Bloomsbury Food Library - Food and Cultural Studies
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Bloomsbury Food Library Lesson Plans

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Sociology of Food

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Food and Cultural Studies

Food and Cultural Studies
DOI: 10.5040/9781474208802.0004

  • Publisher:
    Bloomsbury Publishing Inc
  • Identifier:
    b-9781474208802-04
  • Published Online:
    2018
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Introduction

Primarily aimed at upper-level undergraduates in cultural studies or food studies, this semester-long unit introduces students to key approaches to understanding food as a cultural form, combining theories and insights from disciplines such as sociology, geography, and anthropology. This unit focuses on the cultural significance of foods as they are given meaning through the ways they are produced, distributed, represented, and consumed. Students examine these issues in teaching sessions that explore topics such as eating and the body, preparing food, food scares, food TV and writing, ethical consumption, and globalization.

This approach draws on “the circuit of culture,” developed by scholars such as Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, to encourage students to make connections between different aspects of food culture. Students are encouraged to examine the relationships between how foods are produced, represented, regulated, and consumed and how they become associated with, and used to construct, particular cultural identities.

This emphasis is developed through assessments that invite students to “do” cultural studies. Students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of key ideas by applying them to examples and by analyzing the role that food plays in their everyday lives.

The unit is designed to be taught over eleven weeks using two-hour interactive lectures that combine lecturer-led instructional modes traditionally associated with the lecture format, with scope for discussion and application of ideas, traditionally associated with seminar formats. However, the unit offers some flexibility so that it can be taught in a range of ways: for example, using two-hour seminars or a combination of lecture and seminar.

Learning objectives

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the key ways food cultures are theorized and analyzed.

  2. Understand how food cultures are situated within, and contribute to, wider power relations and inequalities.

  3. Apply and evaluate theoretical approaches to understanding food cultures through a piece of detailed cultural analysis.

  4. Apply and evaluate these approaches through in-depth analysis of specific aspects of food cultures.

  5. Demonstrate confidence in carrying out cultural analysis of everyday food practices.

Unit Outline

Lesson 1: Food, Eating, and the Body

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Meah, Angela. 2015. “Eating.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-022.

Cairns, Kate and Josée Johnston. 2015. “The ‘Do-diet.’” In Food and Femininity. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474255158.ch-005.

Discussion questions

  • How does Meah show that eating is a social and cultural practice?

  • In what ways do Cairns and Johnston characterize contemporary pressures on women in terms of eating and the body?

  • Choose an article about food from either a women’s magazine or from a men’s fitness magazine such as Men’s Health. What kinds of foods and eating practices are recommended and why? How do these recommendations relate to wider ideas about gender?

Lesson 2: Consumption, Food, and Taste

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Milne, Richard. 2015. “Taste.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-059.

Bembreck, Helene. 2015. “Consumption.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-018.

De Solier, Isabelle. 2013. “Consuming Things.” In Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042179.ch-003.

Discussion questions

  • What is involved in studying cultural aspects of consumption?

  • How do food consumption practices and food tastes produce and reproduce class hierarchies?

  • How are different kinds of food used to signify “good” and “bad” taste? Find examples from film or TV and identify how they relate to class. What are the implications of these judgments?

Lesson 3: Eating In: Production, Consumption, and Cooking

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Cairns, Kate and Josée Johnston. 2015. “Maternal Foodwork.” In Food and Femininity. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474255158.ch-004.

Meah, Angela. 2015. “Cooking.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-020.

Discussion questions

  • What range of activities go into producing a family meal? Reflect on both the reading and personal experience.

  • In what ways is feeding work a “labor of love”?

  • Why is feeding work a form of gendered work?

  • Look at food adverts in magazines. Do any of them reinforce or challenge the idea that food is a way of caring for ourselves or others? How do they do this?

Lesson 4: Eating Out: Restaurant Cultures and Public Space

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst. 2014. “Eating Out: Going Out, Staying In.” In A Cultural History of Food in the Modern Age, edited by Amy Bentley. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350044555.ch-005.

