Category Archives: media

Food and Cooking on Early European Television

We received the following call for abstracts from Dr. Ana Tominc, of Queen
Margaret University Edinburgh, and thought it would be of interest to SAFN members. 

Food and Cooking on Early European Television
Call for Abstracts

Food has been part of television from its beginnings. As technology that supported producing and broadcasting television pictures developed through the 1920s in both Europe and US, the first experimental TV service was established in Britain and then Germany in 1935 (Hickethier 2008). A year later, a Miss Dickson, also known as a singing cook, first cooked on British television  (Geddes 2018), followed by the more recognised chef Boulestin. But it was only in the decades following World War II, when broadcasting technology was further improved and the European nations slowly started to come to grips with the new realities of postwar Europe that food and cooking became firmly established as one of the most regular programmes on European televisions, both East and West.

This interest in food programming and especially food cooking shows, was partially to do with a particular focus of the European public broadcasters on educational contents of its television schedule, although this was not the sole reason for popularity of food and cooking on television screens. The audiences were often fascinated with television as a new medium in itself, and shows involving cooking became a familiar genre through which they could receive information about new foodstuffs that became popular in Europe through the postwar decades and popular recipes, but also educate themselves about manners and appropriate use of new household products that European industries produced after the War. Apart from offering a window to tastes and lifestyles that allowed Europeans of all walks of life to strive for self improvement (Bell and Hollows 2006; Lewis 2008; Naccarato and Lebesco 2012; de Solier 2005), food television also provided a narrative for self identification in terms of nation as it introduced dishes that “we”  eat, while also allowing for getting to know the “other”. It affected gender roles as it either reconfirmed women’s role as a homemaker or introduced novel gender patterns that transcended the previous divisions (Moseley 2008).

Food programming was one of the TV genres that features on almost all European televisions from early on, although in different formats, genres and quantities. The aim of this edited volume will therefore be to critically examine the role of food programming on European early television and the impact it might have had on food habits and identities for the European audiences.1 The role of television in this process was unprecedented, since, as Turnock (2008: 6) argues for Britain, “[e]xpansion of television institutions promoted social and cultural change through the development of production practices, technologies and programme forms that made culture increasingly visible in this new way; and this visibility promoted consumer culture.”

However, notwithstanding the importance of food programming on early television, research into early food television in Europe is surprisingly scarce, despite considerable interest in early television history on both east and western sides of Europe (see, for example, Bonner 2009; Buscemi 2014; Comunian 2018; Eriksson 2016; Geddes 2017; Moseley 2008; Tominc 2015; and for US, Collins 2005; Oren 2019). To an extent, this is understandable, given the potential lack of audiovisual sources related to early television overall (O’Dwyer 2008; Holmes 2008) where many programmes have not been preserved due to the nature of early television broadcasting.  However, this gap in scholarship is also surprising amid current scholarly interest in food media and their relevance for contemporary societies (e.g. Adema 2000; Bradley 2016; Hollows 2003; Ketchum 2005; Leer and Povlsen 2016; Oren 2019; Rousseau 2012; Strange 1998;  and so forth).

This collection therefore, first, looks to address this major gap in research on early food television in Europe; and second, to provide important material for a comparative study into European food broadcasting and the impact this might have had on ways of consuming food in Europe. In this volume, the aim is therefore to explore early cooking on European television in terms of its differences and similarities but specifically focusing on:

  • national contexts that allowed for development of specific food programmes and how this was reflected in the content
  • genres of food programming across Europe (e.g. various variants of cookery shows, travelogs, documentary-like representations of foods and so on)
  • content of these shows in terms of food: Who cooked? What did they cook?
  • who was the intended audience of the television programmes?
  • what was the impact of these shows on national or supra national food cultures?
  • what was the overall narrative of these television programmes in terms of identity, social change, modernity etc.?
  • to what extend did national broadcasting regulations influence the kinds of television programmes made about food and cooking?

Case studies from all European countries are encouraged.

Submission of Abstracts

If you would like to participate in this edited volume, please send:

  • a 300 word abstract that contains aim and brief background, sources of data & method, and potential argument/results if already known, and
  • a 50 word bio

to Dr Ana Tominc (atominc@qmu.ac.uk) by Friday, 26 October 2018. Notification of acceptance of abstract will be by 31 October 2018. Any queries should be addressed to Dr Ana Tominc (Queen Margaret University Edinburgh).

