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Sticky: Food and Culture 1

2012 May 21
by gilliakl

The culture perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises…the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu.

–Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, “The Cultural Industry”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merriam-Webster defines culture as the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends upon the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. When we think about culture, food is not the first thing that comes to mind. We typically think about music and art and the list can go and on. However, food is a major component of all cultures across the world. Each culture has its own cuisine, styles of preparing food, and the way each cultural thinks about food are completely different. Food plays a major role in our lives and our society. Without this source, human civilization could not thrive and exist.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                LeBesco and Naccarato argue that food and food practices provide appropriate metaphors for the relationships between culture and the individuals who comprise it, but also they play a significant role in mediating the relationship, whether by promoting dominant ideologies to which the individual is expected to conform or by providing the individual with an avenue for resisting or transgressing such expectations.

 

They argue their point by analyzing the work of food culture icons Julia Childs and Martha Stewart. The authors suggest that Childs and Stewart invites their viewers and consumers to imagine a class status and identity for themselves and to escapes, if not temporarily, their real economic conditions. With that concept in mind, one can think of food as a way that disrupts traditional class systems. By taking part in the food practices of Childs and Stewart the consumers have access to a world that would, under normal circumstances, be out of their reach. LeBesco and Naccarato refer to the concept mentioned in the latter sentence as culinary capital. It is very intriguing that the very programming and products that stimulates consumers with the thought of upward mobility through the acquisition of culinary capital are the same items that help maintain the class hierarchy between the consumers and Childs and Stewart. If one really thinks about it, it really makes sense. How can one improve their socio-economic status if they are constantly spending money on the food culture icons products? By buying their products, one only gets the illusion of upper mobility. However, that illusion may be good enough for some people.

Even though these two women maintain their upper class status, they engage their consumers as if they are just everyday people like them. Even though they try to build a rapport with their audience by saying they are just everyday people like themselves, the truth of the matter is, they are not. LeBesco and Naccarato point out many cases where Childs and Stewart allude to the fact that having culinary capital is important and they only way to obtain that capital is by having the best of the best. Many times the items that they suggest are the best may be out of the reach of many of the consumers. This piece reveals that food plays a major role in society that many may not think about on the day-to-day basis. It serves as a vehicle to circulate dominant cultural ideologies in our society.

Next, in the Christie McCullen piece, The white farm imaginary: How one farmers market refetishizes the production of food and limits food politics, she investigates the representation of food growers at a farmers market in California and what that image says about the racial politics of food production, consumption, and activism in the United States. MuCullen says that her research shows that through shopping at the market, customers develop a vision of farmers that she likes to call the white farm imaginary. She then goes on to explain that in this ideology is a universalized American identity based on romantic agrarian roots. It centers the American experience around a more European-American one and selectively deletes most people of color’s agricultural history in the United States.

 

 

To conduct her research she did an 18-month long ethnographic study at a food market in California. Through her research, she discovered that most of the consumers say that they shop at the market because they want to buy directly from the people that are working hard growing the food that they eat. Also, because many of the vendors at the food market are white men, women, and families, McCullen argues that this paints a picture in their heads that the people that are working hard to grow their food are white men and women but in reality, 80% of the labor that goes into making their food is done by Mexicans. However, one would not get that impression by shopping at the market because most of the vendors are white. She explains that the imaginary’s construction in both a product of the images at the Davis Farmers Market and the general cultural narrative of the movement that imagines sustainable farmers as white, small scale family farmers. She wonders if the consumers urge to shop at the market would be the same if they saw the actual faces of the people that grow the food that are feeding their families.

