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Feasting Our Eyes

Feasting Our Eyes: Food Films and Cultural Identity in the United States

Copyright Date: 2017
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Feasting Our Eyes
    Book Description:

    Big Night(1996),Ratatouille(2007), andJulie and Julia(2009) are more than films about food-they serve a political purpose. In the kitchen, around the table, and in the dining room, these films use cooking and eating to explore such themes as ideological pluralism, ethnic and racial acceptance, gender equality, and class flexibility-but not as progressively as you might think.Feasting Our Eyestakes a second look at these and other modern American food films to emphasize their conventional approaches to nation, gender, race, sexuality, and social status. Devoured visually and emotionally, these films are particularly effective defenders of the status quo.

    Feasting Our Eyeslooks at Hollywood films and independent cinema, documentaries and docufictions, from the 1990s to today and frankly assesses their commitment to racial diversity, tolerance, and liberal political ideas. Laura Lindenfeld and Fabio Parasecoli find women and people of color continue to be treated as objects of consumption even in these modern works and, despite their progressive veneer, American food films often mask a conservative politics that makes commercial success more likely. A major force in mainstream entertainment, American food films shape our sense of who belongs, who has a voice, and who has opportunities in American society. They facilitate the virtual consumption of traditional notions of identity and citizenship, reworking and reinforcing ingrained ideas of power.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-54297-5
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. ILLUSTRATIONS (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-32)

    Big Night. Ratatouille. Julie & Julia. Besides their commercial success, the common element that unites these films is that they are all about food, prepared in the kitchen, served at the table, and offered to global audiences for visual and emotional consumption. Above all, cooking and eating shape the characters’ lives and adventures, while dishes and ingredients, luscious and appealing, often steal the scene. Food looms large in contemporary cinema, even when it is not the main narrative engine, in comedies likeSpanglish(Brooks, 2004), dramas likeThe Help(Taylor, 2011), and even gangster movies likeGoodfellas(Scorsese, 1990) and...

  6. 1 FOOD FILMS AND CONSUMPTION: Selling Big Night (pp. 33-62)

    Achef in his whites sprinkles some chopped fresh herbs on two dishes that a man, sharply dressed in suit and tie, is holding for him to inspect. Viewers soon learn they are brothers, Primo and Secondo (first and second, in Italian), and that they are not American-born. “Yes . . . go!” says the chef, Primo, while Secondo rolls his eyes, his body language revealing his impatience. The doors open and Secondo brings the food to a couple sitting in an almost empty dining room. “Thank God! I am so hungry,” exclaims the woman, a cigarette in her mouth. “That...

  7. 2 AUTONOMY IN THE KITCHEN? Food Films and Postfeminism (pp. 63-92)

    One of the key characteristics of mainstream food films in the United States is what has been described as the “utopian” depiction of food.¹ In many of them the complications surrounding the production and consumption of food slip into the background and enable cooking and eating to emerge as celebratory elements that unite and connect the characters. The negotiations about labor, power, and exploitation manifest themselves only obliquely in an absence of direct political statements, while the films create happy endings based on beautiful, enticing food. As we discussed in the introduction to this book, U.S. food films tend to...


    Contemporary images of food in media tend to convey striking degrees of an erotic aura. As we discussed in our introduction, a specific visual style, often referred to as “food porn,” has emerged out of food films and all food-related media. Food magazine covers feature close-up shots of glistening dishes, while Food TV voyeuristically depicts images of perfect meals on designer plates. Tumblr and Instagram are full of pictures of dishes and whole meals, made as appealing and desirable as possible with undertones of erotic enticement. The sexualization and eroticization of food in mainstream U.S. media has become pervasive, situating...

  9. 4 CULINARY COMFORT: The Satiating Construction of Masculinity (pp. 119-146)

    Images of handsome men with nude upper bodies nurturing small babies started appearing in advertisements and on posters in the late 1980s. One of the best-selling posters of all time, Spencer Rowell’s 1987 picture “L’enfant,” displays a bare-chested twentysomething man dressed only in jeans looking down at a small baby in his arms.¹ Similarly, Marty Evans’s “Man with Baby” presents a strikingly attractive man hugging a small, naked baby up against his nude chest, as light falls through venetian blinds, emphasizing a large gold wedding band on his hand. Th ese images depict sensitive, caring men playing nurturing roles usually...

  10. 5 WHEN WEIRDOS STIR THE POT: Cooking Identity in Animated Movies (pp. 147-174)

    In the summer of 2007 an unusual new character joined the selected elite of celebrity chefs. Remy, the rodent protagonist of the smash hitRatatouille(Bird and Pinkava, 2007), appeared on the silver screen, providing new fodder for the imagination of worldwide audiences increasingly passionate about food and cooking (fig. 5.1).

    Filmgoers of all ages and backgrounds seemed to appreciate the culinary adventures of the little rodent and of his human coprotagonists. The thought of a rat meddling with pots and pans and a whole colony of pests invading a restaurant to cook gourmet meals came across as fun, not...

  11. 6 CONSUMING THE OTHER: Food Films as Culinary Tourism (pp. 175-204)

    Ethnic foods have historically played a crucial role in shaping U.S. food culture, which developed out of a range of different food traditions. At any given time and place the defi nition of what was considered “American” and “foreign” or “ethnic” depended less on material elements than on ideological contexts. Food culture in eighteenth-century South Carolina, for example, openly embraced what we would now refer to as multiethnic, global fusion cuisine. A hundred years later, southern European immigrants to East Coast cities were instructed by settlement house workers to abandon their highly flavored foods in favor of bland, boiled “American”...

  12. Conclusion (pp. 205-218)

    When we feast our eyes on food films, we do so in deeply complicated and layered ways that engage us simultaneously as citizens and consumers. Food fi lms off er the opportunity to examine how we participate—both consciously and unconsciously, willingly and unwillingly—in diverse discourses, practices, and structures that determine our role and position in the communities in which we operate. The success of the food-film genre reminds us that we cannot so easily separate our behaviors as consumers—purchasing meals at Olive Garden and jars of chutney at Trader Joe’s—from our participation in culture and from...

  13. NOTES (pp. 219-234)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 235-248)
  15. INDEX (pp. 249-261)