April 22, 2016
A Food and Culture Journal
Issue 01 Secret Dining Societies of the Midwest
Pancakes courtesy of Dancakes
Editor-in-Chief: Nikki Freihofer Managing Editor: Margaret Abbey Art Directors: Sara Meinecke Grant Phillips Artists: Joachim Vaturi Sachi Nagase Sara Wong Erica Canup Abhi Alwar Aiden Zucker
Writers: Madeline Wareing Sam Schnabel Max Bash Nick Fierro Charlotte Gordon Victoria Albert Sachi Nagase Jake McNichol Gabe Dash Andrew Miller
If I Die Young, Sprinkle My Ashes on Avocado Toast A Letter From the Editor I’m a hypocrite. I spend my academic brainpower critiquing the omnipresent fetishization of food – of cooking and eating and watching other people cook and eat – among American Millennials. But I spend the rest of my brainpower doing exactly that: cooking, eating, and watching other people cook and eat. I follow dozens of food-centric Instagram accounts, I scope new breakfast spots on Yelp, and, yes, I enjoy frozen yogurt on occasion. So sue me. This is modern foodie culture, after all: we want our brunches to be bottomless, our sushi certified gluten free, and our ashes sprinkled on avocado toast when we die. And don’t forget the Sriracha.
Out of the 80 million Millennials in America, half of us self-identify as “foodies” – and we spend more time, energy, and money consuming food and food-related media than any generation prior. Whereas fewer than twenty food magazines were published in the United States fifty years ago, over 145 food magazines, quarterlies, and newsletters were produced in 2014, not to mention the millions of blogs and social media posts. Clearly, foodie culture has escaped antiquated home-economics classrooms and stuffy
gourmandism and instead entered the expansive domain of popular culture, where it has been hierarchized and de-professionalized to an extent unimaginable a few decades ago. Yet, as I scroll past the enticing collection of food porn on Instagram and scan the banal musings of the Food Network – or even as I speak to friends who have renounced CAFO meat or have stopped eating quinoa because “it’s actually, like, really hurting the farmers in Bolivia!” – I am compelled to question the depth of my generation’s obsession with food. Where are the Millennials knocking on doors, demanding subsidies for rotational crops, stricter FDA regulation on antibiotic and pesticide use, and access to capital for farmers? Who will address the simultaneous phenomena of hunger and egregious food waste worldwide? Which brigade of university students is going to challenge Monsanto’s position on the Washington University Board of Trustees? Do these people exist? Indeed, it seems that our fleeting foodie obsessions have increasingly converged upon one focal priority: food porn. We’ve all seen it: a well-lit pho-
tograph of shimmering cheddar cheese oozing from between two slices of buttered and browned bread; of amber maple syrup drizzling over a tower of brioche French toast; of thin ribbons of jamón Serrano draping over crisp crostini. This is the kind of digital foodie peacocking our generation thrives on. But I regard ‘food porn’ as more than just an appetite-whetting snapshot of an above average bowl of ramen – rather, it characterizes a broader shift towards a more visual, topical, and ephemeral relationship to food, particularly amongst young Americans. Historians, literary critics, and food writers themselves have questioned the motivation for the intense new interest in food observed over the past few decades, and although their various perspectives on the impact of the Internet, the propaganda following World War II, and the explosion of the gastronomic canon all aid in this discussion, there is perhaps a more simple explanation. It all might hinge on the fact that Americans lost something vital – something “authentic” – when we overwhelmingly stopped cooking our own food in the industrial 1950s, which has made us sick, both nutritionally and culturally, to the point that we are obsessive about food. In the age of industrialized agriculture and take-out pizza, we increasingly rely on meals that are grown and prepared by others, so much so that cooking is becoming an endangered practice and “food porn” an emerging art. And yet the less
we know about food, the more we talk about it. On one hand, I am compelled to play devil’s advocate for modern foodie culture, in all its chia seed and açaí bowl glory. A reader of Hemingway is not expected to fight bulls or charter planes; nor is a reader of Krakauer subject to reproach if they fail to successfully summit Everest. And so, perhaps, it must be with food media. The reader should be able to enjoy a witty narrative or beautiful food photograph without the obligation to grab a whisk and give it a try for himself – right? No one will change the damaged food industry with groundbreaking coverage on the Cronut, but so what? Do food writers owe readers something, or should we accept the de-professionalized, hierarchized, and largely trivialized foodie renaissance as enough? We at Simple Syrup humbly argue the opposite – that food writing should be substantive and meaningful, even if the topic is a Cronut. This magazine presents a variety of topics, some more hard-hitting than others, but all of which intend to provoke deeper inquiries about that state of our many nuanced food cultures. Just as simple syrup forms the foundation for a myriad of foods and drinks, our Simple Syrup aims to form the foundation for novel ideas about food and art. Food and cooking do not exist in a vacuum; rather, the way people eat reflects the society in which they live. By charting
the history of food writing and media, it becomes clear that young people are actively and purposefully integrating food into their daily lives in a different proportion and fashion than any previous generation. And although #foodporn may be a fad, I refuse to believe that Millennials’ interest in food is a fad. I am not disillusioned to think that every young person is lurching for the next Gastronomica or downloading Michael Pollan’s latest on their iPad – of course, the food writing renaissance mainly caters to a specific market of relatively well-off, educated, and urban eaters who thrive in a setting where food is fashion. This market is important, though, because they are the leaders of the so-called ‘alternative food movement,’ which might be our best shot at reforming food policy where its is necessary. If so, social media can act as an entry point to more meaningful concerns. For now, many Millennials’ focus may be on their cleverly captioned post of poached eggs or their dinner plans at Pastaria, but eventually they may branch into policy reform. And when they do, you’ll hear about it on Instagram. Nikki Freihofer
COURTESY by Madeline Wareing Photography by Joachim Vaturi
“What’re ya drinkin?” a quick moving waitress with thick rimmed glasses and tired eyes asked as I sat myself on the red vinyl barstool.
“Coffee and water.” I grabbed a laminated menu from between the ketchup, mustard, and sugar containers grouped on the edge of the table, noticing a vintage film photograph of the restaurant that was featured on the front cover. Although I already knew what I wanted, I liked reading the familiar descriptions:
DEVIL’S DELIGHT 2 Eggs, Hash Browns, Chili On Top & Toast…………………………..…………..5.25
THE SLINGER 2 Eggs, Hash Browns, Hamburger, Chili On Top & Toast……………….……….5.25
The menu continued on for pages, listing gluttonous combinations of eggs, potatoes, bread, meat, and cheese. Here, Wonder Bread lines the warped wooden shelves and a tub of reused lard rests on the griddle. There are no Brussels sprouts or cage-free eggs, and don’t bother looking for gluten free options. This is the counter counter-culture – the return to gloriously awful food that gives a blunt middle finger to hipsters and their avocado toasts alike. I glanced around at the other patrons. An older man I didn’t know but recognized as a “frequent flyer,” as the staff liked to say, stood deliberating in front of the old wooden jukebox until he finally brought it to life with an unsurprising selection of Only The Good Die Young. He walked back to his seat near the coat rack, which was actually a hubcap on a pole with some haphazard hooks attached, and resumed his crossword. Across the room, a tired woman stood poking at the ATM, disgruntled after the cashier rejected her credit card and silently tapped the “Cash Only” sign with her faux fin-
ger nail. The sticky booth behind her held a family of four feasting on a basket of grease-soaked fries smothered in ketchup, a bag of Fritos chips topped with a slop of chili and a small mountain of shredded cheese, a short stack of fat golden pancakes drowning in a lake of fake maple syrup, and a plate of runny fried eggs shining atop the ever-present bed of hash browns. A thick-lipped coffee mug filled with steaming brown caffeine appeared before me. “Know what you want?” the waitress asked. “Veggie omelet with a side of chili, and a small biscuit grilled, please,” I answered.
