The Feminist Fork

The Feminist Fork

Like so many people, I have a complicated relationship with food. I’ve eaten out of anger, sadness, or excitement.  At times, food connects me with people and places.  I’ve even gone so far as to have mistaken food for love. Other times, shame accompanies me while I eat and comments on what I ate, how I ate, and how much I ate. I’ve associated food with the monotony of daily life and then turned around and claimed food as the most joyous part of life: the part that makes life worth living. But that only seems to scratch the surface of what I’m trying to understand in my new podcast about the intersections of food and feminism.

Although food is such a large part of our lives, it can be difficult to notice the meanings surrounding it. Like gender, food can seem insignificant. We are by no means pushed to analyze the significance of a woman buying a dress or a kid eating a pop-tart. On the surface, these actions aren’t very notable, but feminists figured out a long time ago that looking at the world through the lens of gender could give us insight into our lives, our communities, and our systems of power. Of course when we talk about gender, we inevitably draw upon all social constructions of identity such as race, class, ability, and sexuality.

My podcast, The Feminist Fork, aims to explore the ways we give meaning to food then attach it with power, privilege, and identity.  I used to be a vegetarian and it was one of the first things I would tell people about myself. I hoped it would express my progressive morals, my liberal values, and my consensus lifestyle. You are what you eat, right?

The Feminist Fork logo.

So what can food tell us about social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexuality? More than we might think on the surface. Think about how certain racist tropes are associated with food, and even how class is tied to food choice (white bread=white trash).

On a larger scale, the customs surrounding eating are central in defining our cultures. Mention the caveman days and people will talk your ear off about how women were expected to harvest crops and men were expected to hunt for meat. Nowadays, many people even embrace the Paleo Diet craze: what does it say about us that we want to eat in the same way the cavemen ate? Even from “the beginning,” food and power have been difficult to separate.  Don’t even get me started on Adam, Eve and the apple….

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “Adam and Eve,” 1526. (The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London)

I know what you’re thinking: many of these subjects are already explored heavily in academia, but while I hope to draw on these academic sources, the goal of my podcast is to bring feminism outside of academia and challenge us to enact our values and critical thinking in our everyday lives. For my first episode, “Does it Really Matter Who Pays for Dinner,” I wanted people to think about their expectations for going out to eat on a date. I found a goldmine of writing and articles on the issue: everything from statistics, to implications, to psychological analyses.

But so many of the articles I read didn’t feel accessible. The academic articles, especially, took me lots of time and energy to truly understand. Luckily, big words and radio don’t go together. Radio works best with short sentences and understandable language. And you can listen to radio on the go or while you’re doing other things like working, driving or cooking. So I decided to read all the great articles and research on paying for dates. Then I threw out the language and the structure of the articles and created my own piece; one that was full of sound, conversation, and stories.

In the inaugural episode of The Feminist Fork, “Does it Really Matter Who Pays for Dinner,” I tackle perhaps one of the more visible connections between feminism and food: the restaurant date. I interview a frie­­nd of mine, a young college student, who talks frankly about going on a blind date where she was upset that the man didn’t pay. Then there’s a short story about a rabbit named Jane who lost her boyfriend. She goes around to all the other woodland animals asking, “Are you my boyfriend?” (What does that have to do with food, you ask? Listen to find out!). Finally, I spend some time talking with a history professor about how the tradition of paying for dinner started. But she doesn’t lecture. She, too, tells a story about how we got to where we are today.

Sound can be an amazing vehicle to tell a story. I think of sound as a playground to explore ideas, narratives, and relations in different ways. In my second episode on coffee shops as queer spaces, I wanted to play with what a revolutionary space sounds like. The episode starts off with queer people at a protest chanting: “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere.” Then the chant morphs into a barista at a coffee shop asking her costumers: “For here or to go? For here or to go?”  Of course, protest chants are linked with social justice, revolutions, and activism. But can the sounds of making coffee also be linked to a revolutionary movement? With sound, I hoped to combine the power and the passion of the protest chant with the hum of a coffee shop to challenge us to rethink our associations.

Sound also pushes back against our incredibly visual culture. Women are routinely objectified through visual means yet their voices aren’t always heard.  I was especially aware of this in my latest podcast on “Eating Disorders in the Jewish Community.” In the podcast, I mention “The pursuit of Jappyness,” a music video made by three men about wealthy Jewish women. In the video, Jewish women are seen partying, sitting on men’s laps, and … sitting on more men’s laps. But in an entire video all about Jewish women, not one woman’s voice is heard. In my podcast, I wanted to go in the absolute opposite direction. I wanted to emphasize Jewish women’s voices and how they felt about their bodies. Not how their bodies looked through the eyes of three men.

I hope my podcast can become a platform for other people to share their views and ideas. With that being said, what would you like the Feminist Fork to talk about? What issues are most important to you? How does food and feminism connect in your life? Let me know. I’m committed to constantly being aware of different voices while I produce this podcast but I also hope I can rely on the feminist community to call me out, challenge me, and continue the dialogue.

So, in waves, in stories, or in art, why do we revisit the same subjects over and over again? What do we hope to gain? Will we ever answer the questions that food and feminism invoke? Will our hunger for justice be satisfied? Perhaps, the most fulfilling moment is not the end of the meal but the moment of tasting, when we find a morsel of meaning in a world structured by both gender and food.

Welcome to the Feminist Fork. Bon Appétit.

Featured image caption: Antique 1908 Silverplate Pickle Fork from W. R. Keystone. (Wikimedia)

Since graduating from the University of Michigan, Renee has interned at Michigan Radio, a NPR affiliate station in Ann Arbor. She produces and reports on stories from diverse perspectives. During her undergraduate years, she focused on listening and telling stories with underserved populations, including incarcerated individuals and mothers with disabilities.