Information on Publication

The collection will be published with a major English language academic publisher, likely in 2020.

If the abstract is accepted, the authors will deliver the final article in good English by 1 October 2019. The length will be between 6-8,000 words including references and footnotes, depending on the final arrangement with the publisher. The exact length and formatting style will be communicated to the authors once the abstract has been accepted. An example of visual material is encouraged, although seeking permissions for publication remain with the author.

1For the purposes of this collection, early television will be defined dependent on the context of national television and the start of their national broadcasters. While attempts to established television started already before 1945, it was only in the two decades following WW2 that the majority of the European nations established their TVs, mostly through the 1950s and 1960s (Hickethier 2008: 56).

References

Adema, Pauline (2000): Vicarious consumption: Food, Television and the Ambiguity of Modernity. Journal of American and Comparative Culture 23(3):113-124.

Bell, David and Joanna Hollows (2006): Towards a history of lifestyle. In David Bell and Joanna Hollows (eds): Historicizing Lifestyle. Mediating taste, consumption and identity from the 1900s to 1970s. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bonner, Frances (2009): Early multi-platforming. Television food programmes, cookbooks and other print spin-offs. Media History 15 (3): 345-358.

Bradley, Perri ed. (2016): Food, Media and Contemporary Culture. Palgrave.

Buscemi, Francesco (2014): National culinary capital: How the state and TV shape the ‘taste of the nation’ to create distinction. PhD thesis. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Collins, Kathleen (2009): Watching what we Eat. The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. New York, London: Continuum.

Comunian, Cristina (2018): The Italian culinary identity shaped by early television broadcasts of Mario Soldati and his Viaggio nella Valle del Pol alla richerca di cibi genuine (Journey along the Po Valley in search of genuine food). Masters Dissertation. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh.

Eriksson, Göran (2016): The ‘ordinary-ization’ of televised cooking expertise: A historical study of cooking instruction programmes on Swedish television. Discourse, Context & Media, 3: 29-39.

Geddes, Kevin (2017): ‘Above all, garnish and presentation’: An evaluation of Fanny Cradock’s contribution to home cooking in Britain. International Journal of Consumer Studies,  41(6): 745-753.

Geddes, Kevin (2018): Nailed It! The history, development and evolution of entertainment in British Television Cooking Programmes 1936-1976. A Presentation at the 1st Biennial Conference on Food and Communication. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University, 6-7 September 2018.

Hickethier, Knut (2008): Early TV: Imagining and Realising Television. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 55-78.

Hollows, Joanne (2003): Oliver’s Twist. Leisure, Labour and Domestic Masculinity in The Naked Chef. International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (2): 229–248.

Holmes, Su (2008): Entertaining television. The BBC and popular culture in the 1950s. Manchester: MUP.

Ketchum, Cheri (2005): The Essence of cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies. Journal of Communication Enquiry, 29 (3): 217-234.

Leer, Jonathan and Povlsen, Karen K. eds. (2016): Food and Media: Practices, Distinctions and Heterotopias. Routledge.

Lewis, Tania (2008): Smart living: lifestyle media and popular expertise. New York: Peter Lang.

Moseley, Rachel (2008): Marguerite Patten, television cookery and postwar British femininity. In: Gillis, Stacy and Hollows, Joanne (eds.), Feminism, domesticity and popular culture. Routledge advances in sociology . London: Routledge, 17-31.

Naccarato, Peter and Kathleen LeBesco (2012): Culinary Capital. London, New York: Berg.

O’Dwyer, Andy (2008): European Television Archives and the Search for Audiovisual Sources. In Bignell, Jonathan and Andreas Fickers (eds) (2008): A European Television History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 257-263.

Oren, Tasha (2019): Food TV (Routledge Television Guidebooks). London: Routledge.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference. London and New York: Berg.

de Solier, Isabelle (2005): TV Dinners: Culinary Television, Education and Distinction. Continuum, 19 (4): 465-481.

Strange, Nikki (1998): Perform, educate, entertain: ingredients of the cookery programme genre. In Christine Geraghty and David Lusted (eds), The Television Studies Book. London, New York: Arnold, 301-312.

