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Food and Culture: A Reader


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Table of Contents

Foreword from The Gastronomical Me, M.F.K. Fisher,

Introduction to the Second Edition, Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik


1. The Problem of Changing Food Habits, Margaret Mead

Mead's early government work explores recommendations for changing American food habits and establishes the importance of food studies .

2. Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption, Roland Barthes

French structuralists explain how food acts as a system of communication and provides a body of images that mark eating situations.

3. The Culinary Triangle, Claude Levi-Strauss

This classic structuralist statement, often critiqued, shows how food preparation can be analyzed as a triangular semantic field, much like language.

4. Deciphering a Meal, Mary Douglas

Hebrew dietary laws are not irrational but rather precoded messages about purity, defilement, and holiness as wholeness.

5. The Abominable Pig, Marvin Harris

Materialists like Harris reject symbolic and structuralist explanations and explain food prohibitions based on economic and ecological utility.

6. Nourishing Arts, Michel De Certeau and Luce Giard

The "practice of everyday life" includes how French women constitute tradition as they carry out daily meal preparation.

7. The Recipe, the Prescription, and the Experiment, Jack Goody

Shopping lists, menus and recipes are among the earliest and most enduring evidence of written instructions for food use, reflecting significant advances in human knowledge.

8. Time, Sugar, and Sweetness, Sidney Mintz

Colonialism made high-statues sugar produced in the Caribbean into a working class staple.

9. Anorexia Nervosa and Its Differential Diagnosis, Hilde Bruch

Renowned eating disorder psychiatrist Bruch defines true anorexia nervosa as involving distorted body image, inaccurate perception of hunger, hyperactivity, and an overwhelming sense of ineffectiveness.

Gender and Consumption

10. Fast, Feast, and Flesh: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, Caroline Bynum

Medieval women used food for personal religious expression, including giving food away, exuding foods from their bodies, and undertaking fasts to gain religious and cultural power

11. Appetite as Voice, Joan Jacobs Brumberg

The origins of anorexia nervosa can be found in the nineteenth century fasting of Victorian girls, who used control of appetite as an important form of self-expression.

12. Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallization of Culture, Susan Bordo

Anorexia nervosa can be viewed as a culturally over-determined psychological disorder resulting from longstanding cultural ideologies related to mind-body dualism, control, and gender power.

13. Feeding Hard Bodies: Food and Masculinities in Men's Fitness Magazines, Fabio Parasecoli

Men's fitness magazines define masculinity through discussions of food and body, increasingly involving men in the concerns about constructing corporeal perfection and regulating consumption to build muscle and strength.

14. The Overcooked and the Underdone: Masculinities in Japanese Food Programming, T.J.M. Holden

Cooking shows featuring male chefs preponderate on Japanese television and propagate one-dimensional definitions of masculinity based on power, authority, and ownership of consumer commodities.

15. Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch Box as Ideological State, Apparatus Anne Allison

Japanese mothers, in preparing elaborate lunch boxes for their preschool children, reproduce state ideologies of power.

16. Conflict and Deference, Marjorie DeVault

In feeding others, women sometimes reproduce their own subordination by deferring to men's preferences and thus reinforce the "naturalness" of women's service and undermine progress toward reciprocal nurturance.

17. Feeding Lesbigay Families, Christopher Carrington

Because feeding work is complex, laborious, and highly gendered, it is problematic in lesbigay families because a full accounting of it would destroy illusions of equality and call into question masculinity of gay men who do it and femininity of lesbians who do not.

Food and Identity Politics

18. How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India, Arjun Appadurai

Cookbooks written for an Anglophone audience tell unusual tales about the development of a national cuisine, the boundaries of edibility and the logic of meals in post-colonial India.

19. `Real Belizean Food': Building Local Identity in the Transnational Caribbean, Rich Wilk

Transformations in Belizean food from colonial times to the present demonstrate transnational political, economic and culinary influences that have affected the ways Belizean people define themselves and their nation.

20. Let's Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism, Lisa Heldke

Cultural food colonialism is reproduced by food adventurers who seek out ethnic foods to satisfy their taste for the exotic other.

21. "More than Just the 'Big Piece of Chicken': The Power of Race, Class, and Food in American Consciousness", Psyche Williams-Forson

Ethnographic, historical, and literary research reveals not only controlling and damaging stereotypes about African Americans and chicken but also the ways Black women have used chicken as a form of resistance and community survival.

22. Mexicanas' Food Voice and Differential Consciousness in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, Carole Counihan

Food-centered life histories portray the voices and perspectives of traditionally muted Hispanic women of rural southern Colorado whose food stories reveal differential behaviors and consciousness which promote empowerment.

