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Food, Class, and Cosmo

on February 25, 2012

For the past few classes, we have been talking about the connection between tastes and power. I’ve been thinking about this on my own too. How do our understandings of food allow us to distinguish ourselves in terms of class or power?

One of the ways this has stuck out to me is in reading fashion magazines. True confessions: I’m not doing homework 100% of the time (sorry, Mom). And one of my suitemates had a whole stack of Glamour and Cosmo magazines that she was getting rid of. So before she let them go, I gave them a final look through. The last few pages of Cosmo always have food tips and they are always about how to lose weight while still eating a lot of food, how to impress guests with your cooking skills, and how to put ingredients together to make something new and exciting. There are a few ways this made me think about how food leads to class distinction:

1-      I think in America, we place a lot of value on two opposing, but equally significant ideas: indulgence and self-control. The more you indulge, the more you can afford to invest in a certain quantity/quality of product (in this example, food). And the more self-control you display, the more you demonstrate your worth as a hard worker and overall reliable person. These Cosmo food tips illustrate both of those without blatantly doing so. The first message the magazine sends is “eat lots of delicious food” and “eat as much as you want.” The second is “get skinny” and “maintain a certain ‘look.’”

2-      The second part of these opposing messages is that they are pretty much associated with a certain class. The poorest people aren’t concerned with “good” food, whether “good” refers to aesthetic appeal, ingredient quality or health value. What matters most for them is that they can get the most food for the cheapest price. However, upper and middle class people can afford healthier ingredients and probably have the luxury of free time in which they can prepare food in the healthiest ways.

3-      Finally, with higher class comes the expectation that you will understand more about nutrition and culture in the context of food. I think there is an expectation that when a person has money, they will pay attention to the food they eat. They will watch cooking shows, travel to experience authentic “ethnic” foods, experiment with new ingredients, etc. This signals to other people that they have culture and class and good taste, which is clearly highly valued in our society.

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