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From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies

From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food

Arlene Voski Avakian
Barbara Haber
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies
    Book Description:

    In recent years, scholars from a variety of disciplines have turned their attention to food to gain a better understanding of history, culture, economics, and society. The emerging field of food studies has yielded a great deal of useful research and a host of publications. Missing, however, has been a focused effort to use gender as an analytic tool. This stimulating collection of original essays addresses that oversight, investigating the important connections between food studies and women’s studies. Applying the insights of feminist scholarship to the study of food, the thirteen essays in this volume are arranged under four headings—the marketplace, histories, representations, and resistances. The editors open the book with a substantial introduction that traces the history of scholarly writing on food and maps the terrain of feminist food studies. In the essays that follow, contributors pay particular attention to the ways in which gender, race, ethnicity, class, colonialism, and capitalism have both shaped and been shaped by the production and consumption of food. In the first section, four essays analyze the influence of large corporations in determining what came to be accepted as proper meals in the United States, including what mothers were expected to feed their babies. The essays in the second section explore how women have held families together by keeping them nourished, from the routines of an early nineteenthcentury New Englander to the plight of women who endured the siege of Leningrad. The essays in the third section focus on the centrality of gender and race in the formation of identities as enacted through food discourse and practices. These case studies range from the Caribbean to the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The final section documents acts of female resistance within the contexts of national or ethnic oppression. From women in colonial India to Armenian American feminists, these essays show how food has served as a means to assert independence and personal identity. In addition to the editors, contributors include Amy Bentley, Carole M. Counihan, Darra Goldstein, Nancy Jenkins, Alice P. Julier, Leslie Land, Laura Lindenfield, Beheroze F. Shroff, Sharmila Sen, Laura Shapiro, and Jan Whitaker.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-064-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber
  4. Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History
    (pp. 1-26)
    Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber

    The study of food, cooking, and eating, once a subject limited to nutritionists and a few anthropologists studying the symbolic importance of foodways among “natives,”¹ has expanded to include sociology, history, philosophy, economics, and the interdisciplinary fields of Women’s Studies, American Studies and Cultural Studies.² Articles on food have recently appeared in a diverse list of scholarly periodicals and anthologies, while new books on the topic continue to be published in ever greater numbers by both university and trade presses. In the last decade an avalanche of books on food has appeared, and conferences on food are no longer the...

  5. The Marketplace

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 27-28)

      Representations of family meals even now when most married women work outside the home are often nostalgic evocations of warmth and safety—the haven presided over by father at the head of the table and mother serving some version of comfort food. As intimate as the experience of eating still may seem, our relationship to food in a capitalist economy is determined in large part by the food industry, and our relations of race, gender, and class are shaped by the social construction of cooking and eating. The essays in this section argue that in the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century...

    • “I Guarantee”: Betty Crocker and the Woman in the Kitchen
      (pp. 29-40)
      Laura Shapiro

      In the spring of 1954, some of America’s most popular magazines, radio shows, and television programs ran a food advertisement trumpeting “one of the great recipes of the year.”¹ Great or not, Dutch Pantry Pie certainly summed up many of the nation’s culinary preoccupations at the time. It called for melting American cheese in Carnation Evaporated Milk, adding potatoes, and putting the mixture in a pie shell made with Gold Medal Flour. Then the mixture was covered with cubes of Spam and a top crust was added. For the sauce, the instructions were to mix more evaporated milk with a...

    • Counterintuitive: How the Marketing of Modernism Hijacked the Kitchen Stove
      (pp. 41-61)
      Leslie Land

      As a long-time cook, food writer, food editor, and short person, I have spent most of my life wondering: Why are all home kitchen stoves exactly 36 inches tall, in spite of the widely accepted dictum that work surfaces should be tailored to the height of the user? Why is the oven both low and in front, so it blasts you with heat while breaking your back? Why, in other words, is the most important appliance in the American kitchen so poorly designed, and why is this poor design so pervasive?

      What’s especially galling is that ’twas not always thus....

