A feminist food studies bibliography

So, I’m defending my dissertation this Wednesday. Let me say that again: I’m defending my dissertation this. coming. Wednesday.

Excuse me. I need to go have a lie-down.

I’m thinking of blogging my preparation process over the next few days as a means of articulating my talking points, but I’m not sure about that, given that much of what I’ll talk about might lack context. But what I will do here, today, is provide a bit of an annotated bibliography of feminist food studies texts. That will help me ensure that I know that this ground is covered. The folks over at the f-word put together a nice preliminary list a couple of years ago; I’ve added a number of other titles to the list as necessary. An asterisk next to the entry means that I haven’t read it (and will be visiting the library to pick it up for review this weekend!).

Adams, Carole J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Theory, 1999. — Pretty radical stuff. Adams argues that eating meat is ultimately to be complicit with patriarchy. I am not necessarily on board with this argument, but I do think there is value in Adams’ analysis of the linguistic/rhetorical slipperiness that happens when we talk about meat. for example, chicken becomes poultry (or its component parts: breasts, wings, thighs), cows become beef, pigs become pork. When we talk about meat in abstract terms like that, those terms become portable and applicable to other forms of flesh (“Are you a breast man or a thigh man?” asked Frank Perdue in one of his chicken commercials).

*Arndt, Deborah. Women Working the NAFTA Food Chain: Women, Food & Globalization, 1999.

Avakian Arlene Voski and Barbara Haber. From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food, 2005. — I really like this book, because it offers a historical account of feminist food studies (well, up to six years ago). It’s a collection of essays that chart the history of women’s cultural relationship to food beginning with “The Marketplace,” which contends with the specters of Betty Crocker and the Gerber baby in the woman’s role of feeding her family. After providing historical contexts, the collection moves on to “Representations” and “Resistances,” which contribute to Avakian and Haber’s argument that there is, indeed, a place in women’s studies and feminist scholarship for the study of food and women’s relationship to all things food-related. This collection hold the local in tension with the global, looking at everything from the use of food in ethnic representations to the depictions of fat women (who eat too much) in popular culture.

*Bentley, Amy. Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity, 1998.

Bower, Anne. Recipes For Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories, 1997. Bower argues that the community cookbook enabled women, marginalized within their contemporary cultural contexts by the virtue of their gender, to build community while also participating in American public life. The essays collected here help to situate women, via these cookbooks, within their cultural, political, and moral landscapes, bringing their various values — from expressions of local culture to philanthropic concerns to civil rights legislation — as communities and as individuals into relief.

Counihan, Carole. The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning and Power, 1999. It’s been a long time since I read this one.

*Engelhardt, Elizabeth. A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender, Southern Food, 2011. This one just came out, and Elizabeth is on my dissertation committee. Luckily for me, there isn’t a copy to be had in the city of Austin. Awesome. (Actually, I haven’t checked with Barnes & Noble, but I am not hopeful.) I was fortunate enough to see her talk about the book at the Texas Book Festival, and I learned some interesting things. More on this later.

Haber, Barbara. From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of America’s Cooks and Meals, 2002. Haber is (was?) the curator of books at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library and studied the library’s historical cookbook collection in order to trace women’s participation in America’s economic, social, political, and cultural history. Spanning the Irish famine to the development of the Harvey House restaurants to the heyday of Gourmet magazine, Haber’s study makes the argument that not only can cookbooks reflect the zeitgeist of a culture, but also “reveal secrets about their owners” (209).

Inness, Sherrie. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender and Race, 2000. Demonstrates the ways that food (its procurement, preparation, consumption, etc) shapes the lives of women with respect to their race, class, and ethnicity, as well as their positionality as it regards the way that food is marketed and advertised.

——-. Dinner Roles: American Women and Kitchen Culture, 2001. Here, Inness argues that cookbooks, along with other media, “reveal the dreams of an era […] the media’s representation of cooking and women illuminates a great deal about mainstream American society and its assumptions about women’s societally desirable roles” (12). So, just as today’s fashion magazines enforce an unattainable standard of physical beauty thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, so did cookbooks in the first half of the twentieth century promote an idealized vision of appropriate gender roles for both men and women. Inness’ thesis is, essentially, that cookbooks functioned as conduct texts that perpetuated the notion of the kitchen as an inherently female space, from with which the white, middle-class woman would cook the foods that attracted a man and kept him happy.

*——-. Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food, 2001.

——-. Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table, 2005. I own this, but for the life of me cannot recall what she’s doing in this one. I imagine it has something to do with race, gender, and class, though.

