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.

For love of Edward Cullen

Friday in my class we talked about the meanings of vampires in the cultural imagination. Here is a powerpoint slideshow I put together based on a poll taken from my class and my Facebook friends. There’s not a lot of commentary here, but it’s a very compelling document indeed! Can you tell which comments were from my students (mostly freshmen, all women) and which are from my “grownup” friends?


And for those of you with older versions of Office:

The reading for that day included the intro and final section of Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves and this article from NPR. I found that the girls were fairly resistant (maybe?) to the idea that a culture’s version of the vampire is reflective of the zeitgeist. We talked a bit about the conservative vampire of the 1980s and how he (why always male?) reflected paternalistic Reagan-era politics and AIDS fear, and how Stoker’s vampire interrogated the figure of the New Woman and late-Victorian xenophobia (which we will discuss later this week).

From there I asked them to describe Edward Cullen, who is this moment’s Vampire du Jour. They came up with protective, creeper, sugar daddy, father figure, stalker, unconditional love, and a few others I can’t remember right now. From there, I asked them what it is about Edward’s “ambient ethos” (a phrase I shamelessly stole from Snehal Shingavi) that is reflective of our zeitgeist. Twilight came out in 2005, smack in the middle of GWB’s presidential regime, we were embroiled in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina happened, the first of a number of personnel changes on the Supreme Court, etc. The past five years have been full of all sorts of upheaval and uncertainty, and Sarah Hepola argues that for 30-something women, Twilight offers an escape from the disappointments of the real love plot, and that it is particularly resonant with women going through major life changes (I, for one, got sucked in while expecting my daughter, who just turned 2 yesterday).

It would serve then, I suggested to my class, that the reason we responded so overwhelmingly to Edward Cullen is that we needed or wanted someone to take care of us. I might even argue that both Presidents Bush AND Obama can be reflective of our desire for a savior-protector.

There’s the whole Mormon angle to contend with, too, but I chose not to open that can of worms in class.

This week we’re discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moving on to Stoker’s Dracula before embarking upon Eclipse. This is still very much in progress, but I’m keen to see how they respond to thinking critically about someone as polarizing as Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Stay tuned!

Binning my ethos

I’ve noticed that a lot of students are wearing pajama bottoms and t-shirts on campus these days. My last day of class this semester is Thursday and since I’m not teaching, I thought I’d wear my pj bottoms, too. In fact, I think I’ll wear the whole set (mine is pink), complete with matching fuzzy pink socks. That’ll go over well when I take my Spanish test, right? And in my rhetoric/theory class? Discussing Derrida and (more) Ronell?

I got accepted to the national PCA/ACA conference in San Francisco in March, and my acceptance letter said that I might be a panel chair. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!! Only if I can bring an egg timer with me.


So, we got back from Seattle on Sunday night to learn that the shower and bathtub (two different bathrooms) were backing up and that my mother-in-law had been unable to bathe and was rapidly unraveling as a result. Poor thing! Plumber came on Monday, did some snaking and some other stuff, and now we are moving smoothly. That night, I stayed up laaaaate to grade papers, then was so delirious that I was convinced that the plumber was coming back to rob us. After all, he’d seen my laptop! and our two cheap TVs! and … my books! We are targets! I hid my laptop in my dresser and my purse in the closet when I finally went to bed, then lay in the dark, twitching at every creak and rustle. (I should also mention that I barely slept on Sunday night as well, due to jetlag — yes, totally lame to get jetlag going from PST to CST, but I somehow managed to do it.)

Finished grading last night — of my 20 students, 2 got Ds and 3 got Fs. I have second- and third-guessed myself on these grades, but every time I attempt to reconsider, I see all the glaring flaws all over again and can’t bring myself to change the grades. I know there will be tears in my office over these grades, and I am facing some really hard truths about my teaching. There is absolutely no reason why a full quarter of my students should be turning in below-average work. Obviously, mistakes have been made on both sides of the gradebook; it’s now up to me to do some re-tooling, pedagogically, and evaluate how I communicate expectations and ensure that I’m properly equipping my students with the tools they need to write successful papers in a lower-division undergraduate rhetoric course. (You might hear some eye-rolling in that last sentence.)

I am really behind on the reading for my Thursday-night class, called Rhetoric and Identification. I didn’t read any of the material for last week, as we were in Seattle, and now I realize that everything we’re reading from here on out is based in the Freud I didn’t read last week. Also, I have to revise my second paper for the class, which was handed back without a grade with the edict, “more, more, MORE!” Gah.

You can’t get blood from a turnip, is all I’m saying. But somehow, I will find that “MORE!” Who needs a life when you’ve got Kenneth Burke, Sigmund Freud, and Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen to keep you company? I’m sure Matt won’t mind another night alone in the bed while I toil in the livingroom.

First day of school

Today is the first day of the fall semester. I had gotten spoiled to the relative dearth of humanity on campus over the summer, so it was a bit of a rude awakening to have to dodge a throng at every turn.

I started out by stopping at the Big Dorm convenience store to pick up a variety of treats for an activity with my students. I’ve got lots of different types of junk food (including these!), some fruit, and I’ll soon go pick up a few goodies from a cupcake shop. One thing I noticed is that I guess I now look more like faculty/staff than a student, because no one attempted to hand me fliers, which is a good thing, but makes me feel old. (It’s always something, isn’t it?)

Anyhoo, so this is my new blog. I feel kind of weird about it — I have a new blog because the host of the old blog is mad at me, I guess, and I’ve been kicked off her domain. Sort of. I guess. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m too much of a chicken to ask. Maybe someday I will. Or maybe I’ll just always wonder.