Saturday, February 28, 2015


  Styling: Food as Fashion
by Laura Rizzardini 
       In rational, technological America, science-based medicine predominates. Patients are still free to choose
Timothy Vollmer. Purchases at August 17th DuPont Farmer’s
Market. Bing. August 17, 2008.
treatment based on belief such as prayer or cultural traditions such as yoga. Health care insurance, though, seldom finances such choices no matter how successful they may be. Nutrition is similarly governed by scientific study largely financed by the federal government. Despite all of this attention by highly educated and credentialed authorities, American dietary habits have been strongly influenced by social and economic trends (Bentley, 2006; Guthman, 2003). Baby food became popular largely due to American pride in the efficiencies of mass production and home appliances. The parents that brought us the Baby Boom after World War II quickly adopted the jarred, pureed pablum newly on the market. Like today’s smart phone enthusiasts, they purchased the emerging refrigerators and stoves for their modern kitchens. Their suburban homes were now wired for the electricity necessary to operate them (Bentley, 2006). 
      These twentieth century mothers did not work outside the home; however, these new products helped them to more efficiently manage their homemaking and care giving. Automation of household chores and processed foods also helped to set the stage for the second wave of the women’s movement. Jars of mashed fruits, vegetables, and meats were as convenient as mother’s milk. The mothers of the Baby Boomers wanted to encourage their children’s advancement in every way; they didn’t wait for scientific research to provide evidence supporting whole foods for babies. It was only after processed, pureed fruits, vegetables, and meats became known as “baby food” that doctors began studying baby nutrition (Bentley, 2006).
      Not much later, a similar phenomenon began for organic foods. Organic mesclun or mixed salad greens became popular because restaurateur Alice Waters featured them as California cuisine. Grown by local, organic farmers, their price increased with the demand for them by early foodies during the 1980s. Their popularity fostered their mass production by major growers in contradiction to the early “slow food” philosophy of their aficionados (Guthman, 2003). Today, motivations for the consumption of organic foods vary. For some people, they are a matter of refined tastes. They enjoy locally-grown, organic foods because they are fresh and flavorful. Their expense further distinguishes them and their consumers socially. Restaurants that serve them enjoy reputations for higher quality dining experiences. Their patrons are often people of wealth if not fame. Concern for optimal health and body weight are also important reasons why many people want to eat organic foods (Guthman, 2003).  
      Deeper thinkers understand the impact of organic food consumption upon communities as well. Consumption of locally-grown, organic foods changes communities. It affects the environment and the relationships between growers and their employees, distributors, restaurateurs, and consumers. Reduced air, soil, and water pollution improves community health especially that of farm workers. Of concern, is the limited availability of organic foods in low income communities. The low wages and excessive manual labor required of farm workers are problems even among organic growers (Guthman, 2003). Local farmers, though, can become providers of fresh, flavorful foods popular among creative chefs and discerning diners. Meals at home, too, can become a shared celebration of health and taste. Relationships are nourished through the time and care needed to prepare and enjoy fresh foods.   
      Not just individual food choices, then but the variety of foods available are dependent upon social trends. Even more, what we know about foods and their effects on human health are dependent upon social trends. That is, the questions asked and answered in the name of science arise from ideas, activities, and events that occur in society. Living in the world is essential as it informs our study of it; paradoxically, we can only learn more about that which we already know. In the end, our choices are more important than we can imagine. We have more freedom than we can conceptualize. How will you exercise your freedom?
Bentley, A. (2006). Booming baby food: Infant food and feeding in Post-World War II America.  
    Michigan Historical Review, 32(2), 63-87.
Guthman, J. (2003). Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’. 
     Social & Cultural Geography, 4(1), 45-58. 

