Food, Representation and Identity in Contemporary American Cultures

Thursday, October 9, 2014, 1 – 5:30pm
Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room (315)

Latino Gothic by Alejandro García-Lemos
Latino Gothic by Alejandro García-Lemos

Many new theories have bound food production and consumption to representation, and have endeavored to unpack the profound effects of seeing food on the construction of identity. In particular, theories by Julie Guthman and others have revealed how food discourse helps produce and exclude certain permutations of race, class, gender, and sexuality. This conference frames food as both a site and a sign to understand how bodies are constructed, ideals are maintained and monitored, and how those constructs get undone through various interventions. How is alimentary desire shaped by what we see? How are paradigms like race, class, gender, and sexuality policed and regulated through food? What are the effects of being seen as food due to stereotyping or the creation of other codes? And in what ways do the morals and manners associated with food figure within the dynamic operations of culture? For our purposes we understand “culture” very broadly—as film, television, everyday practices, fine art, and performance paradigms.

This symposium was sponsored by the Berkeley Food Institute.
Co-sponsored by: Institute for the Study of Societal IssuesMedia Studies Program, and Department of Sociology, UC Berkeley.

Panel 1: Cultivating Race and Class

Race, Class, and Berries: The Naturalization of the Social Suffering among Transnational Farm Laborers
Seth Holmes, Martin Sisters Assistant Professor, School of Public Health and Graduate Program in Medical Anthropology

This paper explores the overdetermined naturalization of social suffering in the Pacific Northwest berry industry. Central to this analysis is the normalized nexus of ethnicity, class, and suffering among Triqui farm laborers. The majority of Triqui men and women from the Mexican State of Oaxaca migrate regularly to other parts of Mexico or the U.S. for work. These workers occupy the lowest rungs of various labor hierarchies transnationally, including that of berry farms in Washington State. The Pacific Northwest berry business is organized de facto along lines of perceived ethnicity. Each group perceives itself and other groups through lenses dependent on and at the same time productive of their location in this social formation. Thus, this ethnic-labor pecking order is taken for granted as natural by its participants. This social formation, however, also maps onto a hierarchy of suffering. The lower a group is found on the labor ladder, the more bodily suffering, deterioration, and violence inherent to their work. Not only is this conspiracy of institutional racism and suffering seen as normal by those involved, but also by migrant health professionals. These biomedical practitioners see only individual responsibility and interpersonal interactions, remaining unaware to social forces. They perceive farm laborers as “irresponsible” and as “perpetrators” of their own suffering. Thus, insult is added to injury with Triqui agricultural laborers being blamed for their own victimization. This paper explores the ways in which symbolic violence normalizes structural violence, racism, and suffering.

Seth Holmes is the Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Assistant Professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Community Health and Human Development Division and the Graduate Program in Medical Anthropology. He is Co-Director of the MD/PhD Track in Medical Anthropology coordinated between UCSF and UC Berkeley and Director of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine. Professor Holmes is currently investigating social hierarchies, health, health care and the naturalization and normalization of difference and inequality in the context of transnational US-Mexico im/migration. This project led to the publication of the book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. For this book, Professor Holmes migrated with undocumented native Mexican farmworkers, including living in labor camps, picking berries, pruning vineyards, accompanying workers to clinics and hospitals, living in mountain villages in southern Mexico, trekking across the US-Mexico border, and being placed in Border Patrol jail.  Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies has won the Anthropology of Work Book Award and the New Millennium Book Award from the Society for Medical Anthropology.  Dr. Holmes holds both an MD from UCSF and a PhD in Medical Anthropology from UC Berkeley and UCSF.

Broadening Access to Rural Queer Land, Agriculture, and Community Living: Anti-oppression Approaches to the Meandering Path of Change
Sarick Matzen, Graduate Student, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley

The last twenty years have seen another wave of queer rural migration, with an emphasis on collectively organized and politicized sustainability-oriented projects. Because food production and security are inherent elements of sustainability, these projects share an emphasis on food, including agriculture and hunted/gathered food. Because of the strong visitor participation and skill-sharing integrated in these projects, their existence broadens queer involvement in both urban and rural sustainable food production.

I present a case study of a rural queer community in Middle Tennessee, a project I have been involved with since 2001. This project hosts a popular sustainable gardening internship program where interns learn all aspects of year-round intensive vegetable cropping, and is one of the few farming/gardening apprentice programs in the U.S. catering to a queer clientele. Recently, this community has been involved in a productive, dynamic community-wide discussion about who participates in the community. Like many rural intentional communities founded on social justice values, this project was founded and has been historically been accessed by majority white people. To describe the process of anti-oppression organizing happening in this community, I couple my lived experience as a white queer community participant, with informal interviews with residents, visitors, and interns. I consider reasons why queer and trans people of color may or may not be interested in accessing this rural queer Southern space and the gardening internship program, as well as the challenges of securing access to land—important for food production—in a decolonial context. In recent years, more people of color have spent time at the community; these small successes suggest potential for further disruption of the white capitalist patriarchy, and represent steps towards food production and consumption in harmony with our true selves and the earth.

