Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis explores the corporeal and affective presence and experience of food as it interacts with social and political agendas. How do matter and meaning interact in foodways? How does the affect/intensity of food experiences influence, and potentially alter, the social and political pressures differentially exerted on some bodies? How is food, at the scale of the (human and non-human) body, a fulcrum for regional, national and international maneuvering, and how does this corporeality interact with market logics? With the goal of addressing these overarching questions, I examine two cases: the prevalent discursive connection between pleasure and deservingness in the United States, as it is played out around legislation of and social response to SNAP (the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program); and Vladimir Putin’s destruction of food supplied by sanctioning countries, enacted on the world stage, but notable for its impact on individual and group response in Russia. Both cases revolve around the ways in which biopower works on the matter and meaning associated with food practices. I have explored them in two distinct but related articles. In both pieces, I interrogate the ways in which the embodied and affective qualities of food inform and are leveraged for the biopolitical and sovereign management of different groups of people, and simultaneously serve the imperatives of capital in place-specific ways. I conclude that sensory and affective pleasure in food, and the matter of food-things themselves, while contested and manipulated in the service of dominant regimes, are sites of potential political action for food justice and equity.
Methodologically, in both inquiries I perform a discourse analysis on popular and social media representation of, and response to, state actions on food access and practices. The materials I analyze include reportage, on-line text and imagery, archival policy documents, and consumer narratives and dialogue. To do this, I draw on the work of an array of theorists from three bodies of literature. Rather than looking solely to Foucauldian biopolitics, or to feminist studies of materialism and affect, I work to put them in conversation here, in order to arrive at more nuanced insights into what motivates these politicized practices.
To encompass this theoretical conjuncture for the study of foodways, I have coined the word alimentality, a reference to the concepts of governmentality and environmentality, as conceived by Michel Foucault and Arun Agrawal, respectively. The word aliment refers to food or nourishment, but the prefix “ali,” from “alia,” means “other.” Thus “alimentality” is not only a play on the art of government that informs current public food dialogue, and on the bodily entanglements of food production and consumption; it also designates a mentality of otherness, the alienation that fragments, and differently legitimizes, the lived realities of foodways. To turn Judith Butler’s seminal phrase on its head, food is matter that bodies – matter that becomes human corporeality – and as such, it is ripe for exploitation as tool, weapon, and fetish in the categorization and biopolitical management of human and non-human bodies. Likewise, it is not just good to think with, but is invaluable as a lens in the service of social and political change – a lens that, when light flashes through it, can spark a conflagration.
Lang, Gretchen, ""Difference in the Mouth": Alimentality, Matter and Meaning in Foodways." (2016). Geography Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 121.