Julier, Alice P. 2016. “Meals: ‘Eating In’ and ‘Eating Out.’” In The Handbook of Food Research, edited by Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco, and Peter Jackson. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042261-ch-0019.

Beriss, David and David Sutton. 2007. “Starter: Restaurants, Ideal Postmodern Institutions.” In The Restaurants Book: Ethnographies of Where We Eat, edited by David Beriss and David Sutton. Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350044913_0006.

Discussion questions

  • According to the readings, what are the differences between “eating in” and “eating out”? What meanings are associated with each?

  • Observe a café, canteen, or restaurant. How is the meaning of eating constructed in this space by staff, décor, types of food, and so on? In what way do eaters behave differently to at home? What points in the reading help to explain your findings?

Lesson 5: Food Ethics: Selling and Consuming “Ethical” Food

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Jackson, Peter. 2015. “Ecology.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-023.

Cairns, Kate and Josée Johnston. 2015. “Food Politics: The Gendered Work of Caring through Food.” In Food and Femininity. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474255158.ch-006.

Discussion questions

  • How have ethical concerns related to ecology shaped food production?

  • What is meant by ethical consumption?

  • How is ethical consumption linked to (a) the gendered work of caring and (b) forms of class distinction?

  • Look at food packaging, advertising, or company websites. How do the food industries attempt to brand themselves as “ethical”?

  • How are the food consumption practices of yourself or friends or family shaped by ethical concerns?

Lesson 6: Food Scares and Anxious Eating

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Richard Milne. 2015. “Risk.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-050.

Jackson, Peter, 2015. “‘Food Scares’ and the Regulation of Supply Chains.” In Anxious Appetites: Food and Consumer Culture. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474255240.ch-005.

Discussion questions

  • In what ways is eating framed in terms of “risk”?

  • What is a “food scare”?

  • What role do the media play in representing food in terms of “risk”?

  • How did the horsemeat scandal raise issues around the regulation of food?

Lesson 7: Food Writing

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Rodney, Alexandra, Josée Johnston, and Phillipa Chong. 2017. “Chefs at Home? Masculinities on Offer in Celebrity Chef Cookbooks.” In Food, Masculinities and Home: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Michelle Szabo and Shelley Koch. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474262354.0019.

De Solier, Isabelle. 2013. “Producing Things.” In Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042179.ch-006.

Discussion questions

  • To what extent do cookbooks provide a culinary education?

  • How do contemporary cookbooks reinforce the association between men and professional cookery and women and domestic cookery?

Lesson 8: Food Television

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Piper, Nick. 2015. “Celebrity Chefs.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-014.

Naccarato, Peter and Kathleen Lebesco. 2012. “Television Cooking Shows.” In Culinary Capital. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042131.ch-003.

Discussion questions

  • What key formats or genres are used in cookery television?

  • How do television cookery shows represent eating and cooking as lifestyle activities? How do they offer viewers “empowerment through food”?

Lesson 9: Food, Ethnicity, and National Identity

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Ray, Krishnendu. 2016. “Food and Identity.” In The Handbook of Food Research, edited by Anne Murcott, Warren Belasco, and Peter Jackson. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042261-ch-0021.

Naccarato, Peter, Zachary Nowak, and Elgin K. Eckert. 2017. “Editor’s Introduction: Presenting Food, Representing Italy.” In Representing Italy Through Food, edited by Peter Naccarato, Zachary Nowak, and Elgin K. Eckert. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474280440.0007.

Discussion questions

  • According to Ray, how have relationships between food and national identity been constructed?

  • What meanings are associated with “Italian food”? How are images of Italianness constructed through food?

  • Think of examples to illustrate the connections between food and other national identities. How, if at all, is food used to construct a sense of national or ethnic belonging?

Lesson 10: Colonialism, “Race,” and Food

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Jackson, Peter and Angela Meah. 2015. “Race and Ethnicity.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-048.

Ray, Krishnendu. 2016. “Taste, Toil and Ethnicity.” In The Ethnic Restaurateur. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474269414.ch-001.

