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Food and Mass Media Discourses

2012 May 23
by Emma Hubbard

According to Cramer, Greene, and Walters in the chapter titled Discourses Of Consumption and Sustainability on the Food Network, “Food is one of the most potent media for conveying meanings related to identity, ethnicity, nationhood, gender, class, sexuality, and religion.” The focus in this chapter is to consider food and food discourse as the ways through which humans create a mutual and respectful relationship with the natural world. There are many concerns regarding the way our food is grown, processed, and distributed. The way in which we choose to obtain and eat our food is communicating how we value and respect ourselves and our land.

The focus of this study is to look at how media discourse promotes, constructs, and reproduces ideas and meanings about food and food production. The question is whether or not these media discourses promotes sustainability or consumption. The media texts that are examined are cooking shows or networks. The Food Network started off by featuring shows that were focused on cooking instruction, but by 1979, the network allowed the shows to focus on “all things food.” There are four themes that promote sustainability on the Food Network. Sustainability is defined as “the ability to sustain right relationships between humans and earth in a manner conducive to both.” These themes are civic agriculture, seasonality, vegetarianism, and sensuality. Civic agriculture promotes farming and food production, and the value of growing one’s own produce. Seasonality focuses on foods and produces that are available year round, which viewers should use fresh. If foods or produces are not available year round, viewers must take advantage of what is around them during specific seasons. Vegetarianism is not a theme that is featured on many of the Food Network shows. When it is present, vegetarianism has taught viewers that the meals can be considered “guilt free”, and vegetarian meals are also a respectful and thoughtful thing to do for vegetarian friends. Sensuality is the idea that the relationship between humans and the natural world is encountered through senses. This suggests that humans may realize and appreciate the natural world rather than deny and deprecate it.


The consumption themes that are highlighted in this chapter are food and gluttony, food as competition, and meat eating. With food and gluttony, the Food Network promotes excessive food consumption. The portion sizes are very large, and the food is usually prepared with fattening ingredients such as butter cream, and deep-fried foods. The Food Network has many competition based shows. Food as competition is highlighted in the show called 30-Minute Meals. A quality meal can be produced in just under 30 minutes, which can be impressive to a competitor. Meat Eating is a common theme on the Food Network. From this study. beef and chicken were the most frequent items on the menu. Bacon is a topping that was frequently added to vegetables and most meals. There are themes that appear on Food Network programs but do not necessarily promote sustainability nor consumption. These themes are food as pleasure or cooking as easy and simple, food as a way to connect with others, and cooking as an inexpensive activity.


Freeman and Merskin are the authors of the article, Having It His Way: The Construction of Masculinity in Fast-Food TV Advertising. When our society thinks of food and the American male, we typically think of meat. We do not think the traditional American male is a vegetarian or one that eats organic food. Our society has established meat as a masculine food. Hunting of large animals began 20,000 years ago, and many anthropologists theorize that men began to hunt to gain status for themselves. Many fast-food advertisements use men who are consuming meat. In many advertisements that promote meat products, men do all of the speaking. The advertisements communicate that men may continue to consume meat to stay true to their group identity as males. An example of a company that uses advertisements that adhere to the male stereotype is Subway. Muscular athletes are associated with meat and Jared, who is portrayed as a “smart” guy that may not be considered strong nor athletic, represents the femininity of dieting. In many advertisements, women and animals are portrayed as “objects”. Men have a desire for consuming meat, including that of women who are portrayed as silent sexual objects.


These advertisements are forms of entertainment, but can also be viewed as harmful messages that are detrimental to the social justice of human and nonhuman animals. Women are portrayed as objects, and these commercials may be a backlash against the power women have achieved in the times of struggling for women’s rights. Fast-food companies are telling men to “have it your way”, and this empowers them as they use women and animals as objects.


Food for Thought

1. What themes do you think are most prevalent on the Food Network? Are they themes that promote sustainability or consumption? 

2. Do you think the themes in the programming on the Food Network are influencing the viewers’ food choices? Which themes do you think are most important and beneficial to maintaining a healthy relationship between humans and the natural world?

3.  Do you think meat is a masculine food? How have advertisements shaped or influenced your view on this subject? 

4. Is it appropriate for men to use women and nonhuman animals as objects, or is it simply harmless entertainment? Do you think advertisements are promoting gender stereotypes?

