thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

I Cook/Blog, Therefore I Am

In Food on May 9, 2013 at 9:58 am

Sarah S.

When I was in college one of my favorite professors researched women’s cookbooks, particularly the ones created by churches, societies, and other clubs (as opposed to famous chefs such as Julia Child or giant publishing houses). This work was classic feminist recovery in the era of cultural studies, moving from highlighting forgotten women authors or figures and into celebratory analyses of women’s lives. If I recall, this professor focused on themes within the recipes (region, culture, etc.) and items such as decoration, fonts, purpose of the cookbook (usually some form of fundraising or cultural record).

Since that time, our cultural relationship to food has changed considerably. From celebrity chefs to locavore activists to foodies such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, we have removed food production from the realm of Betty Draper and into…where exactly? If nothing else, our televisions, bookshelves, magazines, politics, and national conversations.

Another thing came to prominence during this time—the web. One thing it encouraged was a flurry of recipe sharing sites, in many ways not unlike the cookbooks my professor studied, and formal recipe sites such as Epicurious.com, similar to the fancy, all-encompassing cookbooks. But the internet also created something that I’m not sure really existed before, a merging of recipes and life narrative: cooking as autobiography.

These things of course start with blogs, whose journaling origins encourage a chatty, narrative-based genre. They also create a forum for home cooks to share their recipes, and this has often led to hybrids of autobiography and cook”books”. GLG’s own Chelsea has a blog in this vein. There are dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of others but two of my favorites are The Smitten Kitchen and The Sprouted Kitchen, both of which have brought their narrative-based recipes beyond the web and into beautiful books.

it's here!: the smitten kitchen cookbook

The creators of these blogs/books use stories to earn their stripes. They’re not trained chefs or restauranteurs (or writers or photographers) so they frame their recipes in experience: the funny or frustrating failures and missteps; the party for a friend that inspired this cake or that cocktail; the cultural or familial history that surrounds a dish.

But in so doing they also reveal how essential cooking and eating are to culture, and in such a beautiful way. On one hand, we cook because we have to eat (not eating not being a viable option for long). But for something so quotidian and necessary we surround it in an awful lot of creativity and ritual and love. It’s easy to forget that, to forget how essentially we need the production of food to sustain not only biological life but also social, familial, and individual life. By telling the tales of food, alongside sharing the how-tos of the food itself, these unique storytellers remind us.

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Reality TV and the Privacy Problem

In Food, Food Network, reality TV, spoilers, Television on July 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

Chelsea H.

Several weeks ago, my favorite Food Network Star contestant went home (obviously, if you aren’t caught up this is going to be a spoiler…).

Emily Ellyn’s promo photo (courtesy of Food Network)

Emily Ellyn: she of the ham fascinator, of retro rad, of the best ’50s glam librarian glasses I’ve ever seen. The competition will not be the same without her. I’ve been trying to process this dismissal, and have come up with some surprising (to me) thoughts about Emily, Food Network, the show itself, and the phenomenon of reality television and how it deals with the personal, the private, and the public stage.

One of the big pushes on Food Network Star seems to be teaching the contestants how to tell stories (well, maybe “teaching” is misleading. It’s really about badgering them to tell stories). This is, the producers feel, the primary way an FN personality can connect with home viewers and keep them coming back. Contestant revelations – stories of weight loss, of self discovery, of childhood, of family – are richly rewarded even when the quality of food slips.

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Food Network Star, Branding, and Ethnic Entrapment

In Food, race, reality TV, Television on May 16, 2012 at 8:38 am

Chelsea H.

I love the Food Network, and I watch a lot of their shows. I use their website for recipes and for inspiration, and I am hooked on many of their brands of “reality” TV. I can’t get enough of “Chopped,” I am a devoted fan of both The Next Food Network Star and The Next Iron Chef, and recently Taylor and I watched Worst Cooks in America together. In the past year or two, I have been delighted to see new types of food show up on the Food Network website (i.e. more than grilled sandwiches, Italian specialties, and Emeril’s mix of Cajun/French/Louisiana fare). I am excited to try these new styles of food: Mexican food, Indian food, even some gluten free options. Things I’ve never made before but have eaten with utter gusto in restaurants.

But then I started looking at who was making these foods, and I noticed something that bothers me: the way the network seems, in the cases of non-white and non-black chefs, to match the ethnicity of food with the ethnicity of the host preparing it. This tickled me with significance on and off, and I’d almost forgotten about it, in fact, until Melissa’s post on the problems with ANTM’s representations of racial/ethnic identity (given the approaching end of my graduate studies and impending dissertation defense, this post has been in production for a while now…). Like ANTM’s racial stereotyping, the Food Network seems to be pigeon-holing its “ethnic” stars.

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GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: Without Hunger, It’s Only Games

In dystopian literature, Food, Hunger Games on March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And, if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Guest Contributor Jeni R.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for survival stories. Starting with homesteading in Little House on the Prairie and the lost-in-the-wilderness Hatchet, I’ve been intrigued by the way they force us to reexamine the tools of power and privilege in our own lives. Perhaps that background is why I loved reading The Hunger Games series so much, and it also might be one of the reasons why the movie adaptation left me so disappointed. In the books, the problem of hunger is a primary concern. It determines relationships: Katniss and Gale become friends while hunting to feed their families; Katniss differentiates herself from Peeta who grew up with “the smell of baked bread”; Katniss dismisses Prim’s cat Buttercup as “another mouth to feed.” What the characters eat is described in sensory, specific detail: eating an egg-sized portion of lamb stew with prunes sent by parachute; learning to dip bread in mugs of hot chocolate on the train; sharing strawberries, goat cheese, and bakery bread in the woods; admiring Greasy Sae’s latest soup concoction. Katniss’s “hollow days” in the Seam are an asset in the arena, and a stark contrast to the on-demand decadence of food in the Capitol. Food metaphors pervade even seemingly unrelated aspects of the story, such as the arena’s “cornucopia” of weapons, naming conventions (“katniss” root and “Panem” itself), and the description of sexual desire as a kind of hunger. At various times throughout the books, food is power, currency, privilege, barter, control, temptation, celebration, art, and connection.

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