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Food and Gender

Food and Gender
by Emily Contois

Emily Contois is an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Tulsa, USA Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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DOI: 10.5040/9781474208802.0006

  • Publisher:
    Bloomsbury Publishing
  • Identifier:
    b-9781474208802-06
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Introduction

This unit addresses food and gender, including how food constructs gender identities and how gender norms shape foodways. Texts mostly consider the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the West. After introductory and definitional readings on food and gender, students unpack the conventions of femininity and masculinity. Readings then consider the relationships between gender and food work, representations of food and gender in media and popular culture, associations between gender and meat consumption, and relationships gender and the body. The final, capstone lesson examines gender in the food system and activism. The unit includes a dozen assignment options for assessment, and all assigned readings are available through the Bloomsbury Food Library.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Discover and analyze gender identity as a social and cultural construction.

  2. Analyze and evaluate how gender shapes food production, representation, and consumption.

  3. Display increased proficiency in critical thinking and writing skills through homework assignments and essay assessments.

Unit Outline

This eight-module lesson plan is intended to be spread throughout a full semester. In most cases, more reading is assigned than necessary so that instructors can select the articles, chapters, and books—all of which are available through the Bloomsbury Food Library—that will work best for them and their students. The content is aimed toward upper-level undergraduates or graduate students in courses addressing food studies and gender studies.

Assigned readings and discussion questions are included to inspire ideas for classroom discussion. Homework assignments provide opportunities for application, synthesis, and analysis and can be due before or after class meetings, depending upon instructor preference. Instructors can also expand these assignments into longer papers or projects. Four essay assignment prompts also appear at the end of the unit.

Lesson 1

An Introduction to Food Studies and Gender

Texts to be read before the lesson

Belasco, Warren. 2008. Chapter 1, “Why Study Food?” + Chapter 2, “Identity: Are We What We Eat?” + Chapter 3, “The Drama of Food: Divided Identities.” In Food: The Key Concepts, 1–54. New York: Berg. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042148

Meah, Angela. 2017. “Gender.” In Food Words: Essays in Culinary Culture, edited by Peter Jackson, 88–95. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042278-029

Discussion questions

  • Define “food studies.”

  • Why were scholars initially reluctant to study food? What did this reluctance have to do with gender?

  • Drawing from Belasco and Meah, what is gender? How do we perform it through food?

  • What can studying food teach us about gender and identity in a variety of global, ethnic, and racial contexts?

Homework

Belasco, Chapter 3, Box 3.2 features a number of questions for an interview with an older woman, who cooks a lot, about her personal relationship with food and cooking. For this homework assignment consider the questions below. Interview an older woman in your life and write a 500-word response from your conversation.

  • To what extent is food a means of empowerment and to what extent is it a means of oppression?

  • Is she “cooked out,” or does she still like to cook?

  • Record her food voice, the way she uses food to communicate her identity (her gender identity, but also her race, class, etc.) and bind others to herself.

  • To what extent do her food experiences reflect the conflicts discussed in this chapter?

Lesson 2

Unpacking Conventions 1: Food and Femininities

Texts to be read before the lesson

Cairns, Kate and Josée Johnston. 2015. Chapter 1, “Caring about Food” and Chapter 2, “Thinking through Food and Femininity: A Conceptual Toolkit.” In Food and Femininity, 1–41. London: Bloomsbury Academic. https://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474255158

Given the timing of the course, consider assigning all chapters of Food and Femininity or selecting an additional chapter or two.

Discussion questions

  • What is femininity/femininities?

  • What key tools do Cairns and Johnston provide for studying food and femininity?

Homework

One of Cairns and Johnston’s conclusions considers how even as cultural ideals promote (and sociological statistics appear to indicate) greater gender equity, food and femininity remain firmly linked today, which perhaps reflects your findings from the Lesson 1 homework. What do you make of this enduring relationship and Cairns and Johnston’s discussion and analysis of it?

Lesson 3

Unpacking Conventions 2: Food and Masculinities

Texts to be read before the lesson

Instructor-chosen selections from:

Szabo, Michelle and Shelley Koch, eds. 2017. Food, Masculinities, and Home: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Academic. https://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474262354

Discussion questions

  • What is masculinity?