Mannur, Anita. Culinary Fictions: Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture, 2009. Mannur focuses on the recent trend of food narratives within the context of South Asian diasporic cultural production. She writes, “discursively, the terms by which ‘Indianness’ is imagined almost always mobilizes a culinary idiom; more often than not food is situated in narratives about racial and ethnic identity as an intractable measure of cultural authenticity” (3). One aspect of Mannur’s project is to uncover and disclose the complex contours beneath this flattening. She does so by interrogating the whys and hows of the deployment of the culinary metaphor, surveying the broad landscape that stretches from chick lit to experimental film to cookbooks.

*McFeely, Mary Drake. Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? American Women and the Kitchen in the Twentieth Century, 2001.

Neuhaus, Jessamyn. Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America, 2003. Neuhaus demonstrates the rhetorical techniques used by cookbooks produced from the 1890s to the 1960s to encourage women to seek the domestic sphere out of a sense of duty to both her family and her country. For example, a woman as skilled turn-of-the-century household manager ensured her husband’s ability to perform in the workplace (16); a woman who effectively and patriotically planted a victory garden or cleverly stretched her rationed staples helped American troops do their jobs more effectively during World War II (25); and the homemaker who deployed her culinary savvy in purchasing pre-made food products was doing her duty as a good postwar middle-class consumer (30). Indeed, Neuhaus returns to the trope of a woman’s duty again and again, arguing the various ways in which cookbook instructions are couched in a rhetoric of duty shaped by historical and cultural contexts.

*Schenone, Laura. A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of Women Told Through Food, Recipes and Remembrances, 2004.

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century, 1986, 2008. A historical survey of the domestic science experts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and how their emphasis on scientific and hygienic cookery set the stage for the infiltration of homogenized corporate food into the American diet. The “modernizing” effects of the mavens of scientific cookery, who praised the hygienic virtues of canned vegetables and potato flakes unsullied by human hands, opened up a space into which industry could insert itself into American women’s kitchens. The result was a standardized and homogenized cultural palate and a vast market waiting to be plumbed.

——-. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, 2005. The follow-up study to Perfection Salad. In it, Shapiro examines the way that the American appetite was further shaped by the twin powers of industry, which had a surplus of food manufacturing technology in the wake of World War II, and advertising, which industry manipulated to create a need and demand for such foodstuffs as frozen TV dinners and cake mixes. Despite housewives’ initial rejection of these products, they were eventually accepted into American kitchens.

*Sharpless, Rebecca. Cooking in Other Women’s Kitchens: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960, 2010. I am plotting a paper on The Help, and I reckon I should read this soon.

Williams-Forson, Psyche. Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, 2006. This study is such a fascinating read. Williams-Forson uses chicken (both animal and food) as the primary line of inquiry to examine the ways that black women established and expressed their agency from slavery to the present. This is a truly interdisciplinary study, with Williams-Forson looking at recipes/cookbooks, literature, Chris Rock, and the controversial and heart-wrenching work of Kara Walker to demonstrate the cultural work done via representations of black women and chicken.

Leave a comment


  1. SFP

     /  November 5, 2011

    Good luck on your dissertation! I had a grad school presentation this past week that sucked like non other (not helped by the cold I had). I’ll try your idea on blogging to get mentally prepared for the next presentation.

  2. Crystal

     /  November 5, 2011

    Melanie, this is super awesome! Thanks for sharing your list of texts. I look forward to checking them out! You will be fantastic on Wednesday! I can’t wait to cheer you on from the audience!

  3. Layne

     /  November 6, 2011

    Ooh, Melanie, what a great book list! I love that you posted this! Good luck getting ready for Wednesday–I wish I could be there to hear more about your amazing project!
    You may have seen Rebecca Sharpless’s response to the help on the UNC Press blog: http://uncpressblog.com/2011/08/24/historians-on-the-help-vanessa-may-and-rebecca-sharpless-respond/
    I had her as a professor in undergrad, and, in fact, as a Sunday School teacher for a while (!), and I always think she has wonderful things to say.

  4. Stella

     /  November 7, 2011

    I know I’ve said this before, but we REALLY need to hang out.
    Reading list after my own heart! Drool.

    Good luck with the defense! I’m sure it will go wonderfully! So exciting.

  5. Jessica Sewell

     /  November 16, 2011

    Thanks so much. This is great!

    I’m sure you knocked them dead.

    I know that there are lots of articles too, but you might find mine, on tea and gender, interesting. It’s “Tea and Suffrage,” in Food, Culture, and Society 11:4 (December 2008), 487-508.


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