4 Responses leave one →
  1. scalesaj permalink
    May 25, 2012

    I definitely think that meat is a masculine food, I know all the parts of a porterhouse but I doubt my girlfriend would know what a porterhouse steak is. The media definitely exacerbates this with their advertisements geared toward men as Freeman and Merskin pointed out in their analysis of fast food commercials. I think another product that they mentioned is just as good as meat to demonstrate the effect of masculine meaning on a product, beer. When I came to JMU I definitely wouldn’t say I felt peer pressure to drink, but I did have a stupid little internal voice saying thing like “if he can drink 4 shots you need to do 5” or feeling the need to grab a beer as soon as I entered a party. It was the thing that the JMU Guys did that I hung out with, just go out and get wasted. This mentality is perpetuated by the media with macho advertising such as Kieth Stone for Keystone light, or saying Miller is the only beer for a basketball game. Not only does advertising promote this male drinking but shows like madmen, and 30 Rock have a great deal of men drinking.
    Personally I don’t think that the heavy gearing of beer and meat to men is a huge problem. Advertisers advertise to the demographic which buys their products, and unless their children, I feel like they have the right to do that. For instance when I watch the food network, I love to see all the different types of bbq across the nation. On the other hand I feel that the dehumanization of women and animals is ethically irresponsible. In the case of women, I feel that you shouldn’t dehumanize a group of people because it will eventually go from perception to reality. For me I have a very smart little cousin and it would make me very sad and angry to thing that she was feeling less than a full woman in society because of the media. In the case of animals, I feel that we already don’t treat animals with any respect and that trying to increase the consumption or make light of the sacrifice some little critter gave to wind up on your plate is just adding insult to a terrible life.

  2. brubakra permalink
    May 25, 2012

    I think that you are right in that meat now is a masculine food, because of all the portrayals it’s been given the past couple of years. Even if we don’t think we do, we let ourselves be affected by these portrayals and the emphasis the advertisers put of the themes in those food too. I find the themes on the food network are taken seriously by the average viewer, some more than others. One might prefer the southern styles and fried foods of Paula Dean and let that influence their cooking, or others might enjoy the serene style and more simplistic foods of the Barefoot Contessa. I don’t watch any of these shows on the Food Network because I don’t like adopting the personalities of others in my cooking and in all honesty? I hate watching them make food because I know I can’t eat it;) However, I do agree that I am not familiar with a lot of vegetarian recipes because they are not as popular. When a lot of people think vegetarian, they think about just eating lettuce, rather than removing items from our diets that don’t contribute to keeping the natural world safe and thriving. Our relationship with the natural world is extremely important and I want to commend Cramer for writing a well-laid out argument for why that is. I love her quote that tied these two articles together, “media texts are thus considered constitutive of a given culture” (319). I agree that the Food Network isn’t promoting sustainability as much as it should, and with the massive audience it has.

  3. Josie Warren permalink
    June 25, 2012

    I absolutely think meat is a masculine food. Just look at the statistics on Wikipedia: 68% of vegetarians in America are female and only 32% are male. The case for most people is the females want to be skinnier and males want to be bigger. That’s how it’s always been. Guys are seen as more attractive if they’re bigger and muscular and since meat helps achieve this, they eat it.

    This contributes to my opinion that meat is a masculine food, but the way advertisements portray meat also adds to my opinion. It’s like you said, “The advertisements communicate that men may continue to consume meat to stay true to their group identity as males.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. One of my male friends is a vegetarian and I always hear our other male friends say to him, “Dude, are you a woman?” Eating meat to males is seen as the “male thing” to do and how they can be a mocho man with big muscles. It’s seen as the stereotypical part of a masculine’s identity. Since I’m doing my project on vegetarians, I asked my brother if he could ever turn vegetarian and he said “No way.” “But, I’ve come to find it’s way healthier for you and can help you live longer.” “I don’t care. I’m a guy. Guys eat meat. I’ll die earlier if it means I can keep meat in my life.” My brother sees eating meat as part of the typical masculine identity and is willing to ignore the facts to secure this identity.

    Advertisements are what contribute to making us think that meat is a masculine food. For example, in the Beef Cambells Soup advertisement found on, it shows in big letters “FOR MEN ONLY.” Then in little letters below it says, “but ladies you’ll like em’ too!” Other Cambells Soup advertisements tend to reach out to both genders, but since this one has beef in it, it is clearly directed towards men. The fact that the main focus of the advertisement is this huge sign saying “FOR MEN ONLY” conveys this to us.

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