The waitress scribbled the order onto her green notepad and shoved it into the kitchen. “Veg, small side chili, hot biscuit... at the bar!” she called out to the cook. I watched as the four women, each of whom I recognized even in their matching maroon polo shirts and green aprons, instinctively walked back and forth from the Coffee-Mate to the griddle
and back again. Next to the griddle sat a ceramic white pot with a light blue strip around the middle, exactly like the one that used to sit by my grandmother’s stove to hold the leftover grease. I looked up at the reflective ceiling and made a face at myself, laughing at the distorted image above, and when I looked back down my food was waiting on the counter. I picked up the bowl of dark red-brown chili, probably from a can, and poured it on top of my huge yellow omelet, watching as the egg disappeared beneath the beans and
meat. Hungrily and hastily, I cut into the edge of the omelet with a cheap metal fork and began shoveling the cheesy mess of egg, peppers, onions, and chili into my mouth. The policeman one stool over chuckled to himself, and I, with a mouth full of heaven, turned to look at him. “What?” I managed between chews. “Nothin’… you’re really lovin’ that omelet is all.” I smiled as Billy Joel drifted through the diner and a bell signaled “Order up!”
A Story In Which Your Intrepid Author Attends A Cattle Branding And Is Called a Pussy By A 60something Year-Old Cowboy 08
by Sam Schnabel Art by Sara Wong
Act 1: I’m Not From Around Here, Clearly The Scene: Summer of 2015. A fresh-faced rising junior, I’m spending my second consecutive season working on a Very Large cattle ranch in Montana. This entailed very little interaction with the cattle themselves, as we spent most our time mowing the lawn(s) and doing odd jobs. And there was nothing wrong with that. Cattle freak me out. The way they just stare at you. The way they all look up, every single one, and just stare right into your soul when you get anywhere remotely near. That stare that just screams, “Look what you’ve done to my once-proud species, you human scum. I hope you’re happy with yourself.” And then they sort of pathetically flick their tail around and go back to staring at the ground. It’s kind of funny, in a sad way. But for looking so brain-dead all the time, cattle are a labor-intensive species, one that requires a fair amount of neighborly cooperation. One particularly hot afternoon, we received word that the ranch a few miles away needed a couple hands. So off we went, bouncing around on the dirt roads before arriving at a crowded scene on a nearby pasture. “You boys from down the road? Well, let’s get busy!” spat out a bearded human in a “Kazakhstan!” t-shirt. Like all residents of this area, his skin had the reddish consistency of an aged leather sedan chair. He could be anywhere from 25 to 80 years old. He motioned toward the corral, where a group of burly young men (all of whom looked A Whole Lot Stronger than yours truly) stood around panting, some nursing ugly bruises (or worse). As we walked over, several grizzled cowboy types were preparing to open the gates to let the next group of terrified calves into the arena. On the tried and true pretext of “Well I’ve never done this before, might as well sit back and see what it’s all about before diving in and making a fool of myself,” I sat back so as to not make a fool of myself.
Act 2: Honestly, It’s Pretty Horrible I went into it thinking I’d just be seeing a couple cows get branded with a hot iron (that old trope!). I’ve seen bits and pieces of the “Saw” movies before; violence doesn’t really affect me. What I didn’t know was that this was the Whole Nine Yards, the Grand Slam of Branding, if you will. Not only was I treated to the delightful aroma of white-hot iron on cowhide, I got a whole lot more. A Daily Double, if Trebek will allow it. The process went as follows: two of the aforementioned Burly Youths would jump into the corral and chase down a calf, one going for the head while the other restrained the legs, positioning a boot right at the rear. One of the cowboy types would approach with the burning hot iron, sticking it right on the back haunch. In shock, the calf would invariably lose control of its bowels and shit all over the boot of the rear-positioned Burly Youth. Quite a picture right? Two kids struggling to control a writhing calf while the air reeks of feces and flies buzz around the dusty corral. That was just half the battle, however. After a suitable interval, another cowboy type approached, wielding two sinister-looking syringes supposedly full of (Cover your eyes, Whole Foods enthusiasts!) steroids and hormones. For, you know, cow stuff. After these were jabbed into some throbbing vein, someone else came up with some sort of medieval torture device that was used to castrate the calf, right then and there. Maybe some more poop came out, but the Burly Youths retained their hold, occasionally suffering a kick here and there. Finally, just for good measure, a quarter-sized chunk of an ear was cut out, because how else are we supposed to know which cows have been branded and which haven’t?
Coda: I’m A Pussy, Apparently After the litany of violence, it only made sense to reward our efforts with steak and beer (IMPORTANT AUTHOR’S NOTE: I actually contributed nothing, instead choosing to stand on the sidelines with a coworker, wincing whenever some stabby object was introduced to the cows). I got in the food line, quietly appraising the assembled crowd for the first time. Much to my chagrin, I realized that I was one of only a handful who didn’t have shit all over their jeans. Montana isn’t like one of those “Famous _______ Hospitality” states – if you earn your keep, you can have it, but don’t expect any handouts. But still, I figured this nice ranching family was good for like a single steak and a couple cans of Olympia. As I sat down next to a coworker and began quietly chewing, I made the fatal mistake of making eye contact with the “Kazakhstan!” man who had greeted us.
“This boy didn’t do an ounce of work and thinks he can just help himself to our steak?” A woman I assumed to be his wife smiled at me and gently chided him, but not before he snorted and said “What a pussy!” Hoping this was just all some sort of initiation into their goofy family dynamic, I kept my head down and my lack of participation didn’t come up for the rest of the evening. And thus, cattle branding.
East Meets Midwest The Birth of the St Paul Sandwich by Gabe Dash Art by Sara Meinecke Imagine: a fried egg patty, juicy pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise sandwiched between two unmistakable slices of Wonder Bread. It’s the infamous St. Paul sandwich — and although it may sound like the snack you concocted the first time you got stoned in high school, it’s actually somewhat of a local delicacy. If you haven’t heard of it, fear not. Chop suey restaurants (which purvey the St. Paul sandwich) are not nearly as common as they were in the 60s and 70s, when these greasy spoons were to St. Louis what TexMex is to Dallas or what avocado-topped-everything is to Los Angeles. Now, the St. Paul is an important cultural artifact, resolving between two slices of white bread the amalgamation of Asian and mid-western lifestyles and cuisine. I am from New York City, and as a freshman I didn’t think much of St. Louis. I missed the clamor and noise
East Meets Midwest
of home, but most of all I missed the food (we are in desperate need for a decent dollar slice of pizza here, let me tell you). But over my four years of residence here, I’ve realized I was wrong to write off St. Louis. This city has always homed a tremendous variety of cultures and tradition, from French to German to Chinese. Since the eighteenth century, St. Louis has served as the northernmost outpost of the French-Catholic tradition that emanates up the Mississippi from New Orleans. In the nineteenth century, waves of German and Irish immigrants came for its reputation as a Catholic city, and soon afterward Italian immigrants followed for the same reason. In this environment, cultures have been brought together, often violently and always with lasting effects. St. Louis is, unfortunately, a typical postindustrial American city: racially diverse but segregated, not solely based on race but also socioeconomically. Redlining may be a thing of the past, but its effects are not.