Junking Food: Public Efforts to Foster Healthy Eating
By Laura Rizzardini 
Tsada Kay. Still Legal to Sell in New York City.  Bing. July 30, 2014.
      Obesity among Americans has drawn the concern and attention of local and international governing bodies as well as the federal government. Even major food corporations have voluntarily worked together to address this problem.  The common actual and virtual presence of fast food makes it a challenging one.  Commercials for sweet snacks are as common as fast food drive-through windows.  Much of the promotion of foods is focused on unhealthy snacks and fast food meals.  It is also focused on children and adolescents.  Through the windows of the television screen and the computer monitor, processed food vendors associate their favorite cartoon characters with sugary cereals and breakfast pastries (Schwartz, Kunkel, & DeLucia, 2013).  Video games encourage not only more sitting and television viewing, but also snacking on candies, cookies, and chips.  Oddly, there’s little promotion of nourishing foods.  Instead, children learn to recognize name brands of packaged cereals, salty snacks, and fatty sandwiches.  Schools promote sports and academic programming through the sale of sodas and candies (Schwartz, Kunkel, & DeLucia, 2013). 
      Lacking sponsors for carrots, frijoles, and tofu, efforts have focused on limiting junk food advertising to youth.   It wasn’t until 2006, though, that the Better Business Bureau facilitated the development of a voluntary policy for food processors.  The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative encourages participating companies to promote only their healthier products to youth.  Until this year, companies each wrote their own standards for “healthier” foods.  This initiative, however, is not comprehensive enough to be effective.  It does not include all types of media outlets or sufficiently restrict food products with little nutritional value.  Other local regulation by school systems and cities is more rigorous.  Parents can greatly contribute by curtailing their children’s time in front of the television.  Their influence over their children’s food choices will be improved by less competition with food vendors (Schwartz, Kunkel, & DeLucia, 2013).  
      Parents can also model healthy eating by making better food choices themselves.  As adults have more knowledge, authority, and funds for making food choices than children, there’s less concern with advertising to them.  Instead, taxes on poorly nourishing foods can be an effort to discourage their purchase of them (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013).  The absence of a liter of root beer in the back of the refrigerator requires consumption of other, perhaps healthier, liquid refreshments.   As that root beer is likely less expensive than a quart of milk, taxes can be an effort to increase the cost of unhealthy foods (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013).  Who wouldn’t support a campaign to encourage healthy eating?  Taxes are more than just words and pictures, too.  They can both punish and reward people for their shopping and eating habits. 
      Such initiatives may seem to have many advantages.  People are motivated to choose milk, nuts, and apples over sodas, chips, and cupcakes at the grocery store.  They achieve and maintain healthier weights.  Chronic conditions fostered by obesity decline.  The taxes on purchases of fatty, salty, and sugary foods are used to pay for social services such as health care (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013).  In practice, though, taxation of junk food is a complex issue.  The effectiveness of such taxes in reducing rates of obesity is currently unknown.  In a free society, citizens must approve such taxes, too.  Taxes on food choices raise the question of the appropriateness of government intervention in citizens’ lives.  Due to social differences, the burden of such taxes is not evenly distributed, either.  People living in poverty eat more unhealthy foods than higher income people.  Food choices are limited by access to healthy foods as well as by income.  Often, impoverished people live in communities without grocery stores (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013). 
      Despite the nearly constant discussion of obesity in the media, more research is needed.  Advertising continues to change with the development of new social media applications.  More importantly, agreement on definitions of healthy and unhealthy foods is required.  Fruit juices and cereals can contain added sugar like soda pop and toaster pastries (Franck, Grandi, & Eisenberg, 2013).  Perhaps, the ultimate decisions still belong to each of us.  What do we prefer to eat?  Are we knowledgeable about the consequences of our diets for ourselves and our families?  If so, are we content with the consequences of our food choices?  More importantly, are we prepared to cope with them?  A long, healthy retirement may require as much planning as a brief seniority as an invalid.
Franck, C., Grandi, S. M., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2013). Taxing junk food to counter obesity. 
       American Journal of Public Health, 103(11), 1949-1953.
Schwartz, M. B.., Kunkel, D. & DeLucia, S. (2013). Food marketing to youth: Pervasive, 
       powerful, and pernicious. Communication Research Trends, 32(2), 4-13.

Nourishing a Healthy Weight: It's not about Willpower
By Laura Rizzardini 
June 11, 2014   

