Lunch Love Community. Directed by Helen De Michiel. Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films, 2015. 73 minutes.
Feeding Frenzy: The Food Industry, Marketing, & the Creation of a Health Crisis. Directed by Kate Geis. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2013. 63 minutes.
What does it mean to approach food as a feminist subject? Our answers to this question are likely to be as diverse as feminism itself. But, for me, it means endeavoring to understanding the varied, uneven, and invariably complex contexts in which our engagement with food takes place—from our bodies to our communities, social institutions, ecosystems, economies, and political systems. It means resisting the desire to focus on simple, universal answers to the question “what’s right to eat?” and instead bearing witness to the diversity—and inequality—that drives the development of our daily food habits, and our bodily desires.1 To be sure, documenting this complexity is a challenge; it is difficult to capture the intricacies of food in a coherent storyline, even when focusing on one case study, one question, or one particular aspect of the food system. I approach the films under review here with this challenge in mind.
Lunch Love Community is a coherent series of documentary shorts that examine school food reform in Berkeley, California. This series would be useful in a feminist classroom for a variety of reasons. First, from the very first short, it acknowledges that when people seek to create food-based change, there is so much more involved than simply food.2 Creating food-based change requires attention to structural issues like housing, poverty, job security, and employment, and to cultural issues like values, habits, traditions, and language barriers. These film shorts help to make that clear. Second, the vignettes tell the story of food-based change (in Berkeley) from multiple perspectives, including from many people of color—activists, community leaders, and educators. I find this especially important in order to decenter the whiteness of alternative food movements and allow for the emergence of new origin stories within food activism.3 Finally, the short called “Imperfection Salad,” which features an interview with Charlotte Biltekoff, is very important for the way that it allows for meta-level reflection and critique of the process of food-based change as a whole. Biltekoff’s discussion provokes historically grounded thinking regarding why people are calling for such transformations to begin with, and how this call is attached to certain ideas about morality and social goodness.4 Overall, while Lunch Love Community is very Berkeley centric, it tells stories that—when paired with appropriate readings and in-class discussion—can encourage the development of a nuanced, attentive, and reflexive approach to the food system at large.
Feeding Frenzy: The Food Industry, Marketing, & the Creation of a Health Crisisfocuses on how marketing has helped to drive the obesity epidemic in the United States. The film explores the connections between the processed food industry and the government subsidies that enable it, and highlights the marketing tactics that encourage (some) people to buy and consume processed foods, despite the health risks. As one commenter argues, through this intersection of marketing, subsidies, and processing, some consumers have come to find the most “ridiculous” foods palatable. I don’t find this film to offer a very nuanced or feminist perspective on the food system. While Feeding Frenzy importantly attempts to move beyond the rhetoric of “personal responsibility,” it does so by placing the blame for obesity largely on the marketing industry. Unfortunately, the logical implication of this is that fat people are more susceptible to marketing schemes than skinny people; in other words, fat people are dupes (with supposedly ridiculous tastes).5 The film furthers this implication by including an interview with Brian Wansink, whose public intellectual work on “mindless eating” (as opposed to the “mindful” eating of thin people) is shamelessly unaware of social inequality, racism, sexism, and the stigma of obesity.6 Overall, the film offers a tired and offensive line of argumentation that unfortunately does not account for the myriad forces that impact obesity (beyond marketing) or for the ways that fatness is measured and given meaning socially. Therefore, I could recommend this film in a feminist classroom only for the purpose of critique.
1Charlotte Biltekoff’s Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013) can help students to understand the (US) history of this question: how it is repeated over time and how it comes to be connected to particular social values and morals.
2 For more reading on how food-based change connects to social inequality, I would recommend Alison Hope Alkon’s "Food Justice and Nutrition: A Conversation with Navina Khanna and Hank Herrera," in Doing Nutrition Differently: Critical Approaches to Diet and Dietary Intervention, ed. Allison Hayes-Conroy and Jessica Hayes-Conroy (Abingdon, England: Ashgate, 2013), 23-40.
3 To give students new origin stories of the alternative food movement, I recommend using A. Breeze Harper’s edited collection Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society (Brooklyn: Lantern Books, 2010).
4 Again, Biltekoff’s work can be very helpful here. In addition, for an understanding of how garden projects like those in Lunch Love Community link to neoliberalism, I recommend Mary Beth Pudup’s "It Takes a Garden: Cultivating Citizen-Subjects in Organized Garden Projects," Geoforum 39, no. 3 (2008): 1228-40.
5 Julie Guthman’s work is really invaluable in demonstrating how widespread this idea is, including "Can't Stomach It: How Michael Pollan et al. Made Me Want to Eat Cheetos," Gastronomica 7, no. 3 (2007): 75-79 and Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).
6 A good book to assign on these issues would be Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor’s Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight (Dallas: BenBella Books, 2014).