 

Food for thought

  1. Based on the McCullen piece do you think that the consumers desire to shop at the market would be as great if the vendors at the market were mostly Latino? Would the consumers be as compassionate?
  2. LeBesco and Naccarato argue that food and food practices provide appropriate metaphors for the relationships between culture and the individuals who comprise it, but also they play a significant role in mediating the relationship, whether by promoting dominant ideologies to which the individual is expected to conform or by providing the individual with a venue for resisting or transgressing such expectations. Do you agree with the authors and to what extent to you think this is true?
  3. Can you think of examples where  the acqusttion of culinary capital plays a major role in your own family?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Seana McCroddan permalink
    May 21, 2012

    The two readings this week were extremely interesting to me. Both opened my eyes to problems associated with cultural aspects of the modern food movement that I was previously unaware of. This is especially true to those associated with race and class in the culinary world.
    LeBesco and Naccarato did not do a very good job of selling me on their position of culinary icons mediating the relationship between class status and food preparation. It is just hard for me to imagine that the underlying motives of Julia Child and Martha Stewart in all of their cooking episodes and books that they have produced, was to sell the idea that the average person could higher their class status by adhering to their ideas and values. Were they really speaking out to status while making a name for themselves, or were they trying to speak to the majority of their audience as a way to make a living? Maybe I am just being overly cynical, because there were some good points mentioned in the essay that caught my attention. As an example, “Like Stewart, Child conflates culinary and cultural capital as the kitchen is transformed from a confining space of domestic duty into a gateway to the world.” In our society, we often speak of our meals in relation to ethnicity like, “Are you feeling Italian, Mexican, or Chinese food tonight for dinner?” The ability for us to be able to make dishes from all over the world through the help of recipes, like Child’s recipes of the French cuisine, allows us to experience tastes from places that we may not be fortunate enough to ever get to.
    On the other hand, I really enjoyed McCullen’s piece on the “White Farm Imaginary.” I thought her methods of research were both thorough and thought-provoking, and the amount of time she spent collecting date from such a wide variety of angles related to the farmer’s market, really left her with some interesting results. Working on a local farm myself for seven years, I can say from personal experience that a large portion of the hired employees that plant and produce food come from Latino backgrounds, while the face of the business is that of the owners. I don’t know if this is a bad thing, and I think in my situation, this is mostly due to traditional positions in the business and on simpler terms- most employees want their weekends off when they work in the summer heat all week. I loved that one farm that had a stand at the farmer’s market she was doing research at, had a picture of their entire staff to show their customers how many hands it takes to produce the food that is sitting on the tables in front of them. To get rid of this white farmer stereotype in the marketplace, I think vendors need to be made aware of this stereotype and need to be given tips, like bringing more of their staff to work the stand an hour or two on the weekends, to create a more accurate account of food production.

    • brubakra permalink
      May 24, 2012

      In response to Seana’s post, I appreciate her disagreeing with some of the argument LeBasco and Naccarato presented. What do tv stars want to do? Appeal to their audiences and make their viewers come back and keep watching their show. They might not be ‘trying’ to make people think they are above their class. They just want you to be able to make a good meal! But I think one of the main points that LeBasco and Naccarato is trying to make is the power of food communication, and in the hands of stars on television, how powerful that communication can be. Like fashion, one can use food to make a statement about class, personality, and expertise. Who knew that something that we make everyday can make such a big statement!

      • kikomr permalink
        May 24, 2012

        In response to both of y’alls comment, I do not believe that they were ‘intentionally’ making the relationship between class status and food preparation; however I think it was meant to garner views in order to get better ratings. As they both provide a glimpse into their calm homey kitchens, their demographics were both similar. Also, they both seemed to see their demographic as anyone who could eat and enjoy the experience, which was essential to their popularity. Furthermore, this popularity soon garnered even more viewers, thus leading to their elevated class in society. I think the beginning of their shows were more genuine because they were more ‘like us.’ But when they became celebrities, they became slaves of their networks.