Andrea Larman. Wacky Cake. Bing. March 12, 2014.
    It's curious that food abundance and chronic diseases are both common in western societies.  Given the geographic, economic, and social resources of the United States, it might seem reasonable to expect healthier American diets.  Why aren’t Americans routinely found snacking on toasted almonds, lunching on salmon steaks, and stopping by the bar for fruit smoothies after work?  Tastes that are learned are strong determinants of human eating habits.  Children’s development of food preferences is limited by the choices provided by their parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers.  Parents’ food choices are influenced by their educational level, food prices, and social groups (Mustonen, Oerlemans, & Tuorila, 2012; Talukdar & Lindsey, 2013). 
      Children don’t just learn to enjoy the meals they eat every day.  They also learn their attitudes about sampling new foods.  These attitudes are especially pronounced about produce.  They are absent about meats.  Parents who enthusiastically taste unfamiliar foods are important role models for their children. More highly educated parents exhibit such adventurousness than less educated parents.  The greater availability of varied foods to well-educated parents may also be important to parental tastes (Mustonen, Oerlemans, & Tuorila, 2012).  Intake of nutritious vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and bell peppers, then, depends upon a willingness to try them.  Even regular snacking on sweet fruits rather than sugary candies and cakes depends upon a child’s acquaintance with bananas, tangerines, and grapes.  Parental choice of apple pie at McDonald’s instead of fresh apples from the grocer develops children’s food preferences. 
     That choice is influenced by the cost of the fruit, dessert, or meal.  Surprisingly, when a food is discounted, people are more likely to buy it when it lacks nourishment.  A bag of oranges on sale doesn’t prompt what might seem like their logical selection.  Instead, people are more likely to buy half-price day-old doughnuts.  The choice of discounted foods that are least nourishing is more common among younger shoppers.  The less income a shopper earns also prompts more poorly nourishing food purchases.  However, even older and better financed shoppers tend to buy non-nourishing foods when they don’t pay with cash.  The safety and convenience of debit and credit cards don’t extend to the encouragement of healthy eating (Talukdar & Lindsey, 2013).  The plastic cards don’t look and feel like money.  They enable people to maintain an illusion that they aren’t actually paying for a package of Twinkies and a liter of Pepsi. 
     That purchase could be forestalled by friends buying pretzels and bottled water.  Associating with people who have healthy diets encourages more nourishing food selections.  Even habitual consumers of hot dogs, French fries, and ice cream can learn to enjoy roast chicken, green beans, and fresh peaches.  They need some kind of affiliation with people who eat nutritious food routinely (Talukdar & Lindsey, 2013). Formal membership in a diet club or informally exercising with friends at the gym qualify.  Reading a book or watching a television show about the risks of a processed food diet encourage people to buy and eat nourishing food, too (Talukdar & Lindsey, 2013). 
    There’s hope, then, for Baby Boomers raised on Pop-Tarts, Kool-Aid, and Jell-O.  Just exploring different aisles in the grocery store or shopping at an ethnic market can foster a better diet. Potluck dinners with neighbors or friends from work can offer introductions to new foods and recipes for them.  Chronic dieters can give up canned tuna, low-fat cookies, and Slimfast shakes. Instead, they can eat nutritious foods that have flavor and texture in the company of their friends from their Facebook diet club.  Adventures in eating and friendship can offer what willpower cannot. While the latter is overwhelmed by the ubiquitous presence of fast food restaurants, the former has been enhanced by globalization and the web.  
Mustonen, S., Oerlemans, P., & Tuorila, H. (2012). Familiarity with and affective responses 
       to foods in 8-11-year-old children. The role of food neophobia and parental education.   
      Appetite, 58, 777-780. 
Talukdar, D. & Lindsey, C. (2013). To buy or not to buy: Consumers’ demand response patterns 
      for healthy versus unhealthy food. Journal of Marketing, 77, 124-138.
 Taste: It’s Not All in Your Mouth
by Laura Rizzardini
April 27, 2014

Peter Janiszewski. Second Serving. Bing. February 23, 2012.
    Picky eaters may be notorious among family and friends for their food preferences.  Families may cherish heirloom recipes.  Adventurous eaters may seek out new restaurants to sample novel dishes.  Even so, taste is not just a matter of flavor.  Foods, their preparation, and their consumption are symbolic of cultural values (Smith, 2006).  It isn’t just elaborate meals, expensive ingredients, or seldom-served cuisines that confer meaning.  A staple food such as rice may be served both daily and ritually.  Its preparation may vary widely.  The meaning of its intake is then dependent upon the recipe and the occasion (Smith, 2006).  In America, types of rice vary from processed to ethnic to whole grain.  Quickly cooking white rice topped with stewed beef might constitute a weekday dinner.  Although bland of flavor and devoid of nutrition, its processing permits families to efficiently enjoy a hot meal together.  Jasmine or wild rice might accompany roast turkey for a holiday meal.  Their flavor, aroma, extended cooking time, and expense imbue them with ceremony.  Brown rice offers nutty taste, chewy texture, and wholesomeness.  Its economy is restricted to the cost of the grain; its preparation time is lengthy.  Perhaps, it’s a weekend family dinner expectation. 
   Such rituals socially construct much more than food preferences and eating habits.  They build memories and identity.  It isn’t just ethnic heritage that is preserved at mealtime.  Youthful memories and family history are established through the sharing of meals and events associated with food (Holtzman, 2006).  Saturday lunches of peanut butter sandwiches while playing video games with siblings foster enduring relationships.  They may be just as meaningful to children as Sunday brunches for their parents.  Enduring friendships may be cemented in adolescence through secrets shared over fast food tacos or burgers.  Family traditions such as reunions and graduation parties as well as holiday celebrations include food.  In addition to ethnic recipes and ingredients, they prescribe event settings, d├ęcor, tableware, and attire.  Family names are substantiated through such customs.  They are memorialized through photographs, videos, and verbal retelling. 
  Ethnicity may be diluted through selective memories of recipes or their modification.  Increasingly, ethnic memories may be partially developed through media representations of ethnic foods (Holtzman, 2006).  Consider the Kraft Foods’ promotion of Velveeta Cheese through a recipe for Queso Dip.  Chef Boyardee’s canned Beefaroni has been manufactured in America for close to a century.  The company’s recipe for Hawaiian Ravioli Skillet is likely of more recent vintage.  This mass production of ethnicity through processed foods was facilitated by the industrial revolution.  Even so, gender, is often still defined by the role of women in shopping for groceries, preparing dishes, and serving meals.  Family and ethnic recipes and their preparation techniques may transcend generations almost solely through female relatives (Holtzman, 2006). 
   Fortunately, our food preferences don’t define us; we may be mammals, but we are educated mammals.  John Smith is more likely to be known as a plumber than an omnivore. Sally Jones may be known for her chocolate chip cookies; still, they are just part of her repertoire as a homemaker.  Even a vociferous, local vegan likely earns a living in an occupation unassociated with food.  Foods are meaningful to our identities due to their association with our daily events and social interactions.  The latter build memories and relationships.  They are the foundation for our tastes, lifestyles, and identities. 
Holtzman, J. D. (2006). Food and memory. Annual Review of Anthropology, 35, 361-378.
Smith, M. L. (2006). The archaeology of food preferences. American Anthropologist, 108(3),             480-493.
American Cooking: Your I.D., Please