Tominc, Ana (2015): Cooking on Slovene national television during socialism: an overview of cooking programmes from 1960 to 1990. Družboslovne razprave,  XXXI (79): 27-44.

Turnock, Rob  (2007): Television and Consumer Culture. Britain and the Transformation of Modernity. London: I.B. Tauris.

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Filed under anthropology, Europe, Food Studies, media

How to Eat Food

It is Friday and that may be a good enough reason to add some radio comedy to our anthropology. Alert SAFN member and blog correspondent Leslie Carlin sends in the following recommendations for our readers.

For a fun– and clever- riff on food and society, have a listen to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation: How to Eat Food‘ (Best line from this week’s show, when it touched on agri-business: ‘Big Farma’).

This is apparently part 1 of 4, but note that each episode is only available on the web site for 7 days and by the time we post this, you will have roughly 5 days to listen to the episode above.

Also on BBC Radio 4, and often entertaining, is ‘The Kitchen Cabinet’, hosted by Jay Rayner; it’s a bit like the Splendid Table.

The station’s flagship food-related show is The Food Programme, which is more earnest and topic-focused.

Food radio appears to be thriving, which might seem counter intuitive in the television and internet age. The number of food shows on American radio, both local and national, is increasing so fast that it is hard to keep up. It would be interesting to know more about food radio in other countries. Please feel free to send us your recommendations from all over the world!

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Filed under anthropology, foodways, media, radio

Smokin’ Fish, Smokin’ Culture

by David Beriss

Is it possible to be an authentic Indian in a society overrun with tourists who want to buy bits and pieces of Indian culture? Are those bits and pieces authentic if they are manufactured in Asia? How can people maintain their traditional foodways if the government forbids them from catching enough fish? Can a balance be found between the needs of native fishers and public policies designed to preserve fisheries? Is there room for any kind of distinctive cultural identity in a globalized, touristic, heavily regulated society like that of the contemporary United States? Also, are salmon some sort of deity?

Cory Mann. Photo from Native American Public Communications.

These are the kinds of questions raised by the fascinating film “Smokin’ Fish.” The documentary is the result of a collaboration between Luke Griswold-Tergis and Cory Mann. Having finished an undergraduate degree in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, Griswold-Tergis set off to Alaska, where he met Mann. Mann is just the kind of person who makes it hard to define culture. He is Tlingit and an entrepreneur with a business designing tchotchkes based on native Alaskan designs. His products are manufactured in Asia for resale in Alaska. Yet even as he pursues his global efforts at mass marketing native culture, he is also deeply engaged in exploring his own cultural identity. The collaboration between Griswold-Tergis and Mann has produced “Smokin’ Fish,” a documentary that explores the connections between native culture, global capitalism, colonialist exploitation of indigenous people, the environment, sustainable fishing and entrepreneurialism. Oh, and smoked salmon. And bears.

Smoking Fish. Photo from Native American Public Communications.

Mann seems to be quite a dynamic entrepreneur, pursuing several different business ventures at any given time, most with some sort of tie-in to Tlingit culture. But for a few months each summer, he closes things down in Juneau and heads back to Klukwan, where his extended family lives. There he works with members of his clan to catch and smoke salmon. The fish, both alive and smoked, are central to the film’s story. Mann asserts at various points that Tlingit worship the fish. The smokehouses they build seem central to their foodways. But this is not all about subsistence fishing. Some Tlingit engage in what appears to be commercial fishing. The smoked fish are also used in trade with other native Alaskans.

The film subtly weaves in the kind of ethnographic details that highlight what is distinctive—and unexpected—about contemporary Tlingit life. Mann explains that his mother took him to San Diego as a small child, where they lived what seems like a counter-cultural kind of life, more hippy than Indian. He never knew his father, who was white. At some point an aunt retrieved him and brought him back to Alaska, where he was raised by a large group of female relatives. This makes sense since, as Mann points out, the Tlingit are matrilineal. It is that kind of detail, along with discussions of clans and houses (Mann is a member of the Eagle Thunderbird Clan) and about the ways in which people build and maintain relationships (by helping build and maintain smokehouses, for instance), that remind us that even in a society heavily dominated by Euro-American values, groups like the Tlingit retain at least some aspects of cultural distinctiveness.