23. Rooting Out the Causes of Disease: Why Diabetes is So Common Among Desert Dwellers, Gary Paul Nabhan

Skyrocketing adult-onset diabetes among desert dwelling Seri Indians of Northern Mexico suggests that changes in diet have caused this major health problem and that traditional desert foods-especially legumes, cacti and acorns-are protective.

24. Slow Food and the Politics of Pork Fat: Italian Food and European Identity, Alison Leitch

The Slow Food Movement has emerged as an important political force to preserve traditional, artisan foods such as lard from Colonnata, which serves as a case study revealing the politics of Slow Food in the context European market economies.

25. Taco Bell, Maseca, and Slow Food: A Postmodern apocalypse for Mexico's Peasant Cuisine? Jeffrey Pilcher

Italy's Slowfood Movement offers strategies for the maintenance of traditional, local, and sustainable Mexican food, which is threatened by the economies of scale and market dominance of multinational giants like Taco Bell.

26. The Raw & the Rotten: Punk Cuisine, Dylan Clark

Punk cuisine--based on scavenged, rotten, and/or stolen food-challenges the hierarchy, commodification, toxicity, and environmental destruction of the capitalist food system.

27. Salad Days: Using Visual Methods to Study Children's Food Culture, Melissa Salazar, Gail Feenstra, and Jeri Ohmart

Photographic documentation of children's self-serve salads at Northern California elementary schools was designed to assess the nutritional content of children's meals, but also conveyed rich information about children's tastes, food aesthetics, and definitions of appropriate meals.

Political Economy of Food: Transformation and Marginalization

28. The Chain Never Stops, Eric Schlosser

The mistreatment of meatpacking workers in the United States is linked to the high rates of trauma in this dangerous industry and reveals general problems of corporate food production.

29. Whose `Choice'? `Flexible' Women Workers in the Tomato Food Chain, Deborah Barndt

"Flexible," part-time, low-wage female labor is an increasingly important component of the global food economy that insures profits for agribusinesses, fast food corporations, and supermarkets, but threatens the livelihood and food security of women and families.

30. The Politics of Breastfeeding, Penny Van Esterik

The commodification of baby food has had severe consequences, but advocacy groups actively resist the promotional tactics of transnational food and pharmaceutical companies.

31. The Political Economy of Obesity: The Fat Pay All, Alice Julier

The culture-wide denigration of the "obesity epidemic" is not only due to its health consequences, but also to the political and economic benefits to the food corporations, the diet industry, and the health professions.

32. Of Hamburger and Social Space, Consuming McDonald's in Beijing, Yungxiang Yan

In Beijing Chinese consumers associate fast food with being American and being modern. They enjoy the standardization of meals, the hospitable service, the democratic environment, and the cleanliness, which create a desirable space to socialize and linger.

33. Plastic Bag Housewives and Postmodern Restaurants: Public and Private in Bangkok's Foodscape, Gisele Yasmeen

Bangkok women can pick up small plastic bags of excellent quality traditional dishes that go with rice at local vendors near their home or workplace.

34. The Political Economy of Food Aid in an Era of Agricultural Biotechnology, J. Clapp

The advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has seriously affected food aid, even in the context of famine and extreme hunger.

35. Street Credit: The Cultural Politics of African Street Children's Hunger, Karen Coen Flynn

In Mwanza, Tanzania homeless children acquire food by working at market stands and restaurants, scavenging garbage, stealing, trading sex for food, and begging. The importance of charity suggests rethinking Sen's entitlement theory explanation of hunger.

36. Want Amid Plenty: From Hunger to Inequality, Janet Poppendieck

Because of great need, many US volunteers feed the hungry, but charity not only fails to solve the underlying causes of hunger-poverty and inequality-but contributes to it by offering token rather than structural solutions and taking the government off the hook.

About the Author

Carole Counihan is Professor of Anthropology at Millersville University in Pennsylvania and co-editor-in-chief of Food and Foodways. Her earlier books include Around the Tuscan Table: Food, Family, and Gender in Twentieth-Century Florence, Food in the USA, and The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning, and Power. Penny Van Esterik is Professor of Anthropology at York University in Toronto, Canada where she teaches nutritional anthropology, in addition to doing research on food and globalization in Southeast Asia. She is a founding member of WABA (World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action)and writes on infant and young child feeding, including her earlier book, Beyond the Breast-Bottle Controversy.


"I get asked all the time to define Food Studies, and now I have the answer. Read this book. This is a brilliantly selected compilation of the most riveting and entertaining writing on food and culture, ranging from the classic to the post-modern. The range of topics is astounding, and the writing is terrific. Read any of these pieces and you will want to read everything else that author wrote. Anyone reading this book will understand immediately why the study of food teaches us so much about our society, now and in the past." -Marion Nestle, Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, New York University

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