If ever there were a silver lining (and I’m not saying this is much of one) it would be that St. Louis is one of the last places you can get chop suey, partially due to the city’s history of racial policies. Chop suey is mid-westernized Chinese cuisine. Unlike General Tso’s chicken—a common Chinese dish that originated in America and bears the name of a general who could not have eaten the food as we know it—chop suey is intentionally a (and possibly the first) fusion cuisine.
The first Chinese immigrant to St. Louis arrived in 1857; his name was Alla Lee, a young 24-year-old who would, in time, open a teashop, marry an Irishwoman, and inadvertently establish St. Louis’ own Chinatown. Hop Alley, as it became known, sat between Walnut and Chestnut Streets and stretched from 7th to 10th and at its zenith, had a population in the thousands. It was a vibrant cultural and economic center, albeit an unregulated one. It spawned dozens of Chinese restaurants and laundries, few of which exist today. In a city with a large African-American population, is it any surprise that the Chinese immigrants would try to tailor their menus to fit local tastes? Egg foo young is an egg patty with meats and vegetables, and fried. It is a close equivalent to the omelet, and when slapped between two pieces of
individual ingredient ever could. I’d even go so far as to say it tastes like history: and because of this, it is a tradition worth preserving.
white bread with pickles and mayonnaise it’s weird as hell. My personal food philosophy is that foods that taste good apart taste better together, and this sandwich is certainly a testament to that. The apocryphal tale says its creator was from St. Paul, Minnesota and named it after their hometown; more likely it was named to attract Catholic St. Louisians, especially during Lent. Regardless of ‘how,’ the ‘when’ is more conclusive: the first mention of the St. Paul is in the 1940s. The Denver sandwich—a Denver omelet between two pieces of bread—is an earlier incarnation (1908) from, you guessed it, Denver. I’ve eaten egg sandwiches my entire life, usually with bacon or sausage and cheese on a roll, but there are miles and miles between those sandwiches and the St. Paul. The St. Paul tastes like contradiction, so the final flavor hosts more depth than any
St. Louis’ Chinatown doesn’t exist today. It was demolished in 1965 to make room for the first Busch Stadium. Today it is Ballpark Village. Like highway 44 through the Hill and the DeSotto-Carr neighborhood, Hop Alley was a victim of racially biased eminent domain. Traces of these traditions exist today in less than a dozen chop suey restaurants throughout the city (the last Chinese laundry, Sam Wah, was demolished in 1978 to make way for the Washington University Medical School). Let’s hope that this St. Louis staple doesn’t die out all together. If I’m being honest, I don’t think chop suey has the best chance. The cultural and economic forces simply aren’t there— but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Traditions morph and change, or else we wouldn’t have had chop suey in the first place. I can’t think of many scenarios where chop suey would become popular enough to reverse its downward trend without the collateral effect of gentrification. Maybe the demise of chop suey is just part of the evolution of St. Louis—maybe not. Let’s sit down over a few St. Paul’s and talk about it.
MukBy Grant Phillips A cute Korean girl looks at me from the screen across my coffee table. The frame of her webcam shows a collection of plush pandas, a childish green bookshelf, and a mysterious cardboard box that the girl, Wangju, keeps giggling at in excitement and anticipation. After a few shy glances under the lid of the box, she unveils a pile of fried chicken wings, four different dipping sauces, and a massive bottle of Coke. In an innocent manner she lifts a flaky piece of meat up towards the camera so I, along with thousands of other viewers, can watch her animatedly take the first greasy bite. This is mukbang.
The word mukbang translates from the Korean words eating (muk-ja) and broadcasting (bang-song). It refers to an online hybrid of ‘selfie’ culture
and cooking shows. A surprising number of young Koreans, both men and women, are amassing celebrity status by live broadcasting themselves consuming copious amounts of food for the pleasure of viewers. These usually slim-figured individuals sit down to meals of multiple large pizzas and bountiful bowls of overflowing noodles. The broadcasters intentionally nibble, crunch, cough, and slurp with glee to capture the sensory aspects of the eating experience for their viewers. During and afterwards they answer questions and interact with their audience. These Internet-age entrepreneurs can make thousands of dollars per video through viewer donations of an obscure currency called “star balloons,” which are worth about ten American cents each. By broadcasting through a platform called Afreeca TV, these Broadcast Jockeys (fond-
ly known as BJs) can collect millions of “star balloons” – enough, even, to make a career out of publically eating. True mukbang celebrities invest in their business – they have their own fan clubs, managers, sound systems, editing suites, exercise regimens (after all, their job is to eat ungodly amounts of food), and signature costumes and foods. Some choose to use mukbang as a stage to promote their abilities as gourmet cooks, which has created a subgenre known as cookbang. These ‘performers’ can amass fame, fortune, and a sense of community all for the low price of greasy food, basic video software, and constant indigestion. The most famous BJ who went by the name of The Diva ate all of her meals in full makeup and broadcast for more than six hours a day. Food chains offered her endorsements. Men and women sung her praises. But not ev-
Bang erything worked out. She eventually chose to retire due to the ‘pressures of performing.’ Is this all starting to sound a little strange? I found out about mukbang by stumbling on a satire of the phenomenon performed by a woman named Showry, a feminist shock comedian on YouTube. Showry has made her own Internet career by mocking the BJs and highlighting the inherent voyeurism and fetishism of mukbang. She makes out with bananas and bathes in vats of ketchup, throwing the food over her body while she yells “More! More!” in an exaggerated Korean accent. Showry’s strange and humorous videos illuminate the obvious question: why does anyone watch this stuff? Although it is tempting to simply label mukbang as just a fetish, there are various reasons a person might get in-
volved in producing or watching the live videos. Traditionally in Korean culture, like all others, the act of eating is an important social activity, yet today many young Koreans are finding themselves living and eating alone. Korea is experiencing a low birthrate and a steady population decline that is even steeper than Japan’s. This, paired with a consistent rural to urban migration of younger Koreans, has led to a rise of one person households and a sense of social isolation. When one understands that the meanings of the various Korean words for family can be broken down into people that share a place or people that share food, the context for mukbang begins to make more sense.
certainly users that live vicariously through the BJs binging and who get off to girls and guys eating food, there is also something more to mukbang. The quantity of food might disgust some viewers, but the BJs eat and activate their viewer’s interest as if they were eating together. They watch the comments feed and talk to them in exaggerated gestures and funny voices. Mukbang requires a digital space for its performance; thus, the distance that it overcomes allows for its popularity and for its absurdity. Korea gathers around the dinner table…just in separate rooms.
Many are uncomfortable with this new reality. Mukbang provides a bridge for lonely youth of Korea to digitally regain some traditional comfort lost in the modern age. And while there are
Compast On Campus
Compost On Campus What Is Really Happening To Our Trash? By Max Bash On a muddy field in Bellville, Illinois, piles of decomposing Christmas trees, animal feces from the St. Louis Zoo, wood scraps from the Joplin tornado and Fergusown destruction, and shreds of unusable Federal Reserve money sit alongside hundreds of tons of food waste from the Washington University campus.
