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Food and Culture

2014 June 22
by Stephen Klier II

Lifestyle Programming and Culinary Capital


The LeBesco and Naccarato text highlight the often overlooked aspect of “culinary capital” hidden within the food industry. More specifically, the idea of “lifestyle programming” is discussed and offers us many interesting, practical parallels. Lifestyle programming refers to the wave of reality television cooking shows that demonstrate the “proper” methods of food prep and cooking. These shows, the author argues, are dangerous to the class system existent within our culture. One can now turn on the television and view a gourmet meal being made; the act of viewing these shows assists the viewer in feeling more connected with the elites of cooking and the elites in social class. LeBesco and Naccarato argue the danger in this is that instead of pushing themselves to experience now things and challenge their social class, lifestyle programming holds people in their social classes with the bonds of contentment. Food therefore acts as an escape route, allowing those who dream of warm baguettes on an Italian riverside or sampling silky dark chocolate in a Swiss cottage the opportunity to experience such pleasures, without affording any lasting class movement.

So here’s the deal. Telling college kids to read an article about Martha Stewart and Julia Child is about as useful as telling our parents to read an article about Iggy Azalea and Calvin Harris, they may know who they are, but why in the world would they care to read about them. So it’s up to us to think critically, but more importantly, practically about this article in order for its incredible depth to take hold. When reading this article I was constantly reminded of how many times, on a college campus, students will buy food or pick a restaurant that helps them elevate their “culinary capital”. It can be as simple as choosing Capital Ale House over Billy Jack’s or Dona’s because you want a “classy” night out. In doing this, the authors words ring true that food culture has the power to temporarily elevate ones social class. This can even be witnessed in upperclassmen hangouts where alcohol is present…the guy that brings a six-pack of Bud Lights isn’t noticed, but the person that brings a six-pack of high end craft brews is looked on as chic and refined. So when have you used food or the food culture to temporarily elevate your social standing? Can you think of other examples of how the food culture is used to temporarily raise the perception of social standing? What establishments do you patronize that you only go to because of the social boost it provides? What food shows do you watch that help you escape to a higher social class?

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Food as a Metaphor


In reviewing Kaplan’s article on food as a metaphor, we see that food, for middle-school aged kids, is recognized as a metaphor for caring. A reason for this connection is given in that the emerging adults harness the concept of possible selves in which their ability to provide food as care encourages them because the “future them” will be able to care for others. Another reason for food acting as a metaphor for caring is that teens understand class structure and their ability to provide food to less fortunate kids is a rewarding act of caring. Kaplan’s research followed thirty children ages 11 to 14, and found that children used food in different ways. The Helpful Kids saw food as an opportunity to help busy, working parents as well as continue to reinforce rituals like a family dinner time. Kids who saw food as a gift longed for opportunities to provide care and services via food to those in need around them. The food gift can serve as a “thank you” to parents or an “I love you” to friends. The Not-So-Helpful Kids viewed meal times as something to be expected without their assistance. Food prep was seen by these kids as the job of the parents, no matter how much the parents work. Finally, some of the kids saw food as a chore. These children saw food as something that had to be done, whether they enjoyed the process or not. These children were often found in busy families where time for an extravagant meal was hard to come by. So which of the italicized types of kid were you? How did you view food as a pre-teen? Did food draw your family together? Push them apart? For me, I was a helpful kid. I loved knowing that at 5:00 every day my dad would be coming through the front door and soon thereafter we would be eating. I did all I could to assist in the preparation of the meal because I loved that quality time, but also because of the great sense of pride that was mine after preparing a delicious dish.


13 Responses leave one →
  1. Maggie Roth permalink
    June 23, 2014

    I think Stephen makes some really great points in his blog response to the LeBesco and Naccarato article. Food has and will probably continue to act as a means of class movement for as long as there are class lines. What I found most interesting about this piece however, was Mason and Meyer’s realization that corporate America has not only realized this, but has been able to profit off of it through selling the “idea of class.” This is seen specifically in the example of K-Mart hosting a Martha Stewart line with the underscore that “while one buys her products at K-Mart, one uses them to create and sustain the identity of a person who would never shop there” (236). This reiterates that while food might offer a temporary elevation, society will relentlessly re-set class barriers.