    • Feeding Baby, Teaching Mother: Gerber and the Evolution of Infant Food and Feeding Practices in the United States
      (pp. 62-88)
      Amy Bentley

      The consumption of food is an extraordinarily social activity laden with complex and shifting layers of meaning. Not only what we eat, but how and why we eat, tell us much about society, history, cultural change, and humans’ views of themselves. What, when, and how we choose to feed infants and toddlers—the notion of “baby food” as opposed to “adult food,” and whether these foods are nourishing and satisfying—reveal how mass production, consumption, and advertising have shaped our thinking about infancy and corresponding parenting philosophies and practices. Because women have long been the primary caregivers, food procurers, and...

    • Domesticating the Restaurant: Marketing the Anglo-American Home
      (pp. 89-106)
      Jan Whitaker

      The art—and the allure—of home-cooked meals helped Anglo-American women to break into the restaurant business in the first third of the twentieth century. As outsiders in a field of business filled with immigrant males, they used domestic values to compete for success in the marketplace. By catering to a largely female clientele, they brought change to the nascent restaurant industry, domesticating a male-dominated sphere of production and consumption and introducing a middle-class dining culture into a marketplace previously bifurcated into high-class and low-class eating places. The home ideal on which they based their restaurants, though presented as universal,...

  6. Histories

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 107-108)

      Providing food for family and friends has always been the traditional work of women. Privileged women were not exempt from overseeing family meals, although they could pass on these duties to hired help—usually women. Even now those who work outside the home are expected to cook and fulfill other domestic responsibilities while male family members generally relax once they leave their jobs. As the essays here show, women’s age-old relationship to food ranges from being creative and enjoyable, to a dull chore, financially necessary, or much worse, a desperate, sometimes futile, attempt to keep families alive.

      Nancy Jenkins’s portrayal...

    • Martha Ballard: A Woman’s Place on the Eastern Frontier
      (pp. 109-119)
      Nancy Jenkins

      Cookbooks can tell us much about the food of past times, but the views they present of historic kitchens, and of women’s roles therein, are necessarily limited. Cookbooks are prescriptive, rather than descriptive, describing not so much what people actually ate, what women (for it is to women that most cookbooks are addressed after about 1650) actually cooked, as what the authors hoped they would eat and cook. And historically cookbooks were restricted in their audience to an elite segment of society that was literate and that found in the printed word an accessible and legitimate source of information. In...

    • Cooking to Survive: The Careers of Alice Foote MacDougall and Cleora Butler
      (pp. 120-142)
      Barbara Haber

      What could these two women possibly have in common—Alice Foote MacDougall, a high-born New Yorker who opened a chain of popular Manhattan restaurants in the 1920s and ’30s, and Cleora Butler, a Black cook from Oklahoma who mostly worked for others during the same period and for another fifty years? As different as they were in class and race and regional origin, they were yet representative of a number of American women who called upon their skills in cooking and selling food to support themselves and their families, and who won some measure of success and fame for their...

    • Women under Siege: Leningrad 1941–1942
      (pp. 143-160)
      Darra Goldstein

      Who can measure the trauma of differing wartime experiences? Suffering is relative and unquantifiable, and comparisons can seem tasteless, even disrespectful. Yet even if suffering cannot be quantified, human deprivation can be. Starvation is a matter of simple subtraction: Below a certain number of calories per day, the body begins to consume itself, and several universal physiological consequences ensue. First come listlessness and apathy. As the body grows emaciated, the skin assumes an unhealthy pallor and stretches tight against the bones. Often the body becomes bloated, with fingers and toes so swollen that even buttoning a coat is difficult, and...

  7. Representations

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 161-162)

      Our assumptions about the world and our place within it are naturalized through social institutions. We are bombarded daily with representations from government, the academy, the media, popular culture, and the arts about who we are, how we should behave, and what we should dream. These representations are also reproduced in our daily social interactions in both our private and public lives. Because they are based on assumptions, they are not experienced as one perspective, but “the way things are, have always been, and will and should be in the future.”