WashU claims to compost over 200,000 pounds per year, but 50 percent of the bulk waste we send to Bellville (including food scraps, to-go boxes, and paper napkins) is rejected and sent to a landfill due to contamination from materials such as plastic forks. Although our contamination rates have decreased from twelve percent in 2012
to five percent in 2015, the Office of Sustainability is struggling to lower the rate to the three percent threshold. Until we stop throwing plastic utensils, wrappers, and cups inside the compost bins, half of our 7,000 pounds of weekly compost will be relegated to the landfill. “Ever since I started here we’ve been working with WashU to help them with their contamination issue, because WashU has always had a contamination issue, always, and it’s bad. It’s always from the post-consumer,” claimed Sara Ryan, Marketing Coordinator for St. Louis Composting, as she walked through rows of muddy compost littered with plastic scraps.
Sending our contaminated compost to the landfill isn’t cheap for St. Louis Composting, so the company recently
began charging WashU six dollars for every barrel of compost that they redirect to the landfill in an effort to discourage our laziness. This added cost has jolted the Office of Sustainability into action to both lower the contamination rate and explore alternative routes of composting. According to Marisa Vasquez, an intern at the Office of Sustainability, one option the team has discussed is building an on-campus composting facility in the coming years, so we can personally handle the sorting and decomposition processes. But our logic is as follows: if the contamination is mostly from the plastic utensils and other non-compostable materials in the DUC and BD, then Dining Services should switch to providing compostable ones, thereby eliminating the contamination source. Dining Services has previously considered this option, but claimed that it is not cost-effective; however, now that WashU is being charged for sending unusable compost to the facility, the option to switch to compostable utensils will likely become cost-effective. It’s time to kill two birds with one
stone: stop the contamination, save money. Yet, the problem isn’t just the amount of contamination in our waste – it’s the amount of waste itself. On the undergraduate campus, we use a whopping 2.7 million to-go boxes every academic year, which makes up the bulk of the compost volume. In regards to the food waste itself, the scraps we throw away are disproportionately sourced from the post-consumers (that’s you) instead of pre-consumers in the kitchen, who systematically compost scraps and relegate leftovers to organizations such as Campus Kitchen. This isn’t only an issue for WashU, but also for the entire country – last year, the EPA found that food waste comprises one-fifth of the garbage produced in the United States, while 36 years ago it accounted for less than a tenth of total waste. Globally, we waste 2.9 trillion pounds of food each year, which is nearly a third of all we produce, and if food waste were its own country, it would be the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, falling only behind Chi-
na and the United States. Meanwhile, rhetoric that the world is running out of food still pervades through the typical American home. Remember when your mother used to scold you, yet again, “Finish your broccoli, (insert your name here). There are kids starving in Africa!” The truth is we produce multiple tons of food that are withheld from the market or are wasted by consumers such as ourselves. But, paradoxically, 15 percent of U.S. households struggled to put food on the table last year. Our adopted state of Missouri is considered to be among the worst states for food insecurity and hunger, specifically in pockets of St. Louis. This is not a problem of production, but rather of distribution – and for many food activists, the hunger and waste epidemics share a joint solution. That is, we must slash food waste and improve proper distribution by incentivizing conservation and donation over dumping. This is a massive shift in priorities that requires systematic, political, and, most importantly, cultural incentives. Are we up to the challenge?
“My Kitchen” By Sachi Nagase Photography by Sachi Nagase I hardly left the kitchen over winter break after my first semester at Wash U. I remember being hunched over my stand mixer, covered in flour and watching a fresh batch of Swiss meringue buttercream whipping to billowy peaks. In the oven my macaron shells were baking, and in the fridge was dough proofing for cinnamon rolls. On the kitchen table were two batches of freshly baked chocolate cookies and an apple tart. I looked at the clock, saw it was four in the morning, and thought, “What am I doing?!” Nothing could stop me as I reveled over the time in a fully equipped kitchen away from the confines of my dorm room. I have always loved the kitchen. I grew up in a household where my mom lovingly packed my lunch everyday and both my parents took turns making dinner. The kitchen was a place where we created delicious meals but was also where my sister and I were encouraged to be creative. As I grew older, my love for cooking and baking evolved, but it took me until college to realize the extent of my passion for food.
The need to create things with my hands led me to printmaking and the
studio art program within Sam Fox. My love for making food has always been behind my explorations in printmaking and the visual arts, but until recently, I had not explored the intersections between these two passions. During the first semester of my junior year I made a piece in my sculpture class entitled Compost, Preserved where I collected my compostable food waste for two weeks and saved them. I dipped the objects in wax in an effort to preserve the pieces because I wanted to create a visual representation of time through what I consumed each day. I swore I wouldn’t make art with food again after the rotting stench of Compost, Preserved, but found myself returning to food as a theme after I discovered Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, a novel about a young girl who experiences pain and death throughout her life, but finds solace in the kitchen. I read the novel in one night, fascinated by how the protagonist describes the kitchen as the ultimate source of certainty. Then began my deep investigation of how the kitchen shapes my own mem-
My MyKitchen Kitchen
ory, my life, and studio practice. My junior year first semester final piece culminated in an immersive, multi-sensory experience, which drew from my own imagination and memory. I painted and drew on the walls of my studio, installed a painting emitting kitchen sounds, and used props to mimic the “kitchen” in my studio in order to visually construct ties between both meditative, creative spaces. I made a book with references to Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, which was placed at the center of the room with a solitary chair for the viewer.
My hope with the installation was to blur the spaces of the studio and the kitchen– to conflate, and perhaps confuse, the idea of what it means to do work in either of these spaces. “My Kitchen” is meant to reveal the similarities between both kitchen and studio, and represent how these places of making coalesce as places for thoughtful contemplation, occasional chaos, and creative making.
THIS IS NOT A RES TAU RANT
A Glimpse Inside St. Louisâ€™ Premiere Underground Dining Society
by Nikki Freihofer and Margaret Abbey
Photography by Joachim Vaturi
22 This is Not a Restaurant
The first rule of Rogue is: you do not talk about Rogue.
Rule 2: Rule 3:
Grandma’s rule. You have to try everything on your plate, even if it seems strange.
Once you’ve been initiated into the community, your name is on our list. We scratch your back,
Forgo your manners. Eat when your plate hits the table, and don’t wait for anyone else.
you scratch ours.
But really, there are no rules. An unmarked wooden door, hidden in plain sight in the Central West End, leads me to an empty and dimly lit cigar room. The bartender lazily polishing glasses in the adjacent parlor watches me enter and silently nudges his chin towards a winding staircase in the corner, discretely guiding me upstairs without tipping off his own few customers. I hear soft murmuring and muted clinking glasses above me, punctuated by roars of laughter and the occasional deafening silence, and as I slowly summit the staircase, I spy a familiar face. “Hi,” my former colleague and, to my surprise, the co-founder of Rogue Underground Dining Society shrugged his shoulders, admitting the secret he had kept from me, until now. “Welcome to Rogue.”
ymous diners, each of whom was carefully selected and notified about the location of the dinner merely hours beforehand. Tonight is the 52nd meeting of the Rogue Underground Dining Society, informally known as Rogue. The society is inspired by the private dinner culture that revolutionized Montreal in the 1980s (which was linked to a centuries-old European tradition of secret dining societies).