    To answer Stephen’s questions, I think we all participate in “temporarily” elevating our social class through food. This is done many different ways, but from personal experience, I notice it most during celebrations (ie. Birthdays, graduations…). My family always goes to more high-end restaurants, ones that we would not go to on a normal night when we are celebrating something. I think we have socially constructed it to “mean more” if we have something out of the normal, and usually more exspensive.
    I think food’s ability to offer certain social status has even descended to grocery stores. For example, it is much “cooler” to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joes even though it is much more expensive than shopping at Farm Fresh.

    To comment on the second part of Stephen’s blog, I found this article really eye-opening. Because food is such an important part of our daily life, investigating its role in a pre-teen’s family life and outlook on caring/helpfulness makes total sense. In my family, food has always been a way to communicate love and caring, so this approach was not new to me. Interesting enough, I could relate to two groups in the study. While my dad has always worked, my mom stayed home when my sister and I were in elementary school. During this time we had home cooked meals and ate dinner as a family every day. While we were required to set the table, the responsibility of meals fell entirely on my mom—and my sister and I were entirely dependent on her. As we got older however, my mom went back to work, and things began to change slightly. While we were still required to eat together every night, my sister, dad, and I began to take on some of the burden of meals. We all contributed to grocery shopping, prepping meals, and cooking. I think my situation quite lucky because when I was young I was able to solely “be a kid” but as I matured, my responsibly increased, which helped me transition into adulthood.

  2. Cassidy Clayton permalink
    June 23, 2014

    First off, I love the Iggy Azalea reference and metaphor here! It made me laugh! But seriously, the idea of lifestyle programming is so incredibly interesting because I never thought that a silly cooking show has to potential to effect our social class system so much. On one hand I find it to be positive, in the sense that it allows any person the ability to experience high end foods and meals. On the other hand, I find it to be negative, for the same reason, because while the experience is high end, it is not earned, but rather given. This country has been known for it’s motto, “you can have anything as long as you are willing to work for it”. The idea of lifestyle programming affects that dramatically because you no longer have to work at all for expensive treats. The person living in a mansion with three cars has the same culinary capital as the person in college with no means of extra money and I am excited and skeptical about that.

    I have experienced many meals and drinks that raised or declined my personal culinary capital. Every time my parents or family comes into town, we eat at the nicer restaurants in town, like Clementines, Union Station or the Local Chop & Grill House. Usually, if I am eating out with my friends, places like Panera and Chipotle are a treat. The culinary capital differs between my family and mine’s when we are separate and I believe that is because of my father’s ideals. My father has worked incredibly hard his whole life and now has the money to spend on fancy meals, thus he has raised his culinary capital quite a bit and while I get to experience that when I am with him, I do not do that when I am on my own. So being with my father temporarily raises my social class. Another example that I want to elaborate on is Stephen’s upperclassman hangouts example. We all know those people that bring a different kind of expensive brew or liquor to the party and while we love them for it, it definitely puts their culinary capital above the rest of us bud light and burnette’s drinkers. (I haven’t had burnette’s since freshman year but just for the analogy). I have definitely used food to raise my social standing in this way. Whenever, I drive home to my family, I try my best to stop and grab an expensive-ish bottle of wine for my parents. I do this to thank my family for everything they do to me, but also in a small way, I think this proves to my family that I am doing well and can afford to do that. I have not put much thought into this idea that food can raise my social class or make it appear to do so at the least. I think that any restaurant that makes you pay over $12 for a meal is considered to be a place that raises my social class. Foods that come out on a plate with decorative sauces or even foods that appear to be tiny or stacked like Stephen’s picture, raise my social class. I think consuming or preparing certain meats and seafood can raise your social class. As well as, consuming or preparing any foods that are native to other countries.

