My general research goal is to advance knowledge in the sociological study of food and consumer culture. My intellectual orientation is rooted in the discipline of sociology, but I also draw from gender studies, political-ecology, and critical geography. Within sociology, I consider my work connected to scholarly areas such as cultural sociology, gender, as well as scholarship on culture and consumption.

While my research has taken on various empirical topics (ranging from food politics to celebrity chefs to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty), I am centrally concerned with understanding how cultural and political forces reproduce and legitimate the inequitable and unsustainable features of capitalist economies. Put differently, I seek to better understand hegemony – how it works, when it falters, how it is contested, and how counter-cultural ideals are incorporated into corporate logics.

Major Projects

Consuming Meat: A Study of Taste, Risk, and Food Politics

Together with Shyon Baumann, Emily Huddart Kennedy, Merin Oleschuk, Anelyse Weiler, and other collaborators, we are documenting and analyzing changing ideas about meat consumption in North America since the 1950s.

This major research project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and aims to show: (1) how meat consumption has been framed in the public sphere as a consumer good and a social problem; (2) how consumers perceive and make sense of the amount and kinds of meat they eat and how meat is embedded with particular values; and (3) the perspectives and motivations behind emerging alternatives to industrial meat. We use a mixed-methods approach in our study, drawing on discourse and content analysis of news stories and advertisements about meat, consumer focus groups, and interviews with participants in alternative meat production.

Because meat has profound cultural resonance in North American society, this project speaks to fundamental issues about consumer behaviours, market responses, and the twenty-first century imperative to change consumption practices in the face of serious ethical and environmental challenges.

Related Publications

  • Otto, Natália, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann. 2021. “Moral Entrepreneurialism for the Hamburger: Strategies for Marketing a Contested Fast Food.” Cultural Sociology.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2021. “Eating Animals: Exploring the ‘Meat Paradox’ in a Food Studies Classroom.” Food, Culture & Society (In Press).
  • Johnston, Josée, Shyon Baumann, and Merin Oleschuk. 2021. “Capturing Inequality and Action in Prototypes: The Case of Meat-Eating and Vegetarianism.” Poetics (In Press): 101530.
  • Bateman, Tyler, Shyon Baumann, and Josée Johnston. 2019. “Meat as Benign, Meat as Risk: Mapping News Discourse of an Ambiguous Issue.” Poetics 76(October): 101356.
  • Oleschuk, Merin, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann. 2019“Maintaining Meat: Cultural Repertoires and the Meat Paradox in a Diverse Socio-Cultural Context.” Sociological Forum 34(2): 337-360.
  • Kennedy, Emily H., Shyon Baumann, and Josée Johnston. 2018. “Eating for Taste and Eating for Change: Ethical Consumption as a High-Status Practice.” Social Forces 98(1): 381-402.
  • Cairns, Kate, and Josée Johnston. 2018. “On (Not) Knowing Where Your Food Comes from: Meat, Mothering and Ethical Eating.” Agriculture and Human Values 35(3): 569-580.

Gendered Foodways

This research stream involves questions of gender and inequality at the intersection of food consumption and social change. It is also a deeply collaborative project – a special thanks here goes to the amazing Kate Cairns.

In my research with Kate, we engage with multiple theoretical frameworks – including theories of embodiment and performativity, feminist Foucauldian literature, and critical theories of consumer capitalism – to theorize the production and performance of “food femininities” within a neoliberal culture of individualized commodity solutions. Our goal is to make a feminist contribution to theories of neoliberal subjectivity by demonstrating how neoliberal ideologies are embedded in women’s lived experience and affect. Put in simpler language, we study gender, food choices, and the emotions surrounding food consumption. Entitled Food and Femininity, our book was published by Bloomsbury within a new series on Contemporary Food Studies (edited by Michael Goodman and David Goodman).

Related Publications

  • Cairns, Kate, Josée Johnston, and Merin Oleschuk. 2019. “Calibrating Motherhood.” Pp. 174-190 in Feeding Children Inside and Outside the Home: Critical Perspectives, edited by V. Harman, B. Cappellini, and C. Faircloth. New York: Routledge.
  • Rodney, Alexandra, Sarah Cappeliez, Merin Oleschuk, and Josée Johnston. 2017. “The Online Domestic Goddess: An Analysis of Food Blog Femininities.” Food, Culture & Society 20(4): 685-707.
  • Cairns, Kate, and Josée Johnston. 2015. Food and Femininity. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Cairns, Kate, and Josée Johnston. 2015. “Choosing Health: Embodied Neoliberalism, Postfeminism, and the ‘Do-Diet’.” Theory and Society 44(2): 153-175.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Kate Cairns. 2014. “Food Shopping: A Chore or a Pleasure?” Contexts 13(3): 6.
  • Cairns, Kate, Josée Johnston, and Norah MacKendrick. 2013. “Feeding the ‘Organic Child’: Mothering through Ethical Consumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture 13(2): 97-118.
  • Cairns, Kate, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann. 2010. “Caring about Food: Doing Gender in the Foodie Kitchen.” Gender & Society 24(5): 591-615.

Ethical Consumption: Citizens and Consumers

Shoppers have always balanced competing pressures of taste, economy, and health, but they are increasingly charged with the political project of ‘saving’ the world by purchasing foods like rainforest crunch ice cream, fair-trade coffee, and cage-free eggs. While our grocery purchases might seem personalized and idiosyncratic, food scholars emphasize that food choices have sociological underpinnings and ethical implications.

