Merin Oleschuk has published not one, but TWO amazing new articles on food: one in Social Problems and one in Gender & Society. I’m so proud to be part of her dissertation research!
This article, published in Social Problems, explores how family meals are framed in news media discourse, particularly in regard to health. In it, Merin identifies a narrative of deterioration, or the presumption that families are replacing meals made from whole, unprocessed ingredients consumed communally around a table, with processed and pre-prepared foods eaten alone or “on the go”. In analyzing the construction of responsibility for this deterioration, Merin differentiates frames that assign responsibility for the creation of this social problem, from those that offer solutions for resolving it. In contrast to other scholars who focus on how cooking values reproduce individualized (rather than environmental, state or industry) responsibility for health outcomes characteristic of neoliberalism, she finds a more complex allocation of blame in news media: one that recognizes a multiplicity of structural conditions constraining regular family meals (such as unhealthy food environments and the competing demands of paid work and inflated normative standards), yet assigns responsibility for resolving that social problem to individuals (i.e. parents should simply work harder to combat these pressures and cook more at home). One important exception is media reporting on low-income families, who are framed as facing exceptional structural constraint. Merin argues that these findings apply to family meals particularly but can also be extended to consider the allocation of responsibility for social problems within neoliberalism more broadly. Link: https://academic.oup.com/socpro/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/socpro/spz006/5420111
In this article, published in Gender & Society, Merin draws from qualitative interviews and cooking observations to identify and analyze the cultural schema of “cooking by our mother’s side”: i.e. the automatic, semi-conscious understanding that learning to cook happens first and foremost “at our mother’s side”. She demonstrates first, that this schema reproduces gendered inequalities over generations by reinforcing women as primary transmitters of cooking knowledge. Second, she shows that the schema presents an overly uniform picture of food learning that obscures diversity in its enactment, especially by overemphasizing the importance of childhood and masking the learning that occurs later in life. Merin argues that identifying and analyzing this schema offers opportunities to reconsider predominant approaches to food learning to challenge gendered inequalities in domestic foodwork. Link: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0891243219839669