    I grew up straddling the line between the helpful kids and food as a gift. My parents were always busy growing up and whenever they took the time to prepare a meal for the family, I jumped at the chance to help them. I loved helping them cook because it was an opportunity to spend time with my parents and to give them the opportunity to be proud of me. I wouldn’t say I longed for the chance to give food to others but I have always had a nurturing soul. I remember every father’s day, mother’s day, birthday or just special occasion in our family made me extra excited because it provided the chance for me to cook breakfast for that special someone. I loved bringing my mother breakfast in bed on mother’s day because of how happy I know it made her. Growing up, food definitely brought my family together and still does to this day. My family, while very close, rarely are ever in the same house for a long amount of time so when we are, we celebrate around food and drinks. Whether it is preparing it together at our house or going out to a nice dinner together, it is about food and about being together.

    • Brooklyn Steele permalink
      June 26, 2014

      I agree that culinary capital is so interesting! I question how people have the same opportunity for food though. Because there are people that cant afford the Chop House, but might go to Texas Roadhouse instead. Most college students are lucky if they can afford Chipotle once a week and really look forward to that, while movie stars wine and dine every night. Its really interesting to see how money can really effect how people eat.

  3. Lindsay Kagalis permalink
    June 23, 2014

    What establishments do you patronize that you only go to because of the social boost it provides? What food shows do you watch that help you escape to a higher social class?

    Even just as Stephen said, I definitely think I have used such things like purchasing more craft beer instead of cheap beer, such as budlight, in order to temporarily raise my social standing and feel like I am in a higher social standing than others. This was a really interesting topic, because I really never thought about my dining or purchasing decisions to be more about raising or lowering my social standing. For me, it was more about the fact that I am able to drink once I turned 21 and also the fact that I have the money to enjoy a higher end of beer or a more expensive meal. I completely agree with you Cassidy that my choices also depend on who I am with. I still think that a meal that is more than 10 dollars can be pricey and sometimes not worth it. However, a PERFECT example just happened to me today at work. I recently started a new position at the Valley Vet Hospital last week, and all of my co-workers are going to Melting Pot in Charlottesville this Thursday. Even though it is 25 dollars a person, of course I want to go and spend that money to temporarily feel not only like part of the group, but also to feel like I am a member of a higher class than I normally do.

    As for which child I believed myself to be, I think I could balance it between the helpful child and the one who uses food as a gift. My family was always busy, and I feel like I always wanted to help them prepare and learn how to cook the meals that were considered traditional for us. As I grew up, I of course would love to cook more when I had the chance, and even now when I visit my family I tend to cook all the meals whenever necessary simply to help out and pitch in a little more since I am not home as much. I also believe that I was part of the food as a gift child, especially when I became older. For one, I loved to help those around me and during my entire time in high school I volunteered at a food kitchen that made lunches and fed the homeless of Baltimore every week. I simply loved making food and giving it to others just to help out in whatever situation possible. I believe that’s why I enjoy cooking so much nowadays, either to help out in any way possible, or to just say thank you or remind people of how much I care about them.

  4. Frank Saunders III permalink
    June 25, 2014

    I first want to touch base on Stephen’s comment regarding craft beer to raise social class, yes one may feel sophisticated when drinking Starr Hill over Bud Lite, but drinking craft beers over your typical beer may indicate an acquired taste. It also could indicate maturity as well. In no way am I saying I am more mature than anyone who drinks Bud Lite, Bud, Miller etc., but I am entering my 5th year of college and Bud Lite tastes like piss water compared to Sierra Nevada, and the thought of sucking a Natty Light through a funnel is rather distasteful. With that said, and to go along with what Cassidy said, I always try to buy my parents a nice bottle of wine for special occasions and on my way home from school. I do it out of respect for all they have done for me, and I am apart of a family that live comfortably, in no way am I saying I am apart of the upper class, but we don’t struggle.

    Food is something that is important in our family. Family meal is not something that happens every-so-often, its mandatory, and if I am not home for dinner, I might as well not come home at all. I, like Lindsay, would fall between the helpful child and the one who uses food as a gift. Food was always a family effort, everyone did their part whether it be helping in preparation, setting the table, cleaning up etc., but at the same time, a nice, home cooked meal was expected, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was extremely privileged to have a supportive family in that aspect. We also would participate in food drives to help others and our troops overseas. Food was something that was ‘gifted’ to me, and we used it as something to gift to others.

