Photo: Cailleah Scott-Grimes/CBC
What does the restaurant reveal about us as a society?
I had the pleasure of being interviewed as part of a wonderful documentary on restaurants and inequality that was just released by CBC Radio. The Restaurant: A Table Divided was co-produced by Zoe Tennant and Michelle Macklem. Drawing on interviews and soundscapes from Toronto and New York, it explores the early history of restaurants all the way to their present-day context.
Here is an excerpt from my interview, where I discuss how foodies’ sense of ease with eating both high-status and low-status food serves to downplay wealth inequality (I explore foodie culture at length in my book with Shyon Baumann, Foodies: Democracy and Distinction).
“The kind of privilege that goes on in these eating spaces comes at a time of unprecedented economic inequality. But the reality is, so many people are just struggling to make ends meet. Inequality has become so extreme that there is a backlash to people who display their wealth and status too overtly . . . Like eating caviar while riding around in your Bentley. So instead you’re eating a rice bowl with truffles on it, driving around in your Tesla. You have these things that kind of take the edge off of wealth inequality. It’s like an homage to the common person. This is a way, at a larger cultural level, to make inequality more palatable.”
A seasonal agricultural worker in a cherry packing plant. Photo: Elise Hjalmarson.
A crowded van picks up an elderly Punjabi grandmother. After a 45-minute unpaid ride to the farm, she picks blueberries in the hot sun for up to 10 hours with no overtime pay. If she slows down or takes too many breaks in the shade, the contractor may arbitrarily decide she hasn’t earned enough hours to qualify for EI to top up her sparse winter income. If the harvest is poor or her employer doesn’t record berry weights accurately, she often earns less than minimum wage.
No one would wish this on their grandmother.
Over the past couple of weeks, Anelyse Weiler, one of the PhD candidates I supervise, has published several pieces of public scholarship related to her research. The excerpt above is from an op-ed she co-authored with David Fairey in the Vancouver Sun on the sub-minimum piece-rate wage for hand harvesters in British Columbia.
Anelyse and Professor Amy Cohen of Okanagan College co-authored another op-ed analyzing how Canadian immigration policy makes racialized farm worker women vulnerable to sexual violence. It was initially published in The Conversation and has since been re-published elsewhere, including The National Post and The Tyee.
In the current labour-themed issue of Alberta Views Magazine, Anelyse reviewed Jason Foster’s new book Defying Expectations, which explores unlikely labour organizing successes of the United Food and Commercial Workers 401. She has also written a forthcoming book review of Good Apples for Food, Culture & Society and a commentary on migrant workers and the national food policy in Canadian Food Studies.
This wonderful review essay by Susan Pagani in the Los Angeles Review of Books makes me excited to read Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen. It’s great to see the explicit connections Pagani makes between foodie culture, femininity and body control. Too often these issues operate in the shadows of foodie culture. Also, full disclosure: it’s very cool to see my work on food and femininity with Kate Cairns mentioned in the review!
When Kate Cairns and I first worked on the topic of Food and Femininity, we didn’t anticipate that the topic of meat would hold such an important, but contradictory place in everyday foodwork. People worry about meat — where it comes from, whether it is safe to eat, how the animals were treated, and if they should teach kids about where meat comes from.
In this article in Agriculture and Human Values, we draw from qualitative data collected with Toronto mothers to explore how meat figures into foodwork and childrearing. We identify a central paradox surrounding meat consumption. On the one hand, good mothers are expected to teach kids where food comes from, a perspective strongly informed by ethical consumption discourse. On the other hand, good mothers are expected to protect children from the harsh realities of modern life — realities like slaughterhouses, factory farms, and eating animals. This paradox is not easily resolved, and can force mothers to confront some of the visceral discomforts of eating meat, especially in settings that are far-removed from the lives and deaths of animals. More generally, this articles speaks to the idea that food habits are not just about knowing (e.g., knowing the backstory of your meal), but also involve care, concern, and discordant emotions.
Read more: “On (not) knowing where you food comes from: meat, mothering and ethical eating”, Kate Cairns and Josée Johnston. Agriculture and Human Values. Published online 24 January 2018.
An excellent new journal article in Poetics explores how the cultural idea of terroir gets translated between wine regions across the globe. Sarah Cappeliez, one of the PhD candidates I supervise, draws on interviews and website analysis to explore the discourse of terroir in French and Canadian regional contexts.
Here is the abstract:
Terroir is a complex French cultural term used to identify and classify artisanal foods and drinks in relation to a specific place. Notoriously “untranslatable”, terroir has nevertheless travelled well beyond the borders of France and Europe more broadly. This paper illuminates the parts of terroir that translate culturally by using a qualitative comparative case study of two contrasting wine regions, and examines how terroir manifests in similar and different ways when it is taken up in a French and a Canadian regional cultural context. Through the analysis of terroir discourse in 30 interviews and 32 websites, this study further clarifies the factors that drive consistency and change in the translation of a cultural idea like terroir. Moving beyond the idea that “terroir is adaptable”, this paper shows how wine actors articulate terroir’s normative principles as constant, but describe terroir’s natural and human practices in locally contingent ways, nuancing our understanding of stability and change in how culture unfolds within a globalized cultural context.
Kate Cairns, Merin Oleschuk and I recently wrote a short piece for the Gender & Society blog on the pressures mothers face when feeding children. We write: “When it comes to feeding children, mothers today must avoid the appearance of caring too little, or too much. Either extreme garners social stigma, although the penalties are far from equal.” Read the full piece here.