Raised in North Carolina, Sarick Matzen spent several years living in Middle Tennessee where he was happy to find queer community and sustainable agriculture in one place. His love of gardening and fascination with environmental chemistry come together in his focus on soil remediation. Before beginning graduate studies in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Department at UC Berkeley in 2013, he managed a community garden that he helped establish on an abandoned junkyard. He currently studies arsenic soil remediation at a field site in south Berkeley of interest to urban farmers.

Panel 2: Consumption, Preparation, and Self-hood

The Embodied Rhetoric of “Health” from Farm Fields to Salad Bowls
Jean P. Retzinger, Assistant Director and Lecturer, Media Studies, UC Berkeley

The introduction of “designer” or “premium” salads on the menus at most fast-food restaurants beginning in 2002 led to an ironic situation in which fast-food restaurants have become leading advertisers for fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the US. This essay examines contemporary print advertisements and television commercials for fast-food salads. These advertisements, ostensibly celebrating consumer freedom and choice, exploit and reinforce stereotypes and anxieties about body image, sexuality, ethnicity, and gender. Such advertising reduces the concept of “health” to a purely narcissistic concern (often laced with sexual innuendo and double entendre) about the individual body. The essay attempts to open up the discourse about health by reading these ads against another set of bodies – those of the farm laborers responsible for planting, cultivating, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables found in those salads – and concern for the environment.

Jean P. Retzinger is the Assistant Director and a lecturer in the Media Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research explores media representations of food production (in both agriculture and industrial sites), food marketing, and food consumption – and the social, cultural, and environmental implications of what and how we eat. In addition to chapters in two different food anthologies – Edible Ideologies: Representing Food and Meaning (2008) and The Rhetoric of Food: Discourse, Materiality, and Power (2012), she has also had her published work in journals including Cultural Studies and Environmental Communication.

Dirt Out There or Dirt In Here? Food, Contamination, and Emotions
Kara Young, Graduate Student, Sociology, UC Berkeley

In this presentation, I will explore the emotional associations that individuals have with the food that they eat, and how, through these emotions, food becomes a sign of perceived success or failure as a proper subject. Pulling from 30 in-depth interviews with residents of one food diverse neighborhood in Oakland, I explore how this success or failure is often expressed through feelings of contamination as “dirt out there” (outside of the body) for those with economic and racial capital and as “dirt in here” (or in the body) for those without. I suggest that individuals are aware of an imagined “healthy” way of eating but see it as differentially available to them depending upon their racial and socio-economic status position. As my interviews suggest, sitting on top of a stratified food market, messages about healthy eating create panic for those who struggle financially or internally with aligning themselves to a healthier diet. The result is that those respondents who belonged to marginalized populations struggle with feelings of embodying contamination or becoming dirty from the “non-healthy” foods that they choose to eat, as these respondents see themselves as repeatedly failing to bring themselves in line with their perceptions of the healthy eater.

 Kara Young is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology where she studies race, gender and postcolonial theory. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Kara holds a BA in sociology from Brown University and an MA in sociology from UC Berkeley. Her dissertation project investigates the emotional associations that individuals in different social structural locations have around buying and eating food. She is interested in how these emotions affect food choice and work to reproduce food related health inequality. As an educator and musician, Kara has taught sociology and creative writing classes in high schools, universities, rehabilitation centers and state prison.


 Translating in the Kitchen
Aruna D’Souza, Writer and Journalist

This paper will look at the notion of culinary translations among diasporic communities — the recreation of global cuisines by immigrants and the adoption of American dishes by those same immigrants. Cooking in new places means having to navigate supermarkets, come to terms with a different climate and different agricultural products, accommodate oneself and one’s family to different social customs, and adapt oneself to the tastes of new neighbors and friends and even to one’s children who have grown up in a different world from that of their parents. The ability to make such culinary transitions has changed over time as the expansion of the global food trade has meant that almost any ingredient is available to diasporic consumers; what has been lost is the joys of culinary MIS-translation, and the strange and wonderful (though often inedible) hybridities that resulted.

Aruna D’Souza is a cook and a writer whose blog, Kitchen Flânerie, deals with issues of cultural memory, food, and trauma. Her work on contemporary and modern art has been published widely; most recently, she co-edited Art in the Wake of the Global Turn, published by Yale University Press in 2013.