Zukin, Sharon, Scarlett Lindeman, and Laurie Hurson. 2017. “The Omnivore’s Neighbourhood? Online Restaurant Reviews, Race, and Gentrification.” Journal of Consumer Culture 17, no. 3: 459–479.

Discussion questions

  • How have postcolonial theorists contributed to our understanding of “race,” ethnicity, and food?

  • What is meant by “food colonialism” and by “gastronomic cosmopolitanism”? Think of examples from your local shops or restaurants to illustrate these ideas.

  • According to Ray, what are the limitations of postcolonial theories of food?

  • How do online restaurant reviews frame restaurants in racialized ways?

Lesson 11: Globalization and Food

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Milne, Richard. 2015. “Local-Global.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson and the CONANX group. Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042278-036.

Discussion questions

  • How has globalization been associated with standardization and homogenization?

  • How have local food practices been used to resist globalization?

  • To what extent is it most useful to think about globalization in terms of “transnational connections between communities and cuisines”?

  • Think about food outlets on a local high street. In what ways is there evidence of globalization?

Assessment Options

  1. Food Diaries (40 percent): 1500 words

    Throughout the semester, students write a weekly blog as a mode of formative assessment that receives feedback from their tutor. They revise and submit three blog entries as a summative assessment. In their blog entries, students must demonstrate how theories or studies they have encountered on the unit can be applied to either aspects of their own food practices or aspects of food culture they observe around them.

  2. Case Study (60 percent): 2500 words

    Students are asked to produce a written case study that carries out a detailed cultural analysis of any aspect of food culture centered around themes they have encountered in at least one session of the unit. The written analysis (including references, bibliography, etc.) should be 2500 words. Although students have a degree of freedom to choose their case study, their work must be a cultural analysis (reflecting themes encountered on the unit) and the main focus should be on cultural questions about food (questions about cultural forms, cultural identity, everyday life, representation, etc.) Examples of case studies include representations of food in men’s lifestyle magazines; food scares about children, obesity, and sugar; TV baking competitions and national identity; and the meaning of family meals in British-Pakistani households.

Further Reading

E-books in the Bloomsbury Food Library

Abbots, Emma-Jayne. 2017. The Agency of Eating: Mediation, Food and the Body . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474205283.

Belasco, Warren. 2008. Food: The Key Concepts . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042148.

Collins, Kathleen. 2009. Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows . Continuum. DOI: 10.5040/9781501336133.

Evans, David. 2014. Food Waste: Home Consumption, Material Culture and Everyday Life . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042209.

Koch, Shelley. 2012. A Theory of Grocery Shopping: Food, Choice and Conflict . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042100.

Lebesco, Kathleen and Peter Naccarato, eds. 2017. The Bloomsbury Handbook of Food and Popular Culture . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474296250.

Miller, Jeff and Jonathan Deutsch, eds. 2009. Food Studies: An Introduction to Research Methods . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI:10.5040/9781350047679.

O’Connell, Rebecca and Julia Brannen. 2016. Food, Families and Work . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350001817.

Parasecoli, Fabio. 2008. Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture . Berg. DOI:10.5040/9781350044616.

Parkins, Wendy and Geoffrey Craig. 2006. Slow Living . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350044890.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042193.

Other academic sources

Ashley, Bob, Joanne Hollows, Steve Jones, and Ben Taylor. 2004. Food and Cultural Studies . London: Routledge.

Johnston, Josée and Shyon Baumann. 2015. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Landscape , 2nd edition. New York: Routledge.

Ray, Krishnendu and Tulasi Srinivas, ed. 2012. Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food and South Asia . Berkeley: University of California Press.

Warde, Alan. 1997. Consumption, Food and Taste: Culinary Antinomies and Commodity Culture . London: Sage.

Enrichment Materials

Film and TV

The Great British Bake Off (and other national adaptations)

The Naked Chef

Jamie’s Ministry of Food

Top Chef

What’s Cooking?