When Deb and I wrote on Food and Gender, we thought about also commenting on food and class. But we decided it was really complicated, and needed more thought.
Part of my thinking was to talk to Betty Dudley, whose clarity on these issues I admire. She has kindly allowed me to use her email to me for Body Impolitic.
Betty Dudley says:
I’m not sure I can, or even want to discuss food and class. I find it offensive, not as if an impropriety has been committed, but as in this action provokes a very defensive reaction from me.
Intellectually, I’m not even going to go there. Personally, I still live there. Ask me about my life, from beginning to present. Ask me about my family and the people I grew up with, what we ate and what my mother cooked. Ask me about my father’s stories. The son of a sharecropper who was an adult during the great depression, you can bet he mentioned food. My mother was a truck stop waitress and cook. My parents grew up in poverty, but they also grew up in the country. They didn’t tell stories of food deprivation. Their stories about food were more often filled with fond memories. I grew up working class in a small town, but ties to the country were never severed. Quite often my father, who did well work for farmers, was even paid in food. It is country cooking, not food defined by class that I identify with.
Yet I came out around mostly average-sized, middle-class lesbians in college. That’s where I learned about “politically-correct” food. Of course fast food was out, and healthy, preferably vegetarian food was in. Under cooked vegetables, and most ethnic cuisines, although not necessarily without criticism, were okay. I remember a friend gagging because her boyfriend had put peanut butter in scrambled eggs. I asked her if she’d eaten it in Africa, cooked by a poor tribesman, would it not be wonderful? She had to admit it would be different, and yes wonderful. Even meat that was not red might be okay. This is where I really learned about class and food. And I learned that discussing it usually left a very bitter taste in my mouth.
Oh, I probably learned shame about eating food from dieting, whether it was Weight Watchers or a self-imposed regimen, but not about the food itself. Even dieters agreed the food was wonderful, just not wonderful if you wanted to be thin. I know my mother dieted as an adult. She supported me when I chose to diet, but never imposed one upon me. It was her best friend who thought it would be good for me to diet; who even dieted with me. I remember the drugs of dieting more than the food; those tiny little white pills that let you clean house all night, and their relatives.
I like my red meat rare and my vegetables well done. I’ve been vegetarian, and I like tofu, but beans with meat are still my preference. I’m a lactose-intolerant diabetic. Food is not nearly as much fun as it used to be. Some would say I’m sick from food. I’m more sick of food. Oh, sure, I still like to eat, but if I could, I would choose osmosis; nutrients in, waste products out. No dealing with food, not the eating of it, not the digestion of it, and not the elimination it. I’d choose never to have to think about it again. I’d be fat. It’s not about weight. I wouldn’t waste a wish on being able to eat any food I wanted without thinking about it. I’d go straight to wishing to never again have to think about food.