The loft is filled with thirty anon-
24 This is Not a Restaurant
“ In a society riddled with food anxiety and fear, Rogue reestablishes
culture as the focal point of eating, and welcomes creativity back into the kitchen. In essence, Rogue explodes the restaurant. ”
Rogue premiered in St. Louis in 2009, and is now in partnership with the pop-up dining phenomenon known as This Is Not A Restaurant. Every few weeks (or days, or months… you never know) a clandestine dinner is announced via email to a curated list of potential guests, relinquishing only the date and theme of the ambitious 11-course meal. Tonight’s motif? David Bowie, and in turn, the theme of Chch-ch-(ch)-changes (the chorus line of his legendary track “Changes”). This unique dining experience is heavily influenced by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s design theme of “exploding the box,” which is the epitome of anti-structural. Exploding the box, destroying the box—this phenomenon thrives off of the concept of space molding itself to the perception of the viewer, such that each individual is intimately connected with every bit of the interior space, and at any time, every individual’s perspective is different, yet is united by the flow of the space itself. Like this obscure concept, the very fibers of Rogue’s being are imbued with an essence of subversiveness and meaning-filled performance art, presented with a hint of antidisestablishmentarianism. In this sphere, the true meaning of cooking and consumption have been adversely warped, so that the cooks are able to take any space, regardless of whether or not a kitchen is available (which there often isn’t, since each meeting is held in a different covert location), and create
an inventive dining experience from scratch regardless. Amazing food is not the endpoint, though the food that the Rogue Chefs (the two anonymous chefs who founded the Society) craft is masterfully delicious and inventive. Food is a means of getting to the heart of the matter: how consumption, eating, has the potential to be so profoundly intimate and culturally uniting. Rogue disrupts ideas about what food should be and how it should function, erasing the (mis)conceptions about “proper” dining. In our falsely foodie society, where clashing messages about food are spewed constantly, bouncing from a trendy climate of artisanal, smallbatch, and local ingredients to the surviving American legacy of fast food dining, it becomes evident that we collectively are searching for the Real. Hence, the recent emergence of not-so-secret underground dining societies that have graced the covers of multiple publications (including ours) in convoluted ways, giving readers a limited glimpse into the culinary exotic. These elusive societies, including Rogue, present the false notion that Real eating and Real food are exclusive concepts, relegated only to those on a covert guest list who are able to afford lavish feasts. We forget that the Real has always been present, even for those not on the guest list, but it has been buried under the rubble of food mania and fetishization and denigration, under the rules of what one
‘should’ eat, how one ‘should’ eat. Our food-related restlessness and frustration — which Michael Pollan (via biologist Paul Rozin) has characterized as the Omnivore’s Dilemma of ‘What do I eat?’ — manifests itself now in a dissonant fashion, including runaway food crazes (Cronuts, anyone?) and a proliferation of arbitrary regulation and diet faddism. Rogue challenges and simultaneously destabilizes this system by carefully maneuvering between highbrow and lowbrow, between fine dining and down-to-earth realness — as exemplified by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole reimagined as “squid ink pasta on a [pool] of oyster mushroom cream sauce with ahi tuna crusted in dehydrated potato flakes,” while the Society staff members eat a meal, shared together, of greasy Sonic take-out. This is not simply a society for the bourgeois elite. Rather, Rogue takes a very strictly regulated, distancing experience that can occur in fine dining, in eating, and in consumption as a whole and reintegrates the human element. In a society riddled with food anxiety and fear, Rogue reestablishes culture as the focal point of eating, and welcomes creativity back into the kitchen. In essence, Rogue explodes the restaurant.
I’ll come clean. There is no wild haggis. It’s as artificial as Braveheart. Rather, haggis is a “savory pudding made of sheep’s minced offal (liver, heart, lungs and entrails), with onion, oats, fat, spices and stock, encased and cooked within the sheep’s stomach.”
What Does It Mean For Food To Be “Bad”? by Nick Fierro Art by Abhi Alwar This is an image of my dog, Rex. He is a beautiful rough collie, approaching seven years old and, like most dogs, I love him dearly—some would say I enjoy the company of canines more than that of most people. And yet, if given the chance, I would eat a dog. Certainly not my dog, no no—but if someone placed a plate of pup in front of me and said, ‘here, try some dog,’ you’d bet I would at least oblige a taste—assuming, of course, that it was humanely and properly prepared.
Undoubtedly this will come as a shock to some. If I posed the question “would you eat a dog” to an Amer ican stranger, I’d be met with repul sion—and with good reason. There’s the familial association we have with our pets, not to mention the deep mythology of ‘man’s best friend’ ingrained into most of Western culture. We fear being judged by our peers—to eat a dog is to break an unspoken moral code. After all, if some-
one eats Fido, who’s to say they won’t come after your Fifi next? There’s also a plethora of valid animal rights concerns, from tight cages to torture—not unlike those concerns we have about, say, chickens, cows, and pigs. But this story isn’t about chickens or cows or pigs. This story is about the humble haggis. I’ve lived in Scotland for just over two months now, and I have run out of fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve been asked this very question: ‘Have you tried haggis?’ And when I tell them I have, they give me this look like I’ve spit on their shoe. I want to ask them, do you even know what haggis is? According to a 2003 survey, almost one third of American visitors to Scotland believed the haggis was a small, furry animal native to the Highlands--caught fresh, cooked and eaten whole by Scots for every meal. Americans have been known to book “haggis hunting trips” in hopes of bagging a creature that looks like an oversized rat with a toupee.
Like much of popular Scottish cuisine—like fish and chips, black pudding, and deep fried pizza—haggis is perhaps unfairly characterized as “bad food.” I’ll admit—the description made my own stomach turn a bit the first time I read it. Regardless, within a week of arriving, I tried it—and it was actually pretty great, especially when washed down with a good whiskey. The texture was new to me--thick and doughy. But what surprised me more was the flavor-spicy and peppery with a nutty sort of undertone. Served atop subtly bitter mashed roots, it was exactly the sort of meal you’d want on a cold, rainy night. Not that those are in short supply in Scotland. Maybe it was the whisky talking, but I asked myself--what was the big deal? Why are people, particularly in the U.S., so averse to eating something like haggis? I asked Scots and Americans alike--and yielded a diverse range of explanations. Several were concerned about the health risks. Since the 1970s the U.S. has had a ban on the import of sheep lungs, with recent proponents citing
prion diseases like mad cow disease. Though there is a movement to lift the ban, it remains to this day—and with it, the stigma. Some thought it was just gross. Who wants to eat gristly lungs or stomach lining when there’s a perfectly good steak at your disposal? One person’s response intrigued me the most. They offered a potential evolutionary explanation: when hunting, the stronger, faster animals enjoyed the most filling meat, leaving the offal for the weakest links. “In other words, the organs are the leftovers, the scraps. Scraps are what we feed dogs.” But where did haggis come from in the first place? Like much of Scottish folklore, the true origin of the haggis is lost to the ages. A popular story is that when a clan chieftain slaughtered an animal, he allowed the workmen who raised it to keep the offal. Another story seems out of convenience--farmers’ wives would prepare and package their husbands’ rations in a sheep’s stomach—making it a product of practicality and necessity. Like most great inventions, it is a strange, perhaps accidental amalgamation of what was available at a given time. But, like many others, it was gradually replaced and relegated to the end of the table and the bottom of the pantry as we became more accustomed to better, richer, tastier cuts of meat.
