All posts tagged: gender

Presenting My Students’ Final Project in Food + Gender

I’m thrilled to share my students’ final project, an e-journal that culminates our course, “Food and Gender in U.S. Popular Culture,” at Brown University. In this seminar-style course, twenty students (mostly in their first and second years of study) completed four main writing assignments — a cookbook analysis (which I blogged about here), a mini media exhibit, an interview profile, and a restaurant review — all of which engaged the themes of food and gender. For the final project, students worked to revise one of these assignments for inclusion in the class e-journal. We invite you to start with the About page to learn more about the class and our writing. As you will read, these writing assignments expect (and deliver!) clear and sophisticated argument, as well as what we called “compulsively readable” prose. Course readings included not only academic food studies texts, but also a full serving of food writing, providing a taste of different styles and formats. Throughout the semester, we aimed to craft not only compelling thesis statements, but also at least one “aspirational sentence” …

Teaching Food Studies, Cookbooks & Writing

How do cookbooks speak? What stories do they tell—and whose? What do cookbooks reveal about power and how it operates? How do cookbooks communicate and construct gender? These are some of the questions my students and I have pondered lately in our course “Food and Gender in U.S. Popular Culture” at Brown University. For our first assignment, students analyzed how cookbooks prescribe and transgress conventional gender roles. A uniquely interdisciplinary field, food studies scholarship often employs various methods, but the close reading of cookbooks is one method that approaches universality. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve written on them so often (like here, here, and here). I’m working with a thoughtful and engaged group of 20 mostly first- and second-year students. While most had read and used cookbooks for cooking, few had previously considered them as elements of popular culture, as valuable historical evidence, as prescriptive literature that shape notions of gender, or as sources in which the so-often-silenced voices of women and people of color can be heard. In an effort to fully scaffold and support our work with cookbooks, we first did some reading. …

Publication Update! Toned Tummies & Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt & Gendered Digestion

I’m thrilled to share that my article, “Toned Tummies and Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt and Gendered Digestion,” was recently published in CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures. I blogged about this project when I first completed it about a year ago and could not be more honored that it was selected as CuiZine‘s best graduate student paper in 2013 by a committee featuring the food writers, scholars, and researchers Maeve Haldane, Ian Mosby, and David Szanto. As I analzyed this probiotic yogurt that continues to populate the dairy case with its iconic green containers, I drew from print and online advertisements, product packaging, press coverage, and industry reports, as well as a variety of secondary sources that analyze digestion as a cultural act. When I first began this study, Jamie Lee Curtis served as a spokeswoman so enthusiastic that her commercials had become the stuff of Saturday Night Live parody. Most all Activia advertisements targeted women, many featuring feminine touches, from the product’s waist-like logo to commercials’ girly jingle—“Ac-tiv-i-aaaah!” Furthermore, whether a print ad or TV commercial, nearly every marketing effort …

Colonialism & Man Boobs: Conquering the Feminized Terrain of the Fat Male Body

In Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Conquest, Anne McClintock demonstrates how male imperialists repeatedly framed exotic lands as feminized terrains to be explored, contained, and dominated by masculine reason and violence. For example, she analyzes Jan van der Straet’s famous drawing, which “portrays the ‘discovery’ of America as an eroticized encounter” between “a fully armored Vespucci, [who] stands erect and masterful” and “a naked and erotically inviting woman” (p. 25-26). McClintock cites additional gendered metaphors of conquest, such as the language of “virgin” lands and territories, the female figures that donned ships’ prows, and even the mythical mermaids and sirens that filled the otherwise empty seas drafted by cartographers. Notably, McClintock argues that one of the motivating factors behind these imperialist actions was “a profound, if not pathological, sense of male anxiety and boundary loss” (1995, p. 24). McClintock’s argument finds an analogy in the study of male control over fat male bodies. In this scenario, the fat male body emerges as similarly feminized terrain, a land of the self that—based upon …

Food and Matriarchy in “Sons of Anarchy”

While Charlie Hunnam‘s handsome face and blonde locks are reason enough for anyone to be watching Sons of Anarchy with unwavering interest, after watching the first five seasons, I’m struck by the way that scenes of eating express the harmony or discontent of the motorcycle club (MC). As its members seek to protect the interests of their aptly named hometown of Charming, California, as well as their families and their MC brothers against drugs, violence, and general discord, three meals mark the club’s progress. Notably, the presence and absence of these meals reflect the changing power and influence of the family matriarch, Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal). Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet watched the show and think you might like to, I’d suggest getting up to speed before reading further. Family is a strong theme throughout Sons of Anarchy, as members of the club treat one another as brothers, willing to fight, kill, and die to protect one another and those dear to them. While these family-like ties grow apparent throughout the first episodes, they are also made …

