Thoughts about Food and Class

Laurie says:

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.

<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">food</a><br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">diet</a><br /> class<br /> fat<br /> dieting<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">Body Image</a><br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">Body Impolitic</a><br />

7 thoughts on “Thoughts about Food and Class

  1. Thanks for this. I grew up with food being a precious commodity we were not always in posession of. There was no space to be “particular” or to develop an eating disorder when the food was sometimes just not there to abstain from.

    I’ve lived among wimmin/feminists who can actually come to my home and turn their noses up at particular things I/we eat.

    I’ve lived with anorexic middle-class wimmin who would fight me for their portion of food in our shared home and then let it rot and be thrown away before sharing it with someone who would eat it for sure.

    A person’s relationship to food is definitely complicate by their social positioning on various continuums of domination and power.

  2. I used to worry a bit about stereotypes of fat people, especially around eating and breathing. I’d eat before I went out to eat so I wouldn’t end up looking like a stereotype. I’d try to move in ways that would not leave me out of breath and huffing and puffing, or god forbid, sweating.

    Then one day I listened to fat people complain about how they only put the stereotypes on the talk shows and how “we” were nothing like them. It was middle-class fat people I was listening to. Now they might not be like those stereotypes on tv, but if I wasn’t, I knew people who were. In fact, most of the people I grew up with would be more comfortable with the “negative” stereotypes on tv than the “real” people I was listening to. It made me stop and rethink stereotypes and what was negative about them.

    Truth is, I like junk food and TV. I fit the stereotype in this instance, and I don’t care enough about it to get defensive anymore. Fat stereotypes have probably cost me jobs or money that I may or may not be aware of, but I’ve probably benefitted from stereotypes I didn’t, in reality, live “up” to as well.

    Stereotyping is one of the stupid absurdities of life I can’t always change. I’ve reached the point where I feel if avoiding being the stereotype means avoiding being myself, then I’m more absurd than the stereotype. And that would be just too, too absurdly too much. When I ignore them they still don’t go away, so why not play with them.

  3. Nancy, I agree; I think that phenomenon is an important subset of thinking we know about people by what they look like.

    Darkdaughta, welcome! (Love your blog!). All I can say in response is yes, yes, and yes.

    Betty, what would we do without you? I think the blog entry email is fabulous, and the comment deserves its own blog entry (and may yet get it). Thanks so, so much!

  4. Interesting that you bring up stereotypes and our response to them as lately there has been much debate about that in other forums I read.

    The thing most people don’t get about stereotypes is that the way to change them lies with those who practice bigotry. Simply demonstrating that the stereotype is wrong doesn’t work. Bigots tend to believe whatever the decide to believe. The thing to challenge is the belief that one can sum up the lives of individuals based upon their membership in a group or the way they look.

    I grew up working class and didn’t know that steak or pizza tasted good until I was in my teens because my mother (who is now a vegetarian) cooked round steak in a pressure cooker and made Chef Boy-r-dee pizzas. I don’t recall ever having to worry about food being on the table (of course, my parents might have kept that part from us kids), but I do remember that we ate much simpler and more repetitively than my wealthier friends.

    BTW, I get a kick out of the “KFC Famous Bowl” which is basically a meal layered on top of each other in a one bowl (mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, chicken and cheese). I don’t intend to eat one of these things any time soon, but I can remember being quite embarassed that my father would essentially load up his plate this way and eat all his food in one big pile. I think it might have been a cultural thing from Appalachia (he was from W.V). But after all that embarassment, it is not a fast food icon. Who would have guessed?

    Food is so complex. It is a shame that it gets reduced down to such Calvanistic terms all the time.

    Interesting thread. Thanks.

  5. Afaik, poverty is not a guarantee against eating disorders–I know of a couple of cases of anorexia which were based more on the idea that there isn’t enough food so other people should get it rather than the idea that one should demonstrate self-control by not eating.

    I agree that most eating disorders are only feasible because a lot of food is available.

  6. food and the style it is cooked is class ridden the working class have there meat done from varying stages of well done to burnt and the vegatables often need to be the next stage up from puree. There is exceptions to this but on a large scale i have seen with my own eyes this to be the many of us has gone to a well healed wedding to hear all around your table that “the meal was nice but the vegatables where too hard” i have worked in sixty two different countries and have to say that food is class ridden ,how many working class people have eaten veal or venison and how many middle class people have ever had trype or pigs belly? i rest my case…..

Join the Conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.