At the same time, the Tlingit continue to struggle with their relationship with non-native authorities. They must deal with the limits on fishing imposed by the state of Alaska, including both licenses and limits that would make it impossible for them to catch enough fish to meet their needs (these are very much ongoing debates, if recent news out of Alaska is any indication). The conflict here surpasses any kind of stereotypes about native relationships with the environment vs. rapacious outsiders. The Tlingit are presented as complex people with interests in salmon that are both traditional and commercial, not as natural environmentalists. Mann also must struggle with federal tax authorities, who do not seem to understand the unusual way in which he runs his business. He has to deal with border officials, as he goes to visit and trade with other natives in nearby Canada. I should note that he does all this while displaying a wry sense of humor and while using an astonishing array of vehicles, all of which appear to be in dire need of repair.

Filmed mostly in Alaska, much of the movie is quite breathtaking. Mann does his fishing from a canoe, in areas of stunning natural beauty. There is an amazing number of eagles flying around the region, as well as both brown and grizzly bears competing with the people for the fish. In addition, members of Mann’s extended family provide a wide range of additional voices, commenting on the history of native/nonnative relations, the exploitation of Tlingit lands, and the challenges they face in maintaining any kind of attachment to their heritage.

The movie is currently traveling around the U.S. Details on where it may go next can be found here. The filmmakers have a Facebook page as well. “Smokin’ Fish” would make a very useful addition to a variety of anthropology courses, including any food and culture course, as well as introductory cultural anthropology classes, courses on indigenous cultures or even on globalization. It can be used to start discussions on food, kinship, identity and, of course, culture. I recommend, however, making sure you have some smoked fish on hand when you show it. The audience will be hungry.

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Filed under Alaska, anthropology, culture, economics, film, fish, food security, hunting, indigenous people, media, seafood, sustainability

City of Gastronomy

Louisiana bumper sticker

The BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico (named, it seems, for the fictitious town invented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”) has been capped, top-killed, sealed and may be bottom-killed as well. Last we checked, the government and BP were looking into adding a new blowout preventer to the well. We have a whole new vocabulary that we can try to work into class lectures, articles and blog entries. However, this new set of oil spill words should not distract us from a simple fact: the Gulf Coast remains in danger.

Gulf Coast seafood producers find themselves in a paradoxical situation. On one hand, the end of the spew and the reopening of many commercial and sport fishing areas means that seafood from the Gulf will once again be widely available. The seafood producers, including the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, have worked hard to build the local brand, trying to assure people that food from the Gulf is not only safe, but extraordinarily good. Obviously, the BP spill tarnished that brand, so their priority now is to resurrect it. The government has been testing the seafood extensively to show that it is safe to consume. The future of the seafood industry on the Gulf Coast—the way of life for thousands of people—is at stake.

At the same time, residents of the Gulf Coast want to remind you that the end of the oil spill is not the end of the problem. There is still oil on the beaches, in the wetlands, maybe under the sea. Seafood producers, processors, restaurant owners and workers and others involved in the Gulf Coast tourist industries have all lost income in the last few months. Cleaning up the damage and making people whole will take time and money. They do not want to be forgotten. Of course, calling attention to this also calls attention to the damage the oil and dispersants may have done to the environment and to the seafood. Which, of course, raises further questions about safety.

Another bumper sticker

A paradox, indeed.

Food activists are using ideas about food culture and heritage in one of the more interesting efforts to address this paradox. A group led by the food activist Gary Nabhan has recently published a collection outlining reasons why we should look at the Gulf of Mexico as both a biological resource and as a key part of America’s cultural heritage. The pamphlet has short articles by food activists in the New Orleans area—people you should read if you are planning on visiting the city for the AAA meetings in November—who explain clearly what is at stake in cultural terms in restoring the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

The problems go far beyond the immediate oil spill. They are biological, of course, but also social and cultural. The articles show what kinds of species are endangered, not just by the recent oil spill, but by other longer term problems. These include the destruction of the Louisiana coast due to oil canals, pipelines and the efforts to control the Mississippi river, all of which have rendered the region vulnerable to salt water intrusion, eroded wetlands and increased the area’s susceptibility to hurricane storm surges. It also includes the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is created every year by farm runoff from America’s heartland spewing out from the Mississippi. And it is not just seafood that is at stake. The Gulf Coast is home to plants such as mirlitons (known also as chayote squash) and many other vegetables, to heritage cattle breeds and other kinds of livestock, all of which are in danger of vanishing as the coast disappears and as the pressures of the American food industry and of culinary homogenization press in.