Labor Day Laments and the Masculine Glory of Groom’s Cakes

It’s Labor Day, which signals summer’s approaching end, as well as a seasonally-based, social ban on white clothing. [Though really, when are white pants ever a good idea?] This holiday also tends to mark the end of the summer wedding season, but I’ve got weddings and cakes on the brain because I’m head-over-heels in love with Cherry Levin’s recent article, “He Can Have his Cake and We Will Eat It Too: The Role of the Groom’ Cake in Southeastern Louisiana Wedding Receptions,” in Digest: A Journal of Foodways and Culture.  While I’m not sure the claim that the groom’s cake tradition is waining everywhere but in the south holds water, I greatly enjoyed the author’s analysis of the groom’s cake as a masculine detail within the otherwise ultra-feminine affair that is most big, white weddings. Levin comments upon the “visual and symbolic relationship” between the wedding cake—or “bride’s cake” if you prefer—as its towering tiers and feminine, frosted details mirror the bride herself, adorned with lace, tulle, and beading. Furthermore, she contends that “celebratory cakes communicate important messages …

Food & Chefs as Sexual Metaphor in Romance Novels

My days before starting at Brown are numbered, so while I’ve done some fun things (#rhodetripping) and productive things (proofreading chapters in the forthcoming Food Activism (Counihan and Siniscalchi, eds., 2014) and peer reviewing papers submitted to The Graduate Journal of Food Studies), when I’m not binging on Netflix, I’ve been reading perhaps more than my fair share of romance novels. The most recent of these saccharine literary indulgences employed a food theme. While there are literal connections between food and sex—from aphrodisiacs cooked up throughout history to food foreplay à la 9 1/2 Weeks or Tampopo (coincidentally the king of all food films in my opinion) or the entertaining comparisons put forth in Porn Sex vs. Real Sex: The Differences Explained with Food—food can also be used as a sensual metaphor and literary device. While employed far more successfully and with greater sophistication in other novels, such as Like Water for Chocolate or in this interesting analysis even in Alice in Wonderland, food is, at a minimum, a consistent literal and metaphorical sexual theme in Kate Perry’s All for You, which when I (perhaps foolishly) …

Macho Meatballs and Six-Pack Abs: Dieting like a Man in ‘The Abs Diet’ – Part 2

Beyond the language used to connect with male readers, which was discussed in the previous post, the foods promoted on The Abs Diet also endorse conventional notions of masculinity. While some diets count calories, ward off wheat, or prohibit processed foods, The Abs Diet forbids no comestibles, instead promoting twelve “power-foods.” By their very nomenclature, these diet-approved foods exude force and authority. Again grounded in masculine rationality, these foods are encouraged based upon evidence from nutrition science, as well as common sense. Specific nutrients are encouraged, such as protein, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, and calcium, while others are discouraged, including refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, trans fat, and high-fructose corn syrup. Protein in particular stands out as a stereotypically masculine macronutrient, promoted for its ability to build and repair muscle. Protein also works to promote satiety, ensuring that men never fall victim to feminized hunger caused by dieting. The authors also encourage limiting alcohol consumption to two or three drinks per week, not so much for health effects (positive or negative), but for aiding in …

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 …

Men and Diet Humor: Is That a Banana in Your Pocket or Are You on Weight Watchers?

I almost can’t believe it, but on Monday I submitted the final draft of my MLA in Gastronomy thesis, “The Dudification of Dieting: Marketing Weight Loss Programs to Men in the Twenty-First Century.” Now begins the process of editing ten pages out of it so it’s a publishable length. Hopefully I’ll get to see it in print one day soon! Until then, here’s a theory-free, light-hearted section I hope you’ll enjoy:  Within the last decade, the three giants of the diet industry (Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig) have set their sights on a new target audience—men. In order to de-feminize the act of going on a diet, weight loss programs employ a variety of tactics to frame their programs as masculine. One such tactic is the use of humor, at times of the locker room variety. For example, in the Weight Watchers advertisement, “Roll Call,” spokesman Charles Barkley stands at a podium, reading in a melodramatic tone a long list of euphemistic and colloquial terms for penis. As you’ll see if you watch it, after …

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 …