This research stream uses food as a lens to focus on the transformative potential and contradictions of consumer-based strategies for social change. It also investigates the classed and gendered nature of ethical consumption and cosmopolitan eating. The work draws on qualitative and quantitative research data. This research has received funding from SSHRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and an Ontario Government Early Researcher Award (ERA). I have been involved in a SSHRC-funded project with Emily Huddart Kennedy and John Parkins investigating the tension between citizenship and consumerism in the eat-local movement. I am currently working with Shyon Baumann to investigate this topic in relation to “ethical” meat products like grass-fed beef and heritage pork.

Related Publications

  • Kennedy, Emily H., Josée Johnston, and John Parkins. 2017. “Small-p Politics: How Pleasurable, Convivial, and Pragmatic Political Ideals Influence Engagement in Eat-Local Initiatives.” British Journal of Sociology 69(3):670-690.
  • Johnston, Josée. 2017. “Can Consumers Buy Alternative Foods at a Big Box Supermarket?” Journal of Marketing Management 33(7-8):662-671.
  • Baumann, Shyon, Athena Engman, Emily H. Kennedy, and Josée Johnston. 2017. “Organic vs. Local: Comparing Individualist and Collectivist Motivations for ‘Ethical’ Food Consumption.” Canadian Food Studies 4(1):68–86.
  • Kennedy, Emily H., John R. Parkins, and Josée Johnston. 2016. “Food Activists, Consumer Strategies, and the Democratic Imagination: Insights from Eat-Local Movements.” Journal of Consumer Culture 18(1): 149-168.
  • Johnston, Josée and Sarah Cappeliez. 2016 [2012]. “You Are What You Eat: Enjoying (and Transforming) Food Culture.” Pp. 34-48 in Critical Perspectives in Food Studies, 2nd ed., edited by M. Koc, J. Sumner, and A. Winson. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.
  • Baumann, Shyon, Athena Engman, and Josée Johnston. 2015. “Political Consumption, Conventional Politics, and High Cultural Capital.” International Journal of Consumer Studies 39(5):413-421.
  • Cappeliez, Sarah, and Josée Johnston. 2013. “From Meat and Potatoes to ‘Real-Deal’ Rotis: Exploring Everyday Culinary Cosmopolitanism.” Poetics 41(5):433-455.
  • Johnston, Josée, Alexandra Rodney, and Michelle Szabo. 2012. “Place, Ethics, and Everyday Eating: A Tale of Two Neighbourhoods.” Sociology 46(6):1091-1108.
  • Johnston, Josée and Kate Cairns. 2012. “Eating for Change.” Pp. 219-239 in Commodity Activism: Cultural Resistance in Neoliberal Times, edited R. Mukherji and S. BanetWeiser. New York: NYU Press.
  • Johnston, Josée, Michelle Szabo, and Alexandra Rodney. 2011. “Good Food, Good People: Understanding the Cultural Repertoire of Ethical Eating.” Journal of Consumer Culture 11(3):293-318. (Re-published in French in IdeAs – Idées d’Amériques, Hiver 2012.)
  • Johnston, Josée, and Michelle Szabo. 2010. “Reflexivity and the Whole Foods Market Consumer: The Lived Experience of Shopping for Change.” Agriculture and Human Values 28(3):303-319.
  • Johnston, Josée. 2008. “The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of Whole Foods Market.” Theory and Society 37(3):229-270.

Foodies and Gourmet Culture

In this project, which has been undertaken with Shyon Baumann, we have been motivated by the following research questions: How are some foods framed as gourmet foods, suitable for fashionable, high status consumption? What can we learn from gourmet food about the valuation and categorization of cultural products more generally? More broadly, we are deeply interested in understanding how food tastes can work to obfuscate or naturalize various forms of social inequality. An updated edition of Foodies was released in 2015 and contained new gender analysis. The most recent piece in this research stream was examining how low-income eaters embrace – and reject – various elements of foodie culture.

Related Publications

  • Baumann, Shyon, Michelle Szabo, and Josée Johnston. 2017. “Understanding the Food Preferences of People of Low Socioeconomic Status.” Journal of Consumer Culture 19(3):316-339.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2015 [2010]. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Baumann, Shyon, and Josée Johnston. 2012. “Democracy vs. Distinction in Omnivorous Food Culture: Clarifications, Elaborations, and a Response to Therese Andrews.” Sociologica 6(2):1-12.
  • Cairns, Kate, Josée Johnston, and Shyon Baumann. 2010. “Caring about Food: Doing Gender in the Foodie Kitchen.” Gender & Society 24(5):591-615.
  • Johnston, Josée, Shyon Baumann, and Kate Cairns. 2010. “The National and the Cosmopolitan in Cuisine: Constructing America through Gourmet Food Writing.” Pp. 161-183 in The Globalization of Food, edited by D. Inglis and D. Gimlin. New York: Berg.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2009. “Tension in the Kitchen: A Response to the Comments. The Politics of Foodie Discourse: Idealized, Ironic, Materialist?” Sociologica 3:1-10.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2009. “Tension in the Kitchen. Explicit and Implicit Politics in the Gourmet Foodscape.” Sociologica 3:1-29.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2007. “Democracy versus Distinction: A Study of Omnivorousness in Gourmet Food Writing.” American Journal of Sociology 113(1):165-204.