One group is working to have UNESCO designate New Orleans as a “City of Gastronomy.” This includes several of the authors from the Nabhan’s collection, other New Orleans food activists, representatives of the city government and the author of this post. The City of Gastronomy designation is currently held by only three cities (Popayan, Colombia, Chengdu, PRC and Östersund, Sweden). It is part of a broader “creative cities network” that UNESCO has created to promote social, economic and cultural development in cities around the world. This meshes with the emphasis in Louisiana on the “cultural economy” and is understood by our group as a means toward legitimizing the city’s claim that it is home to a distinct culinary heritage. This is not merely an historical artifact: the foodways of New Orleans and the surrounding region, from the waters of the Gulf and the people who work them, to farmers, gardeners, home cooks and restaurant chefs, is indeed a living creative culture. Insuring the health of the Gulf Coast is a key part of making sure that that culture can be sustained. We want to remind you that buying and eating the products of the Gulf is not just good eats. It is also a key part of keeping a way of life alive.

Posted by David Beriss

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Filed under AAA 2010 New Orleans, anthropology, culture, disaster, economics, food policy, heritage, media, sustainability

Evolution and Meat

Smoked chicken!

There was a fascinating piece on the National Public Radio news program Morning Edition (on the August 2, 2010 show) regarding the links between human evolution, meat eating and cooking.  Naturally, this caught our attention here at FoodAnthropology.  It featured insights from several anthropologists and was about food.  What more can one ask from a news story?  Read and listen to it here.

There are several points of interest.  First is the idea that eating meat allowed humans to develop the kinds of brains that we have now.  A good idea, but apparently eating the meat raw was not sufficient.  In fact, eating most things raw was more difficult and, in some cases, less nutritious than eating the same things cooked.  Of course, this adds culture to evolution.  Fascinating aspect of adaptation, really.  This is precisely the kind of thing that makes evolution so amazing.  This may be an old insight in anthropology (Claude Lévi-Strauss made some observations on cooking, culture and evolution, for example), but it is not really appreciated by non-anthropologists, I think.

Now, I can imagine that all of this could be considered controversial from some points of view.  Folks in the vegetarian, vegan and raw food camps probably have interesting things to say about this.  They might assert that pre-historic diets of nuts and fruit, eaten raw, were really all our (very distant) ancestors needed.  So why should we need more?  They may make strange assertions about what our guts are designed to digest and suggest that we avoid meat, milk, cooked foods, etc.  The archaeologists and biological anthropologists can show that their view of our ancestors is incorrect, but that may not matter.  They will invent new ancestors.  People love to legitimize their positions through imagined ancestors.

In addition, if you read the comments at the end of the NPR piece, you will see people grappling with another kind of issue: if our ancestors developed big brains by eating meat, they seem to ask, does that mean my kid will get a big brain if he or she eats steak?  Well, no, not exactly.  There is a misunderstanding here between the idea of what is adaptive for populations and what is healthy at any given time for individuals.  Here too, people are looking for legitimacy in ancestors, but the problem is that the units of analysis are off.

The links between diet and evolution—including the choices to eat meat and to cook—were probably not well understood by our ancestors, but they did prove to be adaptive.  Are they still adaptive?  It is hard to tell.  Are they healthy for us as individuals?  You can’t really read that from the evolutionary record.  That said, it seems likely that the manner in which we produce most meat today is not sustainable.  And by sustainable, I mean that it harms the environment in ways that may harm us.  Does this mean we should cease eating meat?  Eat less of it?  Produce what we do eat differently?  I like some of those ideas, but not because I know they will prove to be adaptive in an evolutionary sense.  You can’t really make sense of the world that way—it is too abstract.  Our ancestors started at some point to eat meat and later started to cook it, along with other things.  This proved to be a great idea at the time.  I love grilling meat, so I think it is still a great idea.  But you’ll notice that one of the anthropologists cited in the story is a vegetarian (that would be Richard Wrangham, author of the very interesting book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, 2009, Basic Books).  He understands the adaptive nature of meat eating and cooking in the past.  So what does his choice mean now?