    • Josie Warren permalink
      June 25, 2012

      In response to Seana’s post, I agree with you that LeBesco and Naccarato did not do a very good job of selling me on their position of culinary icons mediating the relationship between class and food. It is a bit of a stretch to say that hosts of culinary tv shows desire to make their viewers think “Hey, maybe if I cook this way I can higher my class status.” The only reason why these culinary TV show hosts are in fact in a “higher class” than most of their viewers is because they are on TV and the majority of their viewers are not. And it’s not like the hosts ever actually mention or convey that they are in a higher social class. Their intentions, as brubakra said, are to give us advice on how to cook better and to make us come back and watch the show again, not to say they’re above their viewers in social class.

  2. Maya Smith permalink
    May 22, 2012

    I have to say that I really enjoyed LeBesco and Naccarato’s piece about Julia Child and Martha Stewart because both women are icons that I grew up reading about and seeing on TV (Re-run’s of Julia Childs of course). I agree with Seana that I do not completely buy that the two women had covert motives of promoting an upper class life style, but I do think that at a subconscious level, that is exactly what they were selling. People watch Martha Stewart for handy DIY tips so that the average person can decorate or cook at an affordable price without it LOOKING like they did. I believe that the viewers of these shows do want to learn how to cook in a way that they can be praised for. Everyone wants the nicer things in life and if someone is going to teach them how to get that at an affordable cost, people are going to pay attention to what they are saying. I very much agree with this quote, “Stewart marshals her rags-to-riches personal history to demonstrate the possibility of class transformation based upon the manipulation of appearance”, because in my opinion, Martha Stewart would not be where she is today without viewers looking up to her. If she looked as acted as if she was lower class, she would not be respected as a homemaker personality. It is unfair, but that is how the media works.

    A good example of the acquisition of culinary capital in my family is when we have people over for a nice occasion. We use the nice china, we make fancy appetizers, and the meal is usually several courses long. That obviously is not a typical meal for us, but my mother wants us to seem fancy is sophisticated when other people come over.

  3. tamulida permalink
    May 22, 2012

    I found LeBesco and Naccarato’s articles about Martha Stewart and Julia Child to be very informative and interesting. I grew up watching Martha Stewart cooking shows with my parents and I did not know that there is so much to learn about culinary icons. In leBesco and Naccarato’s articles, I learned what culinary capital was and how it played a major role in food culture. In my family, my parents will demonstrate culinary capital when my boyfriend will come to visit. Whenever I bring my boyfriend home with me, I feel like my parents are trying to impress him by cooking an extravagant dinner. My parents will cook up lobster, calamari and other types of seafood as well as several side dishes. There is always way too much food, but it is the quality and quantity that they feel is the “best of the best.” Naturally, my parents will cook me a nice dinner when I am home but they always go above and beyond whenever my boyfriend is visiting or if we have friends and family over for dinner. In addition to the quality and quantity of food that is served, my parents demonstrate culinary capital when they set the table. My mom will place her antique linen table cloth on the table, along with our nicest china.

    The viewers of both these shows watch to learn how to cook. Both of these icons would not be as successful as they are today if it wasn’t for their viewers. People that watch both Child and Stewart look up to them and will listen to what they have to say about cooking tips. For instance, just to show how popular Julia Child is, there was the recent movie based off of her life, called Julie & Julia (2009) They produced this movie about Julia Child’s story of her start in the cooking profession and she is has brought up to be where she is today; a very successful woman who is passionate for the culinary arts.

    • Maya Smith permalink
      May 25, 2012

      “Julie and Julia” is a great point to bring up because it really highlights a real fan of Julia Childs. Not only does it show us the life if Childs, but it shows the life of her fan Julie, who is not wealthy by any means but wants a hobby that she can call her own. She decides to cook a recipe of Child’s everyday and start a blog about it. It is based on a true story. The film shows a love of cooking in the purest form and shows us and food communication students that the culinary arts in the media is not just to teach viewers how to seem superior. It can give hope or a hobby to viewers that need something more in life.

