Monday, November 1, 2010

That’s Gross

Weight Log: 218lbs (32 pounds as of the beginning of September – that is 4.5 lbs per week)

I have a number of posts that are waiting for me to post but the hectic pace here these last few days has left me rather scattered so if some of this comes off even more disjointed than usual – I suppose my excuse is that I am just trying to get the stuff out the door.

I’ve done a fair bit of reading around the discourse of food and body image. One of the things that is important to uncover is the voices that are privileged to speak about the topic – that can regulate what  can be said ‘with the true’ of any given subject. Obviously, I would be remiss to avoid the pervasive role of popular media. So I went hunting for television programs – well gosh I should say it was not much of a hunt – it was more like shooting fish in a barrel.

Television shows dealing with food and weight tend to come in several species: 1. Diet/weight loss shows (these can be stand alone shows like The Biggest Loser or my Big Fat Diet Show or incorporated into typically daytime talk shows i.e. Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, etc.) 2. Cooking shows (these are basically instructional videos – a how-to manual for the do-it-yourself chef (ideas of renovation and resistance should emerge here a la Daniel Miller) In this category I would include stand alone shows like Best Recipes Ever  but also the recipe dissemination within talk shows as well) 3. Eating/Reality Shows (here the basic idea is an engagement with some ‘real’ life subject evaluating their cooking/eating habits – In here I would include Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen (sort of an Osbornes of cooking school), also Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution  which I have already talked about a little bit, and You are what you Eat) For those of you that are up on this stuff you might notice that I have left off your favourite food show – that is largely because I am clearly unable to talk about all or even most of these shows because they are so prolific. Let me focus on one group of shows that seem to form an interesting voice over what can and cannot be said about food and body image.

The Eating/Reality Shows have a routine narrative arc that seems to necessarily include a display of the amasses collection of food that the family or individual eats in one week – one day – one month – etc. Jamie Oliver even backed up a dump into a BFI bin to dump a load of congealed fat into it. The idea seems to be to create this spectacle of what is outlandish and grotesque as a way of challenging the subjects to consider how they are eating. Here are some examples:

the first five minutes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

or the last two minutes of You Are what you Eat

the following are screen captures from that those episodes…

So what is it about these pictures that are actually gross? Well, for one thing the food is jumbled together. If you ask my boys they’ll tell you its not cool if food that isn’t supposed to touch does touch. But even more these images are supposed to be revolting. Deep fried, pre-packaged food is displayed in such a way dripping and piled into each other panned and given close up shots that might emulate explicit illicit display. Its a virtually pornographic display of food. Food Porn! Its not that hard to see these heaped up tables as a virtual food orgy. The table is laden with immorality. Of course it can be even more gross because it can be easily equated to obesity. This is fat food that makes people fat and there is a whole lot of it…

But take a close look at the Screen shot labelled “C”. This is the healthy food display. Notice that the food in this shot is not piled up in the same helter-skelter  fashion. In fact it most closely resembles what one might expect spilling out of the classic cornucopia. Even in the way these images are constructed moral distinction is evident.

A quick trip down the grocery store aisles reveals that the food piled up on the vulgar table is in fact the cheapest. It is also the food that has the longest shelf life. Let’s also be clear that french fries, pizza, pizza pops, hot dogs, pancakes, eggo waffles, and corn dogs are tasty. What exactly is being said when tasty cheap food is being constructed as disgusting? What are we saying when we construct the highest priced food with some of the least preferred flavours ( I mean who really likes Brussels sprouts without a heck of a lot of cheese sauce to ameliorate the flavour of the vegetable). Are we not suggesting that there is a class distinction at work in the selection of food? What is of concern is not the subjects (of these TV shows) actual health but the construction of class distinction through the association of food with moral judgement? The reality is that only the rich can afford to eat healthy.

Now look at this picture.workoutgross Is it grotesque? Looking at this picture you can easily imagine what this scene must smell like! You can also imagine the wet dank sweat that is dripping off of most of these items. These items form the guts of the slave master that I am chained to everyday that has allowed me to lose weight. These things make me stink. They make me tired – they put me in pain – they make me suffer. But they make me thin so they can be revered…. Right?

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