    Social class is something that is learned, respected yet disrespected, and admired. I live in a city that has fair representations of the high, middle, and low classes. Food markets like Whole Foods and the Fresh Market are where most of the upper middle, and upper class patrons shop, and Super K-Mart, Wal-Mart, Food Lion, and Dollar General are where the lower class citizens shop. I feel more privileged and accepted when walking around in Whole Foods compared to Food Lion, there is a sense of aesthetic appeal that invites the higher class, and of course the prices. Whole Paycheck.

  5. Maggie Roth permalink
    June 25, 2014

    Trey’s assertion that grocery stores reinforce social standings is a really important point that has much deeper connotations than I think we would ever realize at first glance. Trey breaks the stores into two distinct groupings– one “upper” class and one “lower” class. While you can find some of the same products at both stores, there is a significant difference in the options and quality of products available between these two groups.

    I am writing my research paper on Genetically Modified (GM) crops, and through my research I have learned that the only grocery store in the United States that has promised to label all of their products and cite GM ingredients by choice is Whole Foods.(I use the phrase “by choice” because GM labeling is not regulated or enforced by the U.S. government.) In doing so, they provide customers with all the information they can about products. Although I am definitely pro-GM labeling, I do think that this might have negative consequences. Whole Foods like Trey suggested is a very unique brand– one that many people can not afford to shop at, excluding those consumers from receiving full disclosure about their food purchases because they can not afford it.

    I think this is discrepancy is relevant to all of us as college students. While my parents shop at Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, and Whole Foods (so I am used to these products) I can guarantee that I will not be able to afford to buy all of my groceries from these stores once I live on my own. And because of that, I will not be awarded the same right to know what is in my food as someone like my parents who happen to make more money than me…Reinforcing class systems and exposure to healthy v unhealthy food.

  6. Carolyn Girondo permalink
    June 26, 2014

    Great post! The culinary capital is such an interesting idea. One can definitely raise their social status by choosing a fancy place and a lot of times that’s what the restaurants are catering to. It’s all about the atmosphere/vibe/the experience. This made me wonder about different people valuing different things though. Example: to one person the capital ale house is viewed as “classier” raising that persons social status and billy jacks is cheaper/more divey so it would lower it. What if you valued these smaller, divey bars more than something “fancy”. Some people are looking for the most authentic food experience and sometimes that comes from a joke in the wall. Could people also see these “classy” people as stuck up? Just a thought.

    As for your questions:
    I have definitely used food to raise my social status such as making something for a pot luck. I pride myself in being able to cook so I always want to make something exciting, different, etc. one time I was going to a brunch potluck and I got up extra early to try to make homemade donuts from Pinterest. Well they did not turn out like the Pinterest picture so I ended up going to the store and just grabbing something instead of bringing/owning up to my failure donuts. This also happens a lot in my family because we hold high standards for Italian food. If it’s not better than what we can make at home why would we even bother. My family cringes at people eating at Olive Garden (coined at fake Italian by them) could be a fine place that’s just what I was taught. If you love Olive Garden- by all means do your thing! They also think it’s a cardinal sin when people don’t make their own gravy (marinara). This is definitely not the norm for most people so when I came to college and my friends were buying ragu it was like I was wired to cringe which is ridiculous but people in my family always looked down on it.

    When I was a kid I was definitely a helper. As I mentioned in my post we had a “if you cook you don’t clean rule” and I hated cleaning so I jumped right into the cooking. I was also always fascinated by it. I would try to make up my own recipes and plate them and take a picture to save in a binder that I was going to make into a recipe book someday. Some days when my mom wasn’t home my dad and I would make “who knows what’s in it cake” where we literally put things we thought would taste good together and bake a cake. It almost never worked out but we had fun trying. Good has always drawn out family together. It’s cool because some recipes have been passed down for generations and in a way it keeps all of us connected.

    • Stephen Klier II permalink
      June 26, 2014

      Good call on the values system in your first paragraph. I never thought of it that way. With the “hipster” thing going on the dive bars may be the place to gain social standing via peers rather than the Cap Ales and Wilton Houses. It’s crazy to think that the local culture of Harrisonburg can dictate what businesses will be patronized all due to their level of desirability in the eye of the public.