by Laura Rizzardini

January 24, 2014

   Fast food, especially hamburgers and hot dogs, is often popularly identified as American cooking.  After all, McDonald’s restaurants are a ubiquitous representative of the United States internationally.  Often, the primary interest is in the delivery and consumption of American meals, that is, in the “fast” not the “food”.  The history of American cooking, then, reveals a predilection for recipes that can be prepared with minimal skill (Gvion, 2009).  Think macaroni and cheese, beef stew, scrambled eggs, and tuna casserole.  Globalization and mass transportation, of course, can provide supplies of both packaged and fresh international foods.  Most Americans, though, would have to learn new cooking skills if they wanted to consume tamarind, goat meat, figs, prickly pear, or kombu.  They would also have to be receptive to new aromas and flavors.  Food would become more adventurous than comforting.    
    Not surprisingly, preferences for familiar and readily obtained ingredients have characterized
Lynac. Triple Cheese Pizza. Flickr. October 17, 2006.

American cooking (Gvion, 2009).  Indeed, aren’t Americans masters of mass production?  Abundance is a pantry stocked with frozen vegetables, aerosol whipped cream, cheese spread, dehydrated herbs, sliced lunch meats, boxes of crackers, canned pudding, packages of preserved bread, and bags of marshmallows.  Who needs cooking skills when dinner can be thawed and heated?  If more customization is preferred, dinner can be assembled from boxes and packages of already cooked and baked foods.  When mass immigration presented Americans with opportunities to diversify their diet, neither cooks nor cookbook authors accepted the challenge (Gvion, 2009).  In culinary deference to America’s diverse heritage, restaurants commonly serve dishes such as pizza, fried rice, nachos, doughnuts, and fried chicken.  These meals, like American home cooking, reflect American tastes, familiar ingredients, and modest cooking skills (Gvion, 2009). 

   Immigration did result in an ethnically diverse 21st century American population.  When the ethnicity of the earliest arrivals is included, this heritage serves as a reminder of Native Americans.  As they shared their cuisine and knowledge of its preparation with the first immigrants, it must be included in any discussion of American cooking (Green, 2008).  Today, some game and fish native to America have become extinct or scarce.  Still, entrees of salmon and turkey often grace postmodern American dinner tables.  Rarer, but still known to American eaters, are trout and deer.  Better known are the fruits and vegetables native to the United States.  Native Americans shared their strawberries, raspberries, corn, squash, walnuts, and hickory nuts with the early immigrants.  They, in turn, shared their wheat, sugar, dairy cows, and pigs with Native Americans (Green, 2008).
   Despite the marginalization of Native Americans and 20th century immigrants and their gastronomies in cookbooks and menus (Gvion, 2009), is there an American cuisine?  Should American food processors and manufacturers accept credit as they have for the dubious quality of American nutrition?  Cold cereal, submarine sandwiches, hot dogs, fish sticks, and “French” fries might apply.  More respect might be accorded a heritage of Boston baked beans, ginger bread, succotash, Johnnycakes, and apple and pumpkin pies (Green, 2008).  As Americans negotiate the Information Age, though, keyboard dining may prompt the consumption and innovation of more of the former than the latter foods.  Even American ingenuity might be overwhelmed by the preparation of vending machine succotash or Johnnycakes.
Green, R. (2008). Beyond grits and gravy: Mother corn and the Dixie pig: Native food in the                    native South. Southern Cultures, Winter, 114-126.
Gvion, L. (2009). What’s cooking in America?  Cookbooks narrate ethnicity: 1850-1990.      
       Food, Culture & Society, 12(1), 53-76.

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