Except in Scotland. Its place in the country’s culinary history makes it a cornerstone of modern Scottish cuisine. It can be found in every grocery store, next to the beef and above the cured meats. Chip shops sell deep-fried haggis alongside cod and haddock. On Burns Night—January 25—haggis is commonly eaten in celebration of Scottish poet Robert Burns and Scottish culture. A bagpiper often leads a procession, followed by servers who hoist the haggis overhead, like a king on a throne. To me, this doesn’t seem like the treatment given to “bad food.” Just a different food. We pay similar homage to American food and culture every July 4th, albeit with barbecue and beer instead of haggis and whisky, and fireworks instead of pipers. But what about dog? Many of the same arguments against haggis could be made for dog—as could the arguments in favor of it. I cannot buy dog meat in the United States, nor in Scotland. In order to fulfill my dream of eating dog, I would likely have to travel halfway around the world, to Korea, Thailand, or China—countries which, I’ve found, are often condemned by animal rights activists for their canine consumption. Each article I’ve read on the topic seems eager to include the graphic details of dog farming, complete with gory descriptions of slaughterhouses and scenes that sound ripped from the
last Saw movie. But you know what I’ve also found? In those countries, dog meat is classified differently from livestock, and restaurants serving it are subject to greater scrutiny. It is readily apparent that many cultures which consume dog share that ideal of “man’s best friend.” “Pet” dogs are categorized distinctly from “meat” dogs, which are bred, raised and, yes, killed much in the same way as chickens, cows, and pigs. I’m not denying the validity of the horrifying claims of animal rights activists, nor am I claiming that any one culture is unilaterally supportive or dismissive of the consumption of dogs. Nor am I saying I’d even like eating dog. But from what I’ve learned about haggis, and dog, and food in general, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s more to “bad foods” than meets the eye, or the nose, or the tongue. Behind each bite is a history, a culture, and perhaps even a stigma—and if to experience the first two means putting up with the third, so be it. Just as I would eat haggis, or chicken, or beef, or pork—if someone offered me dog meat, I’d give it a try. But not my dog, no no.
Hungry Little Liars
Hungry Little Liars Food Fears and Fetishes As Portrayed In “Pretty Little Liars” By Victoria Albert Art by Erica Canup It’s no secret—Pretty Little Liars is full of horror. In their attempt to unravel their best friend Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse)’s murder, the four female leads (Aria Montgomery, played by Lucy Hale; Spencer Hastings, played by Troian Bellesario; Emily Fields, played by Shay Mitchell, and Hanna Marin, played by Ashley Benson) must endure torture chambers, demonic dollhouses, and other sadistic machinations of their tormentor “A,” a mysterious figure who threatens to expose their darkest secrets. Yet in his eerie video Food Horror, which compiles clips of the girls eating (or not eating), artist Graham Kolbeins explores another source of fear for the girls: the food on their plate. Accompanied by dark music and dramatic cuts, Kolbeins’ 16-minute montage of PLL clips highlights the frightful relationship these girls have with food, condemning it with comments like “not me, one more [cupcake] and they’ll be able to see my ass in Philly.”
PLL stigmatizes food in a variety of ways, but they can be summed up in two words: avoid and shame, each of which uniquely strengthens the food/
horror dynamic disturbingly present in Kolbeins’ video. First, avoidance. If there were a competition for ‘Most Food Pushed around the Plate but Never Eaten,’ PLL would take first prize. From Emily picking croutons out of her salad to Aria poking at pizza crust, the girls spend more time playing with their food than eating it. In fact, they seldom take a bite. By showing so much food and so little consumption, PLL teaches its viewers that to obtain the Aria or Emily’s “ideal” body type they must avoid eating at all costs—even if it means just wistfully staring at a plate, moving its contents from side to side. If avoiding food is the desired message, why bother showing it at all? PLL’s writers could surely think of more interesting plot developments than Emily’s abused crouton. Yet only active avoidance of food truly reinforces the girls’ status as the idealized elite. Remember The Scarlet Letter, where Hester Prynne was ostracized for allegedly having sex with a priest? This isn’t too different. For hundreds of years, women have been expected to remain pure and resist the temptations
of sinful, indulgent pleasures. Whether it was sex, alcohol, or food, women gained social acceptance through their degree of resistance—the purest were those who resisted the most. In modern times, this hasn’t changed; the girls with the most social currency are those who most actively avoid their “guilty pleasure” foods.
Her peers constantly shame her with comments such as “Ugh, Hanna, why are you still eating that,” and “Are you really going to eat that, sweetie? I’m being a friend.” These comments leave no doubt as to PLL’s food politics – just as an adulterous woman could be ostracized for pursuing her sexual desires, if you indulge in food, you will, and should, be shamed.
What does this have to do with cupcakes? According to Elizabeth Nathanson, author of “Sweet Sisterhood: Cupcakes as Sites of Feminized Consumption and Production,” the cupcake production industry actively reinforces and rejects postfeminist thought. By allowing women to emerge into the previously male-dominated entrepreneurial sphere, cupcake-centered media such as Cupcake Wars and Georgetown Cupcakes seem to suggest that women have become equal participants in the labor force as postfeminism suggests. Yet Nathanson notes how this veneer of “having it all”—both a career and a personal life—still exists within the confines of gender inequality. The cupcake industry is still built upon traditional notions of women in the kitchen, cupcakes are still characterized as frivolous, childish, and feminine, and female bakers are still portrayed as fundamentally linked to their home and their family.
One of PLL’s most iconic food/shame scenes occurs when “A” blackmails Hanna to eat an entire box of cupcakes in order to obtain the $50K she needs to repay one of her mother’s bank clients. PLL’s choice to use cupcakes in lieu of any other junk food is an interesting one, given the symbolic role that cupcakes hold in postfeminist discourse. Postfeminism, a response to third-wave feminism, contends that feminism has accomplished its goals: men and women are essentially equal, and there is no more work to be done.
In fact, the physical nature of cupcakes further represents the limitations of postfeminism. The sugar-laden, carbheavy cake constitutes a postfeminist rebellion against traditional bodily norms, yet the cupcake is its miniature, limited form. With the cupcake, women can “have it all,” as promised by postfeminism—but not too much of it. Hanna’s pig-cupcake scene shows the consequences of stepping outside of this boundary. As soon as she breaches the acceptable limit of “having it all” (which apparently, is one cupcake),
When the girls aren’t avoiding food, they are shaming those who eat it. The victim is often “Hefty” Hanna Marin, the only member of the group bold enough to consume unhealthy food.
she is shamed by a group of football players (a representation of athleticism and a normative body type). “Next time, don’t eat so much,” their jeers suggest, “and maybe we’ll accept you then.” But how did fat become equated with shameful? Many scholars, including Connie Musolino and Megan Warin, blame the postfeminist, neoliberal, and healthist rhetoric that now dominates pop culture. Regarding female bodies, postfeminist rhetoric asserts that women are now free to make whatever food choices they desire (which Hanna’s pig-cupcake scene proves false). Meanwhile, neoliberalism suggests that given this freedom to choose, women must now make the right choices—the choices that will make them the most able participants in a capitalist society. This belief is reinforced by healthism, a quasi-religious pursuit of health and fitness that dictates that the right choices are the ones that promote a “healthy” body type. Regardless of whether healthists and neoliberalists truly intend to say “healthy” or “skinny,” the converse still applies. A fat person has not only made the wrong choice, they have also failed a societal obligation. The punishment? Shame. Unfortunately, this food/shame rhetoric is neither unique nor uncommon. Media targeted towards young women often features a body negative dialogue that promotes a fear of both
30 Hungry Little Liars
Hungry Little Liars
weight gain and of the food that causes it. And despite love interests, betrayals, and victories, studies show that this message persists once the program ends. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, over 10 million women and girls suffer from eating disorders—which many researchers attribute in part to body negative dialogue in the media. It’s clear that food has become strongly linked with shame. But when did it get linked with horror? According to the famed journalist Michael Pollan, food anxiety is not a novel concept. We have always suffered from what Paul Rozan deemed the “omnivore’s dilemma”—the struggle of a species that eats all foods to determine what foods would nourish them and what foods would sicken them. Their anxiety was warranted—the wrong choice could kill them. In fact, human survival depended on our ancestors’ ability to determine what they should and shouldn’t eat.
