Hysmith on Goldthwaite, 'Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics'

Author: 
Melissa A. Goldthwaite, ed.
Reviewer: 
KC Hysmith

Melissa A. Goldthwaite, ed. Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics. Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms Series. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2017. 296 pp. $40.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8093-3590-9

Reviewed by KC Hysmith (University of North Carolina) Published on H-Environment (October, 2020) Commissioned by Daniella McCahey (Texas Tech University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55163

In the not-so-distant past, food and cookbooks were unlikely fields of study for most feminist scholars. Attempting to divorce their subjects (and often themselves) from historically negative and gendered associations with domestic labor, feminist scholars purposefully avoided centering food in their work. However, in line with feminist rhetorical practice, which asks scholars to question what rhetorical subjects are considered worthy of attention and study, Melissa A. Goldthwaite’s Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics argues that understanding messages around what and how we eat is essential for understanding society.[1] The chapters in this edited volume include a variety of sources, such as cookbooks; recipe collections; memoirs; and other written works about feasts and famines, diverse cooking practices and rituals, and representations of women’s bodies. Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics is a timely collection of eighteen chapters that interpret, critique, and uplift messaging around food and food culture.

Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics is Goldthwaite’s sixth book and her second publication focusing on food scholarship (her first was Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal [2014]). Her experience in rhetorical and literary analysis brings a refreshing approach to the feminist study of food messaging. The contributions in this edited collection demonstrate a wide and varied application of feminist rhetorical methodologies and prove that not only is food “worthy of scholarly attention,” but the women involved with food messaging are worthy of study, too (p. 5).

Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics consists of an introduction and four stand-alone but congruous parts, each containing three to six short chapters. Goldthwaite’s introduction describes the current field of food studies and demonstrates how the use of rhetorical analysis combined with feminist ethics results in new and complex contextual representations of food and food-related subjects, as well as the scholars engaged in this work. To this end, the chapters throughout Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics comprise a delightful array of fields—including history, literature, media, and marketing—in which this analysis takes place. Part 1, “Purposeful Cooking: Recipes for Historiography, Thrift, and Peace,” applies narrative and rhetorical analyses to the recipe, looking at its varied forms from published cookbooks to the “embodied rhetoric” of recipes handed down generationally (p. 30). Part 2, “Defining Feminist Food Writing,” unpacks well-studied writers, such as M. F. K. Fisher, as well as contemporary representations of nonfiction food writing on food and travel blogs. The chapters become denser and increase in number in part 3, “Rhetorical Representations of Food-Related Practices,” and part 4, “Rhetorical Representations of Bodies and Cultures.” These final chapters provide useful and specific case studies for rhetorical analyses of agricultural practices, diasporic food identities, media representations of boxed wine consumption, Mexican women on food packaging, the Skinny Bitch diet, and more.

While it may appear as if the first two parts of the book lack in critical rhetorical analysis (the chapter titles alone could lead a reader to this conclusion), I find that these initial chapters actually provide space for established food studies theories, methodologies, and core texts to be combined with the feminist rhetorical approaches proposed by Goldthwaite. For example, contributor Jennifer Cognard-Black’s concept of “embodied rhetoric” builds on the foundational theory of “embodied knowledge,” which, though not original or exclusive to the field of food studies, is integral to much of modern food scholarship—especially that involving women, gender, and the type of perceived bodily knowledge typically attributed to domestic labor.[2] In a similar fashion, part 2 relies heavily on the various works of Fisher, a noted American food writer and a food scholar in her own right. Fisher’s works are practically canon in some food studies departments, and she is consistently referenced when discussions of food, professionalized food labor, and women occur. Her inclusion here is not redundant but rather serves as a useful, familiar starting place for the application of new analytical tools, including Erin Branch’s identification of rhetorical strategies in Fisher’s food writing, Lynn Z. Bloom’s analysis of ethos in Fisher’s autobiography, or Kristin Winet’s use of Fisher to set the scene for a feminist critique of contemporary culinary tourists.

Like Goldthwaite, the contributors featured in Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics each come from the fields of English, writing, or composition. Despite their limited academic representation, Goldthwaite and her contributors frequently reference established scholars from the fields of food studies, feminist studies, and communication studies. While the use of specific rhetorical and theoretical language—such as references to various concepts, including ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos—can be a bit daunting for those of us less versed in rhetorical messaging and strategies, it is important to remember that these are foundational tools of rhetoric used frequently in fields like English, composition, and communication studies. Understandably, the use of specific rhetorical methods and theories is prominent and at times overshadows applications of intersectionality and other theoretical models that center diversity. While there are certainly several instances throughout the book that could have been more developed through an intersectional lens, this absence ultimately provides the reader with an opportunity to find other texts that add to the complex story that Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics begins. Aside from the few moments of rhetorical jargon, the chapters are short and provide a wide range of practical methods that would be useful examples for students of food, writing, or feminist studies.

As a whole, this collection presents a broad range of perspectives on the intersection of feminist rhetoric and food studies. The collection is a welcome addition to existing analysis of food messaging in media, literature, and other long-studied areas of scholarship. Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics is a welcomed addition to my ever-growing shelf of feminist perspectives on the many ways food scholarship matters.

Notes 

[1]. Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch, Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012).

[2]. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith (London: Routledge, 1962).

Citation: KC Hysmith. Review of Goldthwaite, Melissa A., ed., Food, Feminisms, Rhetorics. H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. October, 2020. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55163

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