Panel 3: Producing Food, Producing Subjects

The Celebrity of a “Lunatic Farmer:” Joel Salatin, Neo-Liberalism, Masculinity, and Sustainable Farming
Ryanne Pilgeram, Assistant Professor, Sociology, University of Idaho

In this presentation I analyze Joel Salatin’s celebrity as a sustainable farmer to explore the ways his public persona manages underlying tensions in the alterative food movement. Using his film appearances as well as ethnographic notes from a full day workshop with Salatin as data, I explore how Salatin’s celebrity status obscures many of the challenges facing food activists behind the veneer of the charming, folksy farmer and the rhetoric of freedom (freedom from the corporate food system and corrupt government practices). The tensions between Salatin’s free-market, anti-regulation politics and the mainstream environmental movement, I argue, are managed and contained through nostalgic images of Salatin as the white, straight, male, yeoman farmer and the masculinization of sustainability. By using an appeal to traditional masculinities to market sustainable food to the mainstream, Salatin’s celebrity (like all celebrity identities) works to support consumption and market-driven solutions to current environmental and food justice crises. In the process, these solutions ignore how the market itself is culpable in creating such crises. By obscuring this tautology, Salatin’s celebrity suggests we can consume our way out of the injustices of the current food system.

Ryanne Pilgeram, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Certificate of Diversity and Stratification at the University of Idaho, where she teaches a class on Food Systems and Sustainability in addition to courses on social inequalities. Her recent works on issues of social inclusion and social justice within sustainable agriculture have recently appeared in Rural Sociology, Race, Class & Gender, Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis and is forthcoming in Environmental Communication.

“So God Made a Farmer”: Proximities of Settler Colonialism and the Agrarian
Hossein Ayazi, Graduate Student, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley

In support of the National Future Farmers of America Association, Ram Trucks announced 2013 to be the “Year of the Farmer.” Their commemorative Super Bowl advertisement featured excerpts from radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s iconic speech, “So God Made a Farmer.” For both Harvey and Ram Trucks, the farmer that God made is not only a white Christian family man but also a man whose story can sell trucks and whose story resonates particularly well with the meanings, symbols, and audience of the Super Bowl. In this paper, I aim to use the farmer that Harvey described to explore how American settler colonialism is embodied and recognized. I ask what makes the farmer God made seemingly accessible to Ram Trucks critics, supporters, and owners, and to Super Bowl fans themselves. I ask how such attachments are significant to sustaining settler colonial power and how they are shaped by perpetual social, political, cultural, and spatial processes of exclusion. I examine these questions by way of a close reading of Harvey’s speech, the Ram Trucks commercial, and the Super Bowl itself. I argue that whiteness, settler colonialism, and the Christian family are inextricably linked through “proximity” in Harvey’s speech and the agrarian imaginary it speaks to. I also argue that such familial and domestic proximities are produced and reproduced in the national ritual of the Super Bowl yet are overlaid atop and given meaning through ostensibly secular national and domestic space.

Hossein Ayazi is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. His work addresses questions of race, gender, place, settler colonialism, culture, and representation by engaging with what can be broadly defined as U.S. agrarianism.


 Jill A. Bakehorn is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Davis. Her research and teaching interests include feminist theory, gender and sexuality, popular culture and the body, and food cultures. She specializes in the study of sex work and the construction of authenticity. Her current research project focuses on the cognitive dissonance faced by sociologists, particularly the contradictions between the values we derive from sociology and how we operate in our day-to-day lives.

Katie Anania is a historian of postwar American and European art and culture, and teaches courses at the California College of the Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute on contemporary art, intimacy, food cultures, and the history of sculpture. Her doctoral dissertation, which has earned awards from the Getty Research Institute, the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, examines the confluence of new drawing strategies and expanding notions of interpersonal communication and disclosure in 1960s urban America. She also specializes in issues of intimacy and privacy in food consumption. Her writing and criticism has appeared in Artweek, American Craft, Pastelegram, …mightbegood, and

Rosalie Z. Fanshel has spent over 15 years on (and in) the ground of the food movement in Northern California, Japan, and Australia. She is program manager for the Berkeley Food Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, which is dedicated to catalyzing and supporting transformative changes in food systems, to promote diversity, justice, resilience, and health. As a seasoned administrator Rosalie thrives in making the good work happen on a day-to-day basis. She has previously served as operations manager for the Berkeley Farmers’ Markets; operations manager at Food Connect Sydney; and within the University of California as program assistant for UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies and as program coordinator for UC San Diego’s Center on Emerging and Pacific Economies. Rosalie obtained her BA from Oberlin College in 2000. She is also an exhibiting artist and freelance illustrator. Her scholarly interests include popular music, visual culture, and representations of gender and sexuality within the food movement. She has published on Bruce Springsteen’s queer music in the journal Popular Music.