You can’t really plan an evolutionary strategy.  You can only tell that what your ancestors did worked at the time.  If our choices are adaptive today, we will have descendants who can look back and appreciate those choices.  I guess that is why it is evolution, not revolution.

posted by David Beriss

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Filed under anthropology, evolution, food security, media, nutrition, sustainability

BP Gulf Spew and the Future of Seafood

New Orleans Jazz Fest Seafood

When you see the words “spew” and “seafood” in the same title, you can assume things are not good.

The enormous and ongoing oil spill/leak resulting from the destruction of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico has created a sense of imminent catastrophe in New Orleans and the region. The city has been flying high lately, cheered by the election of a new mayor, by the Saint’s Superbowl victory and by dozens of smaller success stories that all suggest we had turned a corner and started, maybe, to put the floods of 2005 behind us.  New Orleans was—and still is—in the process of becoming one of the great urban experiments of the 21st century.  It has become a model of how to turn a city around by focusing on the local, on making things human-scaled, all the while building on a very distinctive local culture.

That culture includes food and foodways in which seafood plays a central part.  It is on the menus of nearly every restaurant in the region, from fried seafood platters and raw oysters to the most elegant plates in white tablecloth restaurants, as Chef John Besh points out.  Seafood is a way of life along the Gulf coast, supporting generations of fishing families.  From roadside stands, to farmers markets, grocery stores, home kitchens and restaurants, everyone in this region eats seafood.  You can get affordable oysters, shrimp, crabs, crawfish and fin fish.  It is not frozen (one local restaurant’s advertising slogan is “Friends don’t let Friends eat Frozen Fish“) and it is not imported.  It is what people talk about too.  When I did jury duty last winter, we talked fishing and seafood in the jury room.  Women and men, black and white, we all shared our best places to fish, our recipes, our stories.

The BP disaster threatens to destroy that, maybe forever.  It is terrifying…and it was probably avoidable.  There have been plenty of warnings about how we set ourselves up for environmental disaster, some specifically about the oil industry, others more general, including work by anthropologists on oil and chemical spills, mining destruction, environmental justice and threats to our food supply that are too numerous to cite.  We have allowed industries to regulate themselves, claiming that enlightened self-interest would result in safety for workers and the public while freeing up the dynamic energy of the market.

At what point will we question this perspective?  How many lives are worth sacrificing—not just in West Virginia mines or Gulf of Mexico oil platforms, but in China, Angola, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico, Iraq or India?  The production of energy and food are both fraught with risk, of course, and it is futile to demand that we eliminate all danger from those processes.  But we do have to recognize the potential consequences of the choices we make.  We have to understand that decisions to “drill, baby, drill” can quickly result in the destruction of an entire industry and way of life.  And we have to recognize that it is possible to make different choices.  We can produce energy and food in ways that are both sustainable and affordable.  Maybe New Orleans will lead the way there too.  But I will save that for a future blog entry.  Meanwhile, Gulf coast seafood is still safe.  Show some solidarity with our fishers and go eat some!

Posted by David Beriss

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Filed under disaster, economics, media, sustainability

The Naked Chef Exposed! (Part 2)

Jamie Oliver in the news… stirring up a storm on the food listserves! (Part Two)

So, the Jamie Oliver message seems to be causing great consternation amongst food scholars and activists. Both the ASFS and Comfood crowds have been batting the show about most unmercifully. Their comments fall into several broad categories; I haven’t statistically analyzed the content, so be kind and understand this is a method-free overview. However, given the sheer volume of Listserve posts, I COULD HAVE used any standard text analysis software, which in and of itself is something to ponder. As I do here.

The primary thread on ASFS started off with this subject line title: “’Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution’ regurgitates the worst of reality TV pap” which certainly set the tone for the many posts that followed. The broad themes are as follows:

“We don’t need no stinkin’ advice”: By far the greatest volume of complaint is within this category, and perfectly summed by this quote, which occurred midway through the fray: “But judging from others’ takes on it, this program seems to be one in a long line depicting self-righteous British experts coming into Americans’ lives and homes and telling us what we’re doing wrong.” This was reiterated by a Guardian columnist, and refuted by a number of folks on the lists who insisted they had no trouble being told how to live by Brits, Italians, Outer Mongolians or any other group of foodie dogooders.