      Alternative institutions and movements resist these messages often by...

    • Hiding Gender and Race in the Discourse of Commercial Food Consumption
      (pp. 163-184)
      Alice P. Julier

      Like many people who teach at a college or university, I find that my weekly stack of mail usually contains a fair number of publishers’ catalogs. As publishers discover my interests in the social aspects of food, more of my mail consists of advertisements for new food books.

      For every book that comes across my desk describing large-scale changes in food consumption in American society, I get another book that deals with women and food, often concerning eating problems. The authors of the first are usually men. The authors of the latter are usually women. Today’s mail contained a glossy...

    • Indian Spices across the Black Waters
      (pp. 185-199)
      Sharmila Sen

      In a London saturated with South Asian curry houses, the Trinidadian novelist Samuel Selvon’s search for Indian food as he knew it provides an illuminating anecdote about the location of contemporary Indo-Caribbean culinary culture. At a conference on Indo-Caribbean history, Selvon once said, “In all my years in England, I never came across the kind of curry we ate in Trinidad, and I searched all over London for a dhall pourri, and never saw one until one enterprising Trinidadian started up a little cookshop.”¹ In order to fully appreciate the complexities involved in Selvon’s search for Indo-Caribbean food on English...

    • The Border as Barrier and Bridge: Food, Gender, and Ethnicity in the San Luis Valley of Colorado
      (pp. 200-218)
      Carole M. Counihan

      Gloria Anzaldúa uses strong images of foods and cooking to define Chicana identity. “We are …” the poem chants again and again—the stonemetate, the rolling pin, thecomal, the coarse rock,el molcajete, the pestle—common tools of many Chicanas’ once daily labors. “We are …” the poem sings—el maíz y agua, la masa harina, lo molido, the hot tortilla, thecomino, ajo, pimienta, thechile colorado—the enduring grains and pungent spices that sustain body and soul in Chicano communities. In Anzaldúa’s poem, women labor hard, they sustain life, they hunger, and they “will abide.” She...

  8. Resistances

    • Women Who Eat Too Much: Femininity and Food in Fried Green Tomatoes
      (pp. 221-245)
      Laura Lindenfeld

      I never cease to be amazed how many conflicting feelings and experiences I have in relationship to food and eating. I am able to bask in the glorious pleasures of the culinary, to relish in the delights of food, only to find myself—still after so many years of contemplating this very issue—experiencing residual feelings of guilt. Sometimes those feelings are less than residual and in fact more prominent. I always imagine that I should be able to deal with this cycle so much better, that consuming food should become simple, nonproblematic, pleasurable, guilt-free. I find myself puzzled over...

    • Chili Peppers as Tools of Resistance: Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala
      (pp. 246-256)
      Beheroze F. Shroff

      India has the reputation of churning out, on an average, two films per day,¹ and is generally considered the leading producer of films in the world. The Hindi language film has dominated the Indian distribution scene, and produced from one of the major film centers, namely Bombay, this body of films is often referred to as the “Bombay film” and more recently as Bollywood cinema. Analyzing the Bombay films in the post-independence years, Eric Barnouw and S. Krishnaswamy in their seminal study of Indian cinema write:

      Theformulaas dictated by exhibitor and distributor, called for one or two major...

    • Shish Kebab Armenians?: Food and the Construction and Maintenance of Ethnic and Gender Identities among Armenian American Feminists
      (pp. 257-280)
      Arlene Voski Avakian

      When I was growing up in Washington Heights, the New York City neighborhood that included a large Armenian American population and community, my family had few interactions withodars(non-Armenians). Once I entered school those boundaries were permeated, and I encountered mostly the children of other immigrants—Jews, Greeks, Roumanians, but also some real “Americans.” My interaction with non-Armenians was limited at first due to my inability to speak English, but once having mastered the language I wanted to partake of what I identified as “Americanness” as fully as I could.

      Some things I learned very quickly from the images...

  9. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 281-284)
  10. Index
    (pp. 285-300)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)