In modern times, this food anxiety developed another dimension. Stick-thin models and fat shaming bloggers have perpetuated food/shame ideology to an unprecedented level. As a result, women are now required to avoid foods that will make them biologically or socially ill. ‘This poisonous mushroom will kill me,’ the modern woman might say, ‘and this donut will transform my body into a shape that society condemns and rejects—it’s best to
avoid both and go harvest some kale.’ In this manner, food/shame became food/horror, as widespread societal acceptance of twisted beauty standards equated deviation with rejection, discrimination, and isolation—a fate that no woman desires. In many ways, this fear of social death is even worse than its biological counterpart. No one judges those who unknowingly drink spoiled milk, but the same is not true for those who consume “socially ill” foods. Our society constantly monitors women, checking their “diseased behavior” with comments similar to those given to Hanna. These actions reflect Michael Foucault’s theory on citizen-regulated behavior, which describes how societal norms can quickly turn into self-regulation. Foucault’s famous representation of this is the panopticon, a layout for a prison in which each the cells are arranged in a circle around a guard tower. The prisoners do not know exactly when they are being watched, but they know that if they are caught acting badly, they will be punished. Therefore, they begin to self-regulate their behavior, adopting the prison’s behavioral rules as their own. Similarly, women do not know exactly which unhealthy indulgence will lead to societal condemnation, but its omnipresent threat persuades them to adopt society’s body-negative, healthist norms as their own. In PLL, “A” serves as another mani-
festation of this panopticon—like the prison guard, the figure monitors the girls with its manipulative, oppressive gaze and punishes them for their transgressions. As a result, they adopt “A’s” rules of conduct as their own, constantly monitoring their behavior and those of their friends. PLL did not get its name by simply featuring pretty girls who lie; it also showcases the way in which “A” forces them to continue their deceit by threatening to reveal information that would cause them to be ostracized by their small-town community. Therefore, the girls must face two panopticons—they must act both in accordance with “A’s” demands and with those of a healthist, postfeminist society that harshly regulates their choices. It’s no wonder that food/horror rhetoric is so prevalent in PLL. The girls fear “A” because she/he can harm them—ostracize them, hurt them, and humiliate them. Women fear food for the same reason; it has become inextricably linked to isolation, rejection, and bodily harm. Perhaps Kolbeins’ next project could tackle the food/ horror politics of fashion magazines or diet guides—but by the time he finishes that, even more sinister villains will have entered the scene.
by Margaret Abbey
nce’s o y e dB the ays n d a n a a odw Gag de o Lady hone” Vi uthern Fo p “Tele ring of So Qu e e
Art by Grant Phillips “Lady Gaga: You sure you want to do this, Honey Bey/Bee? Beyoncé, defiantly: What do you mean ‘am I sure’? Lady Gaga, coyly: You know what they say…once you kill the cow, you gotta make a burger” And kill the cow she did. Forty pounds of flank steak later, sheared and secured with nylon thread to perfection, Lady Gaga’s Franc Fernandez creation was a more-than-memorable piece of MTV’s 2010 Video Music Awards: it gained infamy. Popularly referred to as ‘the meat dress,’ the sheer largesse of its infamy secured a current place in the “Women Who Rock” exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, albeit as a taxidermy’d beef-jerky version of its formerly raw glory.
The meaning of the meat dress is un-
clear. However, I believe that this dramatic statement was merely one example of how Lady Gaga has used performing arts - specifically incorporating imagery of food - to make bold postfeminist statements about the commodification and manifest-consumption of the female body. 2010 was an all-around memorable year in Gaga’s historiography, as it also marked the debut of what is now an ongoing collaboration with the reigning queen of pop culture, Beyoncé, with the release of the song “Telephone.” The music video for the song begins in a women’s prison, called “Prison for Bitches,” that—spoiler alert—temporarily houses Gaga before she is bailed out by her partner-in-crime, Beyoncé, also known as Honey Bey/Bee. With a partnership reminiscent of Thelma and Louise, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are implied to hatch a plot to murder Honey
Bey/Bee’s boyfriend. Moving from empty the Diet Coke cans used as hair rollers, to the Honey Bun pastry that is intimately shared between Gaga and Honey Bey/Bee in the Pussy Wagon (yes, that Pussy Wagon from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill trilogy), to the greasy diner in which Gaga and Honey Bey/Bee poison the latter’s boyfriend (with a plate loaded with fluffy biscuits, sunny-side-up eggs, and bacon), it becomes clear that food plays an essential role in “Telephone.” Contrary to how the video appears upon first glance (as a hypersexualized, standard-fare music video), “Telephone” functions as a cultural critique that illuminates how subversion from the norm can be woven into a media text by using food. As implied by her meat dress, Gaga is no stranger to conveying messages
of radical feminism embedded within a postfeminist context, and she continues this trope of neofeminist subversion in the film-style music video for “Telephone” (which was conceptualized by her and the somewhat controversial Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund). I argue that through the food-centric visual narrative, interactions, and dialogue of “Telephone,” Gaga and Beyoncé destabilize conceptions of heteronormative, middle-/upper-class white postfeminism through the visceral queering of two umbrella Southern foodways that are often maligned in popular culture: that of Southern, African-American foodways and that of Southern, ‘white-trash’ foodways. Furthermore, the social inedibility of these two foodways is made socially edible through the actual consumption of food performed by Gaga and Honey Bey/Bee—but markedly, not their overconsumption, pointing to a critique of the consumptive nature of capitalism, which thrives off of these paradigms of heteronormativity, white supremacy, and classism (the very paradigms that “Telephone” seeks to destabilize). One of the most powerful scenes in the music video is when Honey Bey/ Bee feeds Gaga a Honey Bun, which can be seen as synecdoche: the Honey Bun as representing Honey Bey/ Bee’s femininity. But why are Honey Bey/Bee and her various attributes portrayed as edible—or things that may be consumed as in eating as well as sexually consumed? What was the point of Honey Bey/Bee feeding Gaga? As Wazana Tompkins points out in her book Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century, there is a long, Anglo-American tradition of portraying the Black body as being edible as part of a nationalist narrative about
eating as a social practice that advanced certain sociopolitical interests. When Honey Bey/Bee feeds Gaga the Honey Bun, she not only invokes the trope of the edibility of the Black body, but also invokes queerness through the conflation of her offering up some of herself (as represented by the Honey Bun) to Gaga—a queerness that becomes racialized in Honey Bey/Bee’s intolerance of Gaga’s prolonged bite, and in which Honey Bey/Bee actively exercises agency to reclaim ‘her’ honey bun from Gaga’s unyielding mouth by forcibly pulling it away. At that moment, Honey Bey/Bee reclaims control of the narrative, as having power over the manner in which her body is to be consumed, the manner in which her femininity is to be consumed. In the end, when she throws the twice-bitten Honey Bun out of the not-coincidentally-used Pussy Wagon, this is not an action that is meant to represent the devaluing of the lower-socioeconomic foodways that the Honey Bun is associated with, but rather eschews the Honey Bun’s connection to herself as a representation of her femininity—or everything that femininity ‘should’ entail: sweetness and vapidity (as the nutritional content of a Honey Bun is practically null). It is here, with the Honey Bun, that Southern, ‘white-trash’ foodways and Southern, African-American foodways meet and coalesce. The queering of femininity into what is not stereotypically ‘acceptable’ is a motif that continues on, and is encapsulated in Honey Bey/Bee’s boyfriend dying from trying to over-consume Honey Bey/Bee’s poison-laced “honey,” as she herself puts it. By flipping the script, in which sweet, seemingly innocuous honey is turned into a mur-
