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Sticky: Introduction to Food Communication 1

2014 June 16
by Paul Mabrey

What is food communication? How do we understand food communication? And importantly, how are we to create and share meaning centered around food and communication? In our course description we say that we will propose, consider and analyze the different relationships between communication and food and how these relationships negotiate our identities, cultures and environments. But what does it mean when we refer to food, communication or for our purposes, food communication?

Food communication or the study of food communication intersects two different disciplines, communication studies and food studies. Each discipline has its own working definitions, methods, disciplinary arguments, disabling blindspots, richness, ideologies, opportunities for freedom and the list could go on.

As students of communication, we have some building blocks to help us understand communication. Communication is a process whereby we largely understand the world (including ourselves) and share those worlds with one another.
– Communication as the process by which we understand the world and share that understanding with others.
– Communication as the symbolic process where reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed.
– Communicative practices by which we create, manage and share meanings with others.

LeBesco and Naccarato build on this working definition of communication through their use of Roland Barthes and his work on myths. Myths are one of those ways, a dominant way even, in which we build and share meaning. LeBesco and Naccarato argue that myths are a useful tool for understanding our communicative practices because myths help reveal what we normally taken for granted as natural or given is in fact socially created and the richness of our myths. Further, Barthes introduces ideology into myths. Here ideology is a system of values, ideas, actions and practices that are privileged while simultaneously other values, ideas, actions, practices etc are foreclosed. And so it is with our myths that particular ideologies are circulated. LeBesco and Naccarato’s contribution to our working understanding of communication is that within and throughout our process of sharing meaning, that meaning is never neutral.

While communicating, we are always circulating a particular (or many) way(s) of viewing and understanding the world. For them, this does not necessarily have to be oppressive or destructive. We always here about how an ideology is making us want to do things and these things are typically bad; whether the ideologies at play encourage us to consume more, eat meat, litter, be patriarchal, go to war etc. Well, for LeBesco and Naccarato, ideologies also enable us to do good, productive things; like resist oppression, find and experiment with pleasure, enjoy freedoms etc.

Finally, a common thread through all of our readings on communication to this point is the emphasis on the everyday. The everyday is meant to convey all of the different acts and practices of communication that we might take for granted. So, in saying hello to the mailperson, buying a jug of milk, going to the movie theater, driving a car – all of these seemingly small inconspicuous communicative acts constitute important components of our meaning sharing with ourselves and with others.

Food studies, as Miller and Deutsch introduce to us, is concerned NOT with food per se but with the relationships between food and human experiences. So, the full range of experiences and relationships that we have with food is taken as the object of food studies. These relationships may concern human identity and culture or the production and consumption processes for cultivating food and much else. Because the range of food relationships is so large, so too are those disciplines expressing interest in food studies.

Really, Miller and Deutsch argue, food studies is an interdisciplinary field. Scholars from disciplines such as anthropology, history, philosophy, economics, biology and geography research, write and think about food relationships. But the discipline is unique in that it actively extends beyond traditional academic scholarship. Chefs, culinary critics, policymakers, farmers and others have also published, attended conferences and generated support for the study of food relationships. And recently, the field of people interested in food studies has reached the popular mainstream. From the television shows and cooking clubs to food cooperatives, foodies, farmer’s markets and food documentaries aimed at food industries, it seems everyone has taken aim at food relationships.

Food Communication
Hopefully now the affinities between the study of how we share meaning and the study of food relationships in becoming more clear. From the perspective of communication studies, food has and continues to be an important symbol in our creation of meaning. Greene and Cramer refer to food as a nonverbal way we create, share and transform meaning with others. Food is a site for not just sharing meaning but it is also a place where we struggle over meaning. For example, the traditional political struggle over food meanings might happen in discussions and congressional debate over the food pyramid. Or in the non-traditional but everyday struggle over meaning, the burger king ad placed above, “It’ll Blow Your Mind Away,” offers opportunities to analyze or even protest the meaning of that particular food relationship and the ideologies that might be communicated.

Of course, though it might seem more obvious now that communication scholars would be interested in the role food has in creating and sharing meaning, the readings suggest this has not always been the case. Both pieces situated within communication studies suggest the discipline is behind other disciplines in thinking the role of food on creating meaning and relationships. Even the piece on food studies does not list communication as one of the fields making up its interdisciplinary interest.

Image of thinking woman statue
Do you think communication studies as a field has largely ignored the role of food?
What reasons can you think of for why food has not been researched very much from a communication perspective?
How can the field of food studies benefit from a communication perspective?
Why has there been a recent explosion in the popularity of food, studying food and food relationships?
How can food contribute or alter the ways we think about communication?

One Response leave one →
  1. Charlotte Harnad permalink
    June 16, 2014

    Hello! My name is Charlotte Harnad and am a rising Junior. I am double majoring in Communications with a concentration in organization and history! I am from Waynesboro VA, which is about half an hour away from JMU. This summer I am a tutor to athletes and a tour guide at JMU, so I will be posting from a weird and random mix of Harrisonburg and Waynesboro. My father earned his culinary degree instead of going to college and has cooked a lot of different places around the world. He has definitely influenced me in a major way and I am a major ‘Foodie.’ I thought this course was a perfect way to work towards graduating on time and learning some cool things!

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