Food, Imagination, and the Creative Process

To celebrate the 2021 Oxford Food Symposium, which this year focuses on the subject of food and imagination, we have brought together some key material from the Bloomsbury Food Library that explores the imaginative, creative process that transforms what we eat, and its power to shape the self. From food fetishism modern media, and the creative process of food blogging, to the study of food art, and the geographical imagination, this Featured Content is your gateway into this fascinating topic.

The Geographical Imaginations

To understand how food stitches together such a wonderful mosaic of materialities, people, places, spaces, and scales takes what David Harvey and others have called a “geographical imagination.” This geographical imagination is vital in helping us to understand and interpret the vast array of information and data now available concerning food and all its many dimensions. A geographical imagination provides a powerful window, not just on who eats what, but also on how the world’s food systems are put together and why food production and consumption work—or don’t—for different people and places. Read more with this chapter from the recently published Geographies of Food.

Food Blogging and Creative Production

This chapter from Food History: Critical and Primary Sources explores the development of the food blog as a primary site of self-formation in the twenty-first century. Like cooking, food blogging involves the production of material culture, but it is the production of material media based around the object rather than the object itself. Blogging involves a number of creative processes, including writing, photography, and combining words and images, all of which are performed using digital technology. Thus, food blogging may be considered a form of digital creative production that involves making new material media through digital technologies.

Fetishism and the Imagination

In the case of food media, it is clear that imagination has played a central role for a long time. We have seen how food television has, since its beginnings, straddled a tenuous boundary between education and entertainment, and between fantasy and reality. This chapter from Food Media looks at two British celebrity chefs, Heston Blumenthal and Nigella Lawson, who both exemplify the strongest vicarious and imaginary function of food television, not because it really is impossible to learn anything from them, or to recreate at least some of their dishes in an everyday kitchen, but because their brands are built on fetish.

Manual Production and the Self

In this chapter from Food and the Self, Isabelle De Solier examines the creative process of making something with your own hands, and its significance in self-making and identity. The manual, or specifically hand-based, nature of production in cooking is central to its appeal as a form of productive leisure in postindustrial self-making. De Solier traces this need to engage in creative and productive activity through history, and outlines the modern need to be a producer of material objects not just a consumer. This form of material production is of utmost importance as a new mode of self-making through material culture in a postindustrial society.

Food and Art

Many chefs today offer culinary creations that prompt an emotional response sparked by a cobination of flavors and textures, experienced intimately by each diner. They offer multisensory, participatory experiences and blur the boundaries between art and everyday life. This chapter from The Handbook of Food and Popular Culture focuses on exploring food as a medium for art (rather than a subject), and aims to think through the work of professional chefs in the context of art and “high” culture. Beginning in the 1930s, Yael Raviv explores the role of food as a medium in certain avant-garde movements and proceeds to look at their influence on later work in the studio and the kitchen.

Writing Food

Women’s predilection for food imagery and symbolism in literary works has been a growing interest for scholars at least since the 1980s. Dacia Maraini’s ‘obsession’ with food dates back to her traumatic experience of a Japanese concentration camp during the Second World War. The hunger she suffered then inevitably shaped her aesthetic and literary imagination. Food – or lack of it – has become a quasi-ubiquitous motif in her writings. Maria Morelli analyses this recourse to food imagery in Maraini’s works and argues that the act of preparing, presenting or consuming meals, while reaffirming food as central in the shaping of the female experience, also bespeaks the author’s preoccupations with an essentialist model of female identity.

The Pornography of Meat by Carole J. Adams

Author in Focus - Carol J. Adams

For 30 years, since the publication of her landmark book the Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol J. Adams and her readers have continued to document and hold to account the degrading interplay of language about women, domesticated animals, and meat in advertising, politics, and media.

Serving as sequel and visual companion, Adams’ brand new book the Pornography of Meat charts the continued influence of this language and the fight against it. With over 300 images, this new edition brings the book up to date to include expressions of misogyny in online media and advertising, the #MeToo movement, and the impact of Donald Trump and white supremacy on our political language. Read the opening chapter here. [Content Warning.]

Adams’ has also contributed to the Object Lessons collection, a series of short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things. Burger is a fast-paced and eclectic exploration of the history, business, cultural dynamics, and gender politics of the ordinary hamburger.