryl Streep), but in this version of the story, she is caught not between a man her own age and a younger man, but between her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin), and her new boyfriend, Adam (Steve Martin), the architect she has hired to build her dream home. Food and cooking serve as symbols and narrative devices in these two films, representing and communicating the multidimensional …

Phallic Produce and Over-Sexed Peasants in 16th and 17th Century Italian Art

In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the comedic produce paintings of papal Rome and the naturalistic peasant paintings of northern Italy both presented erotic situations that at surface level appear as juvenile examples of low humor. Analyzing these paintings within the large social and political context of the time, however, reveals tensions, transitions, and insecurities within the Church, class relations, and art itself. Varriano cites the popularity of witty puns in the sixteenth century, contending that they embody the instability of politics and the Church (2009: 118). He argues that lusty fruit and vegetable paintings proved to be: The perfect metaphor for the culture of post-Reformation Rome, in which the quest for religious and political orthodoxy may have increased uncertainties and humor was the only acceptable outlet for transgressive desire (Varriano 2009: 125). In fact, erotic pun paintings were most popular in Rome, where these suggestive works may have provided sexual release from the repression required by Catholicism, especially for the clergy. Caravaggio’s Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge is a particularly strong example …

American Coffee Culture in 1872: So Different from Today?

Since the seventeenth century, Americans have roasted, steamed, and boiled coffee, causing its gradual transformation into our national beverage and a potent patriotic symbol. In his 1872 text, Coffee: Its History, Cultivation, and Use, (read it for free on Google Books) Robert Hewitt Jr. captured the historical prominence of coffee in the United States, saying, “Since cotton has been proclaimed ‘king’ in the realm of commerce, coffee should be styled ‘queen’ among the beverages of domestic life” (Hewitt 1872: 11). Coffee has since risen from its status of queen of the domestic realm and emerged as a leading global commodity, second only to petroleum oil (Pendergrast 1999: 1). Coffee thus exerts considerable political and economic power. The United States has led world coffee consumption for the past two hundred years (Tucker 2011:18). Coffee plays multiple social and cultural roles within American daily life as a beverage consumed upon waking, shared in social settings, enjoyed at the end of a meal, savored during the workday coffee break, and so on. In his historical text, Hewitt depicts …