  4. Emma Hubbard permalink
    May 22, 2012

    The article written by LeBesco and Naccarato that focused on Julia Childs, Martha Stewart, and the rise of culinary capital was very interesting to me. I had never heard of culinary capital before I read this article. The authors said that their goal is to “understand how the representations of food and food practices that Childs and Stewart put forth in their cookbooks, their personal biographies, and their television programs function to promote a specific class ideology.” I agree with the authors when they say that television programs invite consumers to “escape, if only temporarily, their real economic conditions.” I believe that many viewers look towards food icons such as Childs and Stewart in order to learn how to prepare meals on a low budget, but ones that look of very high quality. I agree that because of food icons, the consumers have access to a world that would be out of their reach under normal circumstances.

    I agree with LeBesco and Naccarato who argue that food and food practices provide appropriate metaphors for the relationships between culture and the individuals who comprise it. I also agree that food and food practices play a significant role in mediating the relationship, whether by promoting dominant ideologies to which the individual is expected to conform or by providing the individual with a venue for resisting or transgressing such expectations. I believe that some viewers and consumers may want to conform with the dominant ideologies that are presented by food icons, such as Childs and Stewart. Food icons present the idea that culinary capital is very significant and it is important to use the “best” products out there to achieve culinary capital. In my home, culinary capital plays a major role when my family is having relatives or friends over. My mother tries to make the meal look as eloquent as possible. Although this is not how meals are at my house all of the time, my mother goes above and beyond for our relatives and friends. I believe my mother expands her standard budget for meals when relatives and friends come over to improve the look of our socio-economic status, and to provide an impressive meal for the important people in our lives, but at the same time, she is spending a great deal of money on the products that are used by food icons to produce these meals.

    Based on the McCullen piece, I am not sure that the consumers desire to shop at the market would be as great if the vendors at the market were mostly Latino. Sadly enough, some people in our culture simply imagine white people as the farmers, because they are the ones selling and providing the products at markets. I agree with McCullen who says, “This imaginary paints a scene of sustainable agriculture where white family farmers nobly work the land and Latino farm workers do not exist.” In my opinion, I think it would be great if the vendors at the market were mostly Latino. These are the people that are working so hard to make the products, and they deserve to show off and sell all that they have accomplished. The public would be able to see the people behind the farm labor, and they may be more appreciative of the Latino laborers if they had a visual image of them. The Latino laborers should get the recognition and appreciation that they deserve. Based on McCullen’s study, the consumers said they shop at the market because it allows them to buy directly from the people that work hard at producing their food. I think the consumers should be as compassionate about shopping at the market if the vendors were mostly Latino. A majority of the labor is done by Latinos and if the consumers want to buy from those who are growing the food, then they should be just as passionate about buying from Latinos: the true laborers.

  5. Emma Hubbard permalink
    May 22, 2012

    In response to Seana McCroddan:

    I agree with you that these two articles were eye opening, about the problems associated with cultural aspects of the modern food movement. I believe you made a very good point about LeBesco and Naccarato’s article. It is difficult to think that the motives of Childs and Stewart were to sell the idea that the average person could higher their class status by adhering to their ideas and values. I think they were trying to speak to the majority of their audience as a way to make a living. A large portion of the audience is most likely made up of people of an average status or middle class. When I watch food network shows or food icons, I get the idea that the icons are trying to teach the average person ways to produce meals that are of high value. I don’t necessarily think that Childs and Stewart were trying to say that the average person could higher their class status by using their ideas and values. The average person can choose to use these ideas and values, but they may be spending a great deal of money by trying to do so, and this will only give them the illusion of being of a high status. I thought you made a good point about Child’s recipe of the French cuisine, and how this allows the average person to create meals and experience tastes from places that may not be affordable or realistic to go to.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed McCullen’s piece on the “White Farm Imaginary.” The input that you gave about your personal experience of working on a farm was great. It made me realize that Latinos may be tired from working extremely hot weekdays, and actually request to take off on the weekends, allowing the owners to work the markets. Before reading your post, I thought of this more as a negative thing, but as I look at your personal experience, I can understand that it may be due to traditional positions in the business. I thought you gave a great idea for businesses to bring in more staff members on the weekends, even if it is for a short amount of time, to provide a more accurate depiction of who takes part in the food production. If this isn’t possible, businesses could do what the one stand did in McCullen’s research, as you mentioned, which is to take a picture of the entire staff to show how many hands it takes to produce the food that is being provided for them at the markets.