It’s not Feminist or Politically Correct: A theme built upon the chosen film site (a Southern, working-class town), linked to the funny hick accents of the townspeople, and bolstered by Jamie’s habits of calling people – especially the Lunch Ladies – by neo-disrespectful terms such as “hon” and “girls”. This was defended by several posters with the argument that Jamie is a product of his nation and class, which considers those phrases acceptable. If still annoying.

Various ad hominem attacks, from generalized Jamie-fatigue to critiques of celebrity chef hubris: this category mostly focused on queries about what and why a ‘celebrity chef’ (clearly written with dripping ichor) thinks he has the right to critique food use of children and families. See #1 above, add a soupcon of envy, and you’ve nailed the tone.

Queries about if he is successful: this set contains quite a lot of extraneous pro-and con information relating to research about school food, working-class diets, and the tyranny of health education. Various side posts about schools, class, food change and global media culture definitively ran the thread(s) right off the rails.

The need for more information about what people really do and really eat before we espouse change While most posts of this type blithely ignored the data pertaining to the subject already in existence (in the vein of ‘what do we really know about food use anyway?”), some (on ASFS in particular) pointed out where data are missing and called for more targeted studies.

Critiques of his message, largely relating to his insistence that ‘fresh and easy’ is easy to accomplish if you know how, including why is it or isn’t easy (with renewed divagation into contemplation of working-class lives and time budgets). The best part of this thread was the comparison of cooking from scratch to good sex and fast/frozen food to masturbation (it gets the job done, but….).

Discussions about how valueless reality TV is, and why this isn’t a good medium for creating real food use change, or that it is a good venue because: “unfortunately western culture is inspired by sound bites, celebrities and brands…if the message comes from ‘Victoria Beckham’ it has far more impact than Joe Schmoo who is an MP and has worked tirelessly on the same issues! I suppose the same can be said for the masses…who prefer entertaining reality TV over listening to a doctor or nurse ‘drone’ on about nutrition….”. Which neatly reified the condescending tone of the whole taradiddle.

And of course, the many additional posts to confirm that one already did do, or didn’t do, what Jamie espoused. Many of these were solidly self-congratulatory and (back to back) usually contradictory. The highlight was a link to a youtube video that lauded the work of the poster and dramatically asked why Jamie’s Food Revolution “didn’t teach people to cook”… thereby ignoring his “Pass it On” campaign, community education kitchens (Food Centres), and solid record of really quite good (and endearingly simplistic) cookbooks assuring readers that ‘cooking is easy, and you can do it!’

The most trenchant complaint was that by stating that the “Food Revolution Starts Here!” Jamie ignores all the important work done by other schools, groups and individuals around the country. Since this is a very legitimate gripe, I was surprised to see that it didn’t have legs in the thread wars. However, the obvious reason for this omission –  reality TV thrives on manufactured drama and dichotomies – was mentioned, although on the Comfood list there was some consternation that the producers hadn’t reached out to members of the school-food-change community before the show was filmed. However, as a result of this complaint the producers did invite various activists to participate in the last episode. We shall see what happens.

Many writers popped up to support him, and to remind others that he did indeed cause positive change in British schools. This encouraged a new set of posts, which questioned any changes, and cited studies demonstrating the opposite. Which led to posts citing studies that demonstrated that other methods like Jamie’s methods work, and can be linked to any number of positive outcomes. Further posts ensued, mentioning studies demonstrating a correlation between children preferring and eating fresh food and doing better in school. Today, one writer explained that Jamie’s Britishness was the reason for the hostility, and that “It’s a shame though because borders and nationality don’t really have a lot to do with all this, and what’s being missed here – and it worked in Britain – is a prime opportunity to overhaul some food habits that are simply killing people. What’s revolutionary about Oliver is that he’s a celebrity chef who’s genuinely interested in helping people and his track record is good.  Ah well, you can lead a horse to water…”

My take on this extended commentary and controversy will come in Part Three…. And in the meantime, don’t miss Episode Two: http://www.hulu.com/watch/138201/jamie-olivers-food-revolution-episode-102#s-p1-so-i0

Posted by Janet Chrzan

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Filed under economics, media, nutrition, obesity