  • How do the chapters in this text consider masculinity within a “domestic” context?

Homework

Recalling your interview with an older woman in your life, interview a family member, friend, or colleague who identifies as a man and cooks often. Ask him the following questions and compose a 500-word summary of the key themes from your conversation.

  • What does cooking mean to him? For example, to what extent is food a labor/duty or a hobby/ fun?

  • What are his experiences and opinions about cooking as a gendered activity?

  • Did he have male role models for cooking at home?

  • Record his food voice, the way he uses food to communicate his identity (his gender identity, but also his race, class, etc.) and bind others to himself.

  • To what extent do his food experiences reflect the experiences discussed by the chapters in Szabo and Koch’s text?

Lesson 4

Food, Gender, and Work

Texts to be read before the lesson

Koch, Shelley. 2012. “The Work of Grocery Shopping.” In A Theory of Grocery Shopping: Food, Choice and Conflict, 31–44. Oxford: Berg. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042100.ch-002

O’Connell, Rebecca and Julia Brannen. 2016. “Who Does the Foodwork in Working Families?” In Food, Families and Work, 31–53. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350001817.0010

Discussion questions

  • What elements of food work do these readings itemize and analyze?

  • How does gender shape the distribution of food work?

Homework

Compose a 500-word reflection on food work in your own life, considering the following questions: Growing up, who performed most of your family’s foodwork? Did gender play a role? If you have a partner, how do you divide food responsibilities? How do today’s readings inform or change how you think about gender and food work?

Lesson 5

Representing Food and Gender

Texts to be read before the lesson

Naccarato, Peter. 2017. “There’s a Mobster in the Kitchen: Cooking, Eating, and Complications of Gender in The Godfather and Goodfellas.” In Representing Italy Through Food, edited by Peter Naccarato, Zachary Nowak, and Elgin K. Eckert, 111–124. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474280440.ch-006

Garvin, Diana. 2017. “Producing Consumers: Gendering Italy through Food Advertisements.” In Representing Italy through Food, edited by Peter Naccarato, Zachary Nowak, and Elgin K. Eckert, 141–164. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474280440.ch-008

Valoroso, Antonella. 2017. “‘A Kitchen with a View’: The Modernization of Gender Roles in Italy through Barilla’s 1950s and 1960s Advertising Campaigns.” In Representing Italy through Food, edited by Peter Naccarato, Zachary Nowak, and Elgin K. Eckert, 165–182. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474280440.ch-009

Discussion questions

  • How do these various media forms represent gender roles?

  • What role can such representations play in either reinforcing or reimagining socially defined gender norms?

Homework

In the library’s image gallery, examine the “Cattlemen’s Cafe Menu” ( https://www.bloomsburyfoodlibrary.com/museumobject?docid=iid-bfol-162 ) and the “Treasured Cake for Anniversary Parties” recipe sheet ( https://www.bloomsburyfoodlibrary.com/museumobject?docid=iid-bfol-1229 ). Write a 500-word response about one of these objects. Consider how the object represents gender through image, text, menu items/ingredients, overall design, and historical origin.

Lesson 6

Food, Gender, and Meat

Texts to be read before the lesson

Cudworth, Erika. 2008. “Seeing and Believing: Gender and Species Hierarchy in Contemporary Cultures of Animal Food.” In Eating and Believing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology, edited by David Grumett and Rachel Muers, 168–183. London: A Continuum. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9780567678140-ch-011

Instructor-chosen selections from:

Adams, Carol. 2015. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781501312861

Discussion questions

  • What are the key tenets of Adams’ theory? What power relationships does she propose between gender, women, animals, the environment, and meat eating? How are her arguments similar and different to those posed by Cudworth?

  • How and why does Adams propose veganism as an engaged feminist politics? Do you find this compelling? Why or why not?

Homework

Find a (YouTube or other) recording of Carl’s Jr.’s 2015 Super Bowl ad starring Charlotte McKinney or another similar commercial. Write a 500-word analysis of the ad using what you’ve learned from Adams’ work on the sexual politics of meat.