der weapon, Honey Bey/Bee similarly flips the heteronormative standard, expectation, of femininity to be docile, sweet, and always dominated by and paired with ‘traditional’ masculinity with underlying tones of misogyny. In the same manner, femininity is queered throughout the diner mass-murder scene, in which food prepared by ‘feminine’ hands is not nourishing, but deadly. The synecdoche drawn between Honey Bey/Bee’s breasts and the chicken of the Double-Breasted Drive Thru also challenges the consumption of the black body, as the pervasive, denigrating stereotypes of African Americans consuming chicken are destabilized by the queering of Honey Bey/Bee’s sexuality in relation to Gaga. In introducing the text Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture, editors Martin Iddon and Melanie L. Marshall cogently point out that during the mass-dance scene in the aftermath of the mass murder in the diner, amongst a hoard of “…victims’ bodies: regular Americans who died from consuming toxic diner food,” Gaga and Beyoncé wear “red, white, and blue figure-hugging outfits [that] usually mark superheroes who expend their energies saving citizens, not murdering them.” This contrast is presented within the storied regularity of American diner food: burgers, fries, and ketchup; sunny-side-up eggs, bacon, and biscuits; waffles, as well of a more overtly socioeconomically-raced Americana encapsulated by Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip that are associated with a Southern ‘whitetrash’ food culture. Here, using the mass-murder scene, “Telephone” constructs what I call a compound, visceral queering: the music video takes al-
38 Dial M For Motherfucker
Dial M For Motherfucker
ready semi-queer foodways belonging to Southern, ‘white-trash’ culture and exponentially increases their queerness by turning them from nourishing and fetishized to fatally toxic.
Well, what exactly are quintessential, Southern, ‘white-trash’ foodways, and how are they symbolized by the presence of the foods in “Telephone”? Starting with the two most visible symbols, Miracle Whip (also known as fake mayonnaise) and Wonder Bread, these white-hued foodstuffs are processed marvels of industrial food, and it is their status as processed foods that have moved them to the ‘bottom’ rungs of the food hierarchy. In an alimentary climate characterized by artisanal breads, specialty, small-batch condiments, and ‘whole’ foods, consuming fast and processed foods is not only perceived as out of touch with the current food trends, but also is a cultural indicator of class. Geographer and political-economy scholar Aaron Bobrow-Strain, in his extensive study of industrial, pre-sliced bread (encapsulated with the symbol of Wonder Bread), points to the association of pre-sliced processed bread with shifting, ironic meanings of bad, from the 1960s counterculture’s identification of white bread as “everything bland, homogenous, suburban, chemical, and corporate—everything that the counterculture hoped to upend.” Not coincidentally, this shift in white bread’s badness occurred with the increasing socioeconomic stratification of Ameri-
can society and the emergence of the ‘yuppie’ class that wanted to pay more for food, and could afford to, unlike those socioeconomic segments of society that were trampled underneath the surge of the financial sector’s power. Thus, the perception attached to ‘white-trash’ foodways is that it consists of the ‘worst’ possible foods for your health, which translates into fast, as well as processed, foods, and carries the moral burden of ashamedness because of the socially-imbued association with poverty. In our post-Supersize Me and post-Food, Inc.-era, this sense of ashamedness carries over to the once-juggernaut of the American food landscape in the Twentieth Century, McDonald’s. So, past the cruel pragmatics of taking no prisoners and leaving no witnesses, why did Gaga and Honey Bey/Bee murder the diner patrons with such heavily meaningful foods? The key to this question lay in the trope of overconsumption. Just as Honey Bey/Bee’s no-good boyfriend was shown to have greedily eaten his poisoned breakfast, there is a minute-long montage of the diner patrons similarly gorging themselves on Gaga’s poisoned fare, with zoomed-in shots of loquaciously chewing mouths. By using edible staples of Americana that have been physically perversified by being doused in poison and morally transgressed by gluttonous consumption, “Telephone” offers a critique of the over-consumptive nature of American capitalism, as
ironically captured by the music video’s numerous product placements. It is this overconsumption that marks the downfall of the diner patrons, and, drawing a parallel, it is the same overconsumption—this time, of the hypersexualized, popular-culture stardom variety—that “Telephone” suggests will ultimately cause capitalism’s downfall. In “Telephone,” Gaga and Beyoncé make a larger commentary and critique about the exercise of agency within the heavily postfeminist and capitalistic context that is female-musician stardom and the music industry as a whole. They use a facet that is ubiquitous to human survival and experience—food and consumption—in order to bring maligned, marginalized voices into the largely white, heteronormative, and ‘traditional’ spheres of pop culture. Make no mistake, “Telephone” does tow a blurry line between laudatory inclusion and objectifying commodification, but ends up on the side of the former, making legible through the food(ways) of voices and lived experiences otherwise devalued by the mainstream.
Food For Thought by Andrew Miller
Advice from Friends These are the faces you see everyday at lunch. We took the time to ask our dining staff what was on their minds. Here is what they want you to know. Take the time to ask them yourself the next time you grab a bite on campus.
Lorena Smith “Just be yourself and never think that you’re more than anybody else. That’s what I tell them, because you’re young you’ve got a long way in life to go. If you always stay down and respect. For some people their education gets them, but you’re supposed to get the education! Just be yourself and you’ll have a good life!”
“It’s actually quite engaging to work here while being a student because I’ll see a student or undergrad with their heads down and you know what I’m saying? ‘Cheer up! It’s not that bad!’ My struggle as a student encourages the undergrads, you know? To say ‘Okay, another day and I’m done.’ Stay focused, stay motivated, and stay encouraged. Gain self love, gain self care, gain understanding of what you lack, and always be self-sufficient where you can!”
Brittany Neely “Just keep going! No matter what life brings to you, just keep going! Good or bad just, keep going and don’t let anything stop you. You’re going to get bills, but keep on going. Make sure to pay them! You might think “Oh my God,” but you have to look at the big picture. What are you coming here for? You know what I mean?”
Keith Harris and Carlos Washington Keith: “Keep being positive. Don’t second-guess yourselves on these big exams. Learn to be calm. Keep smiling! And come to eat everything we have whenever we have it!” Carlos: “He took the words right out of my mouth!”
Anne Misuraca “To really see and help yourself and others, you need to do tomorrow’s work yesterday. That’s how they do it in New York! See what you’ll need in the future and do it in advance!”
â€œA human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time they come afterwards. A man dies and is buried, and all his words and actions are forgotten, but the food he has eaten lives after him in the sound or rotten bones of his children. I think it could be plausibly argued that changes of diet are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion....Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognized. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market gardeners.â€? -George Orwell, Road to Wigan Pier
Student produced food and culture magazine from Washington University in STL