Food and Media

The Role of Food in Media

The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture offers a historical overview of the ways that food appears in media. Food in films started with food as a prop, specifically a comedic prop, like the pie in the face or slipping on a banana peel. In the silent film era, food was a perfect prop because it was readily understood by the viewer and able to move a story line along.1 In addition to props, food sometimes plays a starring or supporting role to convey details of the story. Food also is used as symbols of privilege, for example, mafia jailbirds enjoying elaborate meals in while in jail showing their status means that they are not held to the same standards as other prisoners. Movies can also equate food to religious or moral experiences. For example, La Grand Bouffe (1973) portrays the horrors of excess through depicting combination of beautiful food, ongoing sex, and a dismaying array of bodily reactions to too much food.1 Food in TV started with shows that instructed people on how to cook. Due to the undeniable interest in good food, TV produces started a variety of shows centered on food and ultimately an entire cable network devoted only to food, the Television Food Network.1 Food TV today includes a variety of shows including: reality TV, contests for cooking a variety of types of foods, restaurant makeovers, showcases of real restaurants like in Diners Drive-ins, and Dives, the history of food, the science of cooking, how food purchased at a grocery is made, and many more. As technology develops, so too does food and technology. For example, food representations in social media including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Food companies rely on social media as an avenue for advertisement and engaging with customers, and as Lavoie (2015) demonstrates through looking at Dunkin’ Donuts use of Instagram, there is a lot that can be learned about food businesses’ communication choices and consequences.4 Additionally, social media allowed for food pictures, often called food porn, to become a trend. When people sit down to eat, they begin by taking a picture of their meal and then posting those pictures on social media.

How Media Representations of Food Depict Societal Norms

Beyond just how food occurs in media, the choices about food made by media producers speak to the assumptions of audiences and societal beliefs that are expressed through the representation of food in media. Lindenfeld (2011) uses three strands of discourse to assess how the use of food reflects societal beliefs. These strands are consumption of goods, sex, and otherness. Food films often situate the purchase and consumption of goods as the driving force for the formation of identity on a variety of levels.2 Additionally, through this emphasis on consumption, a hierarchy is established in class structures with those having more money having more power. The consumption of sex and the role of food and sex is presented in films such that food has an erotic aura that perpetuates certain lifestyle values.2 Food films often depict otherness in ways that people can experience an exotic difference, but that ultimately privilege whiteness.2 These strands of discourse are used in food films to position the character’s values and the relationships between characters. Food in media also presents gender representations and societal expectations around food. When people preparing food are depicted in media, men are shown as competing as athletes or as elite chefs, where as women are in a kitchen setting doing instructional cooking. 3 Historically speaking, food labor was segregated by gender in the home, where the woman of the house was responsible for the cooking. Today, men are doing more work in the kitchen, which indicates that societal views of food labor at home are changing. Even with this shift, Swenson (2013) discussed a lack of research in this change and that media are not yet reflecting these changes in the portrayals of men and women in food production.

  1. Weisberg, D. (2003). Film and Television. In S. H. Katz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Food and Culture(Vol. 1, pp. 114-117). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  2. Lindenfeld, L. A. (2011). Feasts for our eyes: Viewing films on food through new lenses. In J. M. Cramer, C. P. Greene, & L. M. Walters (Eds.), Food as communication: Communication as food (3 – 21). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
  3. Swenson, Rebecca. “Domestic Divo? Televised treatments of masculinity, femininity, and food.” In Food and Culture: A Reader, Edited by Carole Counihan and Penny van Esterik, 137-153. New York: Routledge, 2013.
  4. Lavoie, K. A. (2015).Instagram and branding: A case study of Dunkin’ Donuts.

    Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6(2), 79-90.

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