  6. brubakra permalink
    May 22, 2012

    As much as I love being an American citizen and living in a free country, it astonishes me how prominent racism in America sometime is. Unfortunately, I also think the presence of Latino workers and vendors at farmers markets will cause profits to decrease rather than increase. I wouldn’t mind, because like McCullen points out, these are the people in many places who are the ones most essential to the food growth and production. I go to farmers markets to support a local directly, but I also go so I can make sure I am eating all natural food. Yet, I find myself interested more in how the food was made rather than how nutritional it is. It says on page 218 that farmers markets aim to “teach” through consumption. Talking to the person who was in direct contact with the growth of the product would make me want to stay at a certain stand at the farmers market, no matter who they were. Food is food, I want it, and who I get it from doesn’t make much of a difference to me. I don’t think that goes for all people though. It might take predominately white America a while to get used to something like that. Why? I think getting the products from another white farmer gives them a false sense of security. This ‘white imaginaries’ idea is something that needs to change in order for farmers markets to be more successful.

    LeBasco and Naccarato give a lot of evidence that Child and Stewart warped their cookbooks and tv shows into ways for their readers to rise into higher class ranks and make them think better about themselves or others think higher of them. I think the deception, or illusion as it is refers to in the article, that one can escape who they are simply by their cooking is a bit over the top. I find both cooks so performed in their own work that it only makes sense that this performed identity will rub off on the readers. Just because you know what hollandaise sauce is or what an amazing Russian dish is, that doesn’t make you a higher person than your neighbor making macaroni and cheese next door. There are many different reasons why you made a Martha Stewart inspired dish, and it could be simply that you enjoy cooking! Food is a definitive factor in lifestyle, but your lifestyle’s effect on class isn’t solely dependent on your food identity or practices. However, culture asks its individuals to perform according to its rules and styles, and the desire to improve your standing in your own culture, for performative reasons, is understandable. I think I find Julia Child’s work a little less perfomative than Stewart’s, because she really shows how much work she puts into what she makes. There is a certain level of gratification and pride in putting in a lot of hard work in cooking a good meal; why not show it off? But I do agree that both try to make the listener turn a blind eye to who they are while cooking, copy another’s performance and qualities for a few minutes, and let the food take the reins in their class identity. I don’t think this is the goal we want our cookbooks and tv shows to have…My mom loved to make recipes that were created by my grandmother or by a best friends, I always found those meals better than a Rachael Ray meal any day☺

    • Danielle Tamulis permalink
      May 24, 2012

      In response to brubakra comments at the end of paragraph 1 (This ‘white imaginaries’ idea is something that needs to change in order for farmers markets to be more successful.)

      A shift in the paradigm of representation at farmers markets would be very challenging to achieve. I am by no means an experienced market goer but have been to a few to notice that those attending are willing to pay a premium for products that are certified organic or are in some way unique from what you are able to find at your everyday grocer. The farmers markets that I have been to, seem to be comprised of middle to upper income earners who have the disposable income to buy the finest organic and freshly picked/butchered product. I have yet to see the bargain shopper cruising around the market with their coupons looking for the lowest price available (I’ll head to the major grocer to find those instances). With that said, the white men and women make the most logical choice to have as the “store-front” owners of the products even if they are not doing the majority of the production. To appeal to the largest demographic at the markets I’ve been to, the white farmer seems to be the closest peer to those shopping for the premium products. If the person who actually assembled your iPhone came to the U.S. to try and sell you the phone, you would be more hesitant to buy it than if they simply shipped it here and someone from this class sold you the phone. I have a feeling that removing the white farmer from the store front would reduce revenue at many of the markets I have attended.