Lesson 7

Gender, Food, and the Body

Texts to be read before the lesson

Cairns, Kate and Josée Johnston. 2015. Chapter 15, “‘The Do Diet’: Embodying Healthy Feminisms.” In Food and Femininity, 88–109. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474255158.ch-005

Cain, Trudie, Kerry Chamberlain, and Ann Dupuis. 2014. “Bound Bodies Navigating the Margins of Fat Bodies and Clothes.” In Fat: Culture and Materiality, edited by Christopher E. Forth and Alison Leitch, 123–140. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474214063.ch-007

Martschukat, Jürgen. 2017. “‘What Diet Can Do’: Running and Eating Right in 1970s America.” In Food, Power & Agency, edited by Jürgen Martschukat and Bryant Simon, 129–146. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474298773.ch-006

Mobley, Jennifer-Scott. 2014. “Fatsploitation: Disgust and the Performance of Weight Loss.” In Fat: Culture and Materiality, edited by Christopher E. Forth and Alison Leitch, 141–158. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474214063.ch-008

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. “Nutritionism, Bad Science and Spectacles of Disordered Eating.” In Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference, 109–125. Berg. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042193.ch-006

Discussion questions

  • How is the body intertwined in social definitions of gender?

  • How is fatness framed as a social problem? How does such social perception shape the experience and performance of gender?

Homework

Choose one of the following types of images and write a 500-word response analyzing the image and how it depicts social expectations and biases that link bodies, “health,” and gender.

  • A photo of a lingerie model

  • A cover image from a men’s fitness magazine

  • A photo of a headless obese body (of the type that all too often accompany news stories about obesity)

  • A “before and after” weight loss photo

Lesson 8

Gender, the Food System, and Activism

Texts to be read before the lesson

Counihan, Carole. 2014. “Women, Gender and Agency in Italian Food Activism.” In Food Activism: Agency, Democracy and Economy, edited by Carole Counihan and Valeria Siniscalchi, 61–76. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042155.ch-005

Lem, Winnie. 2013. “Regimes of Regulation, Gender, and Divisions of Labor in Languedoc Viticulture.” In Wine and Culture: Vineyard to Glass, edited by Rachel Black and Robert Ulin, 221–240. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781350042254.ch-012

Sobal, Jeffery. 2017. “Men’s Foodwork in Food Systems: Social Representations of Masculinities and Cooking at Home.” In Food, Masculinities, and Home: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Michelle Szabo and Shelley Koch, 126–144. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://dx.doi.org/10.5040/9781474262354.0013

Discussion questions

  • How is gender embedded in the food system and in activist politics?

  • How might gender equity be part of a more just and sustainable food system?

Homework

Reflecting on readings from today and throughout this class, write a 500-word response on how gender is currently embedded in our food system. What changes would you propose to make our food system more equitable and just, particularly when it comes to gender dynamics?

Assessment Options

In addition to the homework assignments, additional assessment options include:

  • Cookbook Analysis. Select a historic or contemporary cookbook. Consider not only the ingredients and techniques employed, but how the text shapes and reflects gender roles. Compose a two- to four-page essay from your findings.

  • Foodwork Analysis. Compile both quantitative and qualitative data about your own cooking habits or those of your family or a friend. Consider how much time is spent on various food and cooking-related tasks. How does gender play into the division of food labor in the household you’re studying? Compose a two- to three-page essay from your findings.

  • Representations of Gender in Food Media. Consider how gender (femininities, masculinities, the trans experience, etc.) is represented in a food media form of your choice, such as advertising, restaurant reviews, chef profiles, or Instagram. Summarize and analyze your findings in a two- to four-page essay.

  • Debate Veganism. Write up a two- to four-page debate plan either for or against veganism, considering its feminist implications. If time allows, enact your debate in class.

Further Reading

Inness, Sherrie, ed. 2001. Cooking Lessons: The Politics of Gender and Food . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Julier, Alice and Laura Lindenfeld, eds. 2005. Special Issue on Food and Masculinity . Food and Foodways 13 (1 & 2 ).

Neuhaus, Jessamyn. 2012. Manly Meals and Mom’s Home Cooking: Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Vester, Katharina. 2015. A Taste of Power: Food and American Identities . Oakland: University of California Press.