Food studies scholarship is full of food puns: Scholarly debates become “food fights,” underprivileged people struggle for “a place at the table,” and historical eccentrics’ ideas are always “half-baked.” You can’t read an article or attend a conference without considering a “cornucopia” of evidence or getting down to the “marrow” of an argument. And don’t get me started on “food for thought,” a phrase that sounds charming but is actually quite vague—are we thinking of a local steak, or a bag of cheesy puffs?
My annoyance is not merely an editor’s pet peeve; I love wordplay as much as the next recovering English major. But I worry that these puns come to us easily—too easily—when we’re talking about food. They slip right off the tongue (or keyboard), making our discipline seem clever, approachable, and more “fun” than other academic pursuits.
Food studies should not be easy.
Let me make a plea for a little more seriousness in a world where too many people dismiss our discipline and, for that matter, many others as a luxury. We are researching no less than the stuff of life. We have to find new words to do it. Let’s study taste, pleasure, and heritage but also scarcity, cruelty, and oppression. Let’s take food seriously and encourage the world to do the same. And for goodness’ sake, let’s do it without puns.
This issue of the Journal takes up the difficult and often dark side of food studies. Three articles explore contemporary food challenges, in which food systems obscure the origins of food, economic pressures necessitate cheap meals, and choices between “industrial” and “local” are not as simple as they seem. Siobhan Watters’s “The Spectacular Origins of the EU Horse Meat Scandal” takes the 2013 discovery of contaminated meat products as a case study for theorizing policy, advertising, and consumerism in industrial food systems. In “Margarine for Butter: Budget Cooking in America,” Ashley Higgs examines the ways in which budget cookbooks of the past six decades have offered tips for cooking affordable meals but also striven to preserve the dignity of those who must economize on food. The final article, Richard Richards’s “Alternative Food Systems: Expectations and Reality,” argues that it is impossible to draw a firm boundary between industrial and alternative food systems. This issue’s artworks also investigate a more serious side of food studies, as Eliza Murphy’s meat landscape paintings capture the blood and beauty of making animals into meat. Taken together, these works suggest that food studies as a discipline is turning towards urgent questions of ethics, accessibility, and sustainability.
The dark side of food studies is one of many themes that the Graduate Association for Food Studies will reflect on at its first conference this fall at Harvard University. This graduate conference, entitled “The Future of Food Studies,” will appraise the choices facing an increasingly institutionalized discipline and survey the new subjects, methods, and theories that will reshape the study of food in the coming years. The editorial board of the Journal looks forward to publishing selected proceedings of this conference in a future issue.
Finally, in the spirit of seriousness, I want to offer supreme gratitude to everyone who put time and energy into this issue: our contributors, editors, and reviewers. A special note of thanks to our editorial board members, all of whom achieved one or more of the following milestones during the making of this issue: completed masters degrees, passed qualifying exams, or were accepted to PhD programs. It’s a privilege to work with such a brilliant and dedicated team.
And remember, no puns.