  7. kikomr permalink
    May 24, 2012

    As McCullen states, buyers in the agribusiness tend to seek the faces and relationships of the growers of their food. Furthermore, through capitalism, we actually see less of the product’s worth, and more of its ‘fetish’ when we buy. I do not believe that consumers would continue to shop at the farmers market if the vendors were the Latino workers who grew the food. Although this is an unfortunate happening, it is an economic choice made buy the owner of the farm to increase sales. As buyers become friends with their ‘growers/vendors’ they believe that they are even closer to the surreal farm image that food has created for all of us. This is true as we see how packaged meat is wrapped in the supermarket. They are shrink-wrapped with colorful images of farms on them. Because the item has no vendor, they must provide a comforting image so the buyer feels relief that the product is, in fact, comforting food.
    LeBesco and Naccarato’s piece was interesting. I had no idea that there were academic papers that were written on a show such as Julia Child or Martha Stewart’s show. The subtle cues that they exemplify in the show actually do pose some sort of significance, however. They offer a surreal experience, much like the brand names and vendors at the farmers market. Child and Stewart make the viewers feel at home because of their ‘natural’ mannerisms and their common mistakes that they do not edit out on film. I think LeBesco and Naccarato provide some interesting insight on this topic.

  8. gilliakl permalink
    May 25, 2012

    As many people have already stated I really enjoyed the LeBesco and Naccarato’s piece about Julia Child and Martha Stewart. I am not as aware about Julia Child but I am more familiar with Martha Stewart because my grandmother used a great deal of her products as well as watched her many days on the lifestyle channel when I was growing up as a child. This article also introduced me to the concept of culinary capital. I thought that this was very interesting and it even made me think about how culinary capital is used in my own life. The article says that one must have the best of the best when preparing meals and this really struck home for me. During holiday times in my own home, cooking meals is a full out production. No corners will be cut at all. We must have the best food, best table settings and best décor so I found that to be very interesting.

  9. gilliakl permalink
    May 25, 2012

    In response to Emma;

    “This imaginary paints a scene of sustainable agriculture where white family farmers nobly work the land and Latino farm workers do not exist.” In my opinion, I think it would be great if the vendors at the market were mostly Latino. These are the people that are working so hard to make the products, and they deserve to show off and sell all that they have accomplished.”

    I fully agree with you here. I thought the entire concept of white farmer imaginary to be very intriguing because when I think of farmers of an array of people especially Latinos because they are humble enough to do work that many people in our society raises their noses at. I think that it would be a great social experiment to see what would happen just for a weekend if the majority of the vendors were Latino. I wonder if many of the people who go there on the regular basis would have the same experiences that the reported in the study.

  10. Katie Love permalink
    June 8, 2012

    Perhaps I should have been a bit more critical with this article instead of appreciating the content with curiosity. The article explores the ways in which Martha Stewart and Julia Child taught food and lifestyle viewers about their lives (and how to achieve them) through their various media products and television shows. It is concluded by the authors that both chefs are creating social rankings through their shows. Martha Stewart cooks with ‘fine’ ingredients and puts on elegant cocktail parties to dictate her place in the social realm that you, too can achieve through watching and cooking like her while Julia Child is more silly, clumsy and relatable to the ‘average’ viewer yet gives her dishes French names.
    A great emphasis on “class” with Martha Stewart and the Ease of French Cuisine with Julia Reinforces the fact that some do not have this “upper-class-ness” that these icons present. This may be true and what an interesting article about this but I disagree with the authors in saying that people do not merely watch the shows for reasons of wanting to achieve and have this lifestyle but for mere enjoyment. Perhaps they watch to relate to these women, I do not watch Rachel Ray because I have no need to make a 30-minute-meal for my family because I do not have one yet but do have access to a flower shop and can create notable centerpieces like Ina Garten on the Barefoot Contessa therefore I am more inclined to watch that show.
    I did enjoy, however, the background history on each of these women presented by the authors even if they contradicted the lives they portrayed on television.

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