You eat what you are and are what you eat, right? There is an increasing number of Americans who pay great attention to the food they eat, buy organic vegetables, drink fine wines, and seek out exotic cuisine. The affordability of food across the class spectrum have become more accessible. The masses, however, still lack other forms of capital (social, cultural, and culinary) necessary to fully understand and enjoy the delights of its consumption. Further, people also seek to differentiate themselves from being labeled as an unrefined eater (e.g., the common person who lives on junk food), the food snob, a gourmet, and possibly even a foodie.
In her new book Discriminating Taste: How Class Anxiety Created the American Food Revolution
(Rutgers University Press, 2017), Dr. Margot Finn
argues that the rise of gourmet, ethnic, diet, and organic foods must be understood in tandem with the economy. She offers an illuminating historical perspective on current trends in the production and consumption of food. Finn also presents a parallel with the Guilded Age as a time of class division and when gourmet dinners, international cuisines, slimming diets, and pure foods became fads.
Throughout her research, Finn identifies the key ways that “good food” has become conflated with high-brow culture. She considers how class serves as a false form for social stratification in culinary consumption. Finn particularly focuses on how taste hierarchies provide a false consciousness for middle-class professionals who tend to fetishize cultural commodities. The author provides a provocative exploration into the ideology of contemporary food culture. This piece teaches us to challenge the maxim that humans are what they eat.
Michael O. Johnston is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at William Penn University. He is currently conducting research on the placemaking associated with the development of farmers’ market.