  7. Maggie Roth permalink
    June 26, 2014

    I think Carolyn posses a really good point on food preference. For example, how many of you guys have been to the Little Grill in Harrisonburg? The food is amazing and I love the atmosphere, but from the outside establishment, the restaurant might look a little sketchy.
    There is so much more that impacts our decisions when it comes to eating than just, “oh we are eating to refuel our bodies.”

    Also-just as a little fun fact, I have never eaten at McDonalds, just because when I was little my parents never took me and as I got it just became a precedent.. I haven’t eaten there because I think I am “too good” for it, but some might get that impression because when someone finds out I haven’t eaten there, they are shocked.

  8. Lindsay Kagalis permalink
    June 26, 2014

    Maggie I agree, even when I first went to the Little Grill, I was taken aback slightly by the sheer appearance of the restaurant. I definitely think that I don’t just consider food to be fuel for my body. Instead I want to enjoy whatever I’m eating, and I am guilty of spending a little more money in order to feel like a more privileged food consumer to get the best experience when eating. However, just as Carolyn mentioned, I also tend to try and check out as many unique and original restaurants than fancy or upscale chains. This isn’t because I think that the more upscale places are too snooty or expensive, but simply because I look a lot for an experience when deciding where to eat when going out. With that said, it’s really even interesting to think even deeper about going out to dinner and the places that we prefer. I’ve been known sometimes to enjoy the atmosphere and vibes of a restaurant so much that I think it somehow influences me to think that the food tasted better because of the atmosphere. It’s just really fascinating to me how many aspects of food and society influence each and every one of us in our choices of food consumption.

  9. Alina Clark permalink
    June 27, 2014

    I thought the readings for this topic were really interesting and enjoyable and was really able to relate to some of the kids. My parents both worked full time, and from the age of 8 until I was about 17 I had a nanny. Even with my nanny, my mom would still cook a homemade meal almost everynight of the week when she got home from work (she’s superwoman).That being said, while I did share some of the feelings that Nick and his sister had about their parents always being busy, I also really enjoyed cooking for my family. I just like to cook. I’m not sure that if I had to cook for myself all the time out of necessity – if I would still like it as much.
    As a pre-teen I saw food as a way to be expressive and also as a way, as the article notes, to highlight my independence and prove my competence. Almost the mindset of “if I can cook them this fancy meal, maybe they’ll treat me like I’m older.” Yeah, that didn’t work. Regardless, my family and I enjoy the spend we spend at dinner together, and although I do remember some nights as a preteen arguing about why I had to sit with the family for dinner and stay for the whole thing – I am very much appreciative now to know that I have a family that prioritizes just that – family.

  10. Robert Bamsey permalink
    June 27, 2014

    I think everyone definitely believes at some point that going to X fancy place to eat will make them look more sophisticated, wealthy, affluent, attractive, or elevated social class. Being a waiter at a winery “bistro” as well as an event caterer, every weekend I am confronted with people who will pay at least $20 per bottle of wine and up, $12 per sandwich and up, etc. They will also tip well if they want to impress their date and such. I feel that people negotiate their identities through going and being seen at food establishments in which they perceive, justly or unjustly, will improve how people see them, even if it is subconscious. I think when someone spends thousands of dollars on food and a venue to get married at for one day at a nice place, they are trying to say or display something, which I see at the events I work every weekend. Overall, even I do it sometimes by going to an expensive place to eat or going and celebrating with family at an expensive place while dressed up a little.

  11. Robert Bamsey permalink
    June 27, 2014

    When I was growing up, I was a Helpful Kid for sure, I would try and help my family in any way when it came to meal time, and also would always appreciate the fact that I had a meal to eat in the first place. I remember preparing plenty of meals for my family while they were on their commute back from work.
    When it comes to whether I elevate my social class or perceive that I am elevating it by going to expensive establishments; yes, I feel that myself along with a majority of Americans sometimes feel that by attending an expensive place to eat will make them look more affluent, wealthy, or whatever else they want to feel while going somewhere they don’t usually go or usually can’t afford. Working as a caterer I see extravagant costly weddings that are essentially a show of wealth when people get plated meals of expensive food at a costly venue.

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