Special Session Summary Consuming Food: Discourses and Practices of Freedom, Politics, and the Future


Lisa Penaloza (2003) ,"Special Session Summary Consuming Food: Discourses and Practices of Freedom, Politics, and the Future", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 68-71.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 68-71



Lisa Penaloza, University of Colorado, USA

This session aims to stimulate debate and research development by providing three contrasting perspectives on contemporary food consumption. The study of food consumption offers insight into the nature of consumer behavior as a function of its unique qualities, as well as those generalizable to other consumption behaviors. Unique qualities of food stem from its being a particular type of consumer product that is ingested into the human body. However, the carnal, sensory properties of food consumption, as a base behavior we share with other animals as necessary to survive, tend to be downplayed. More common is attention to the intense psychological and social meanings derived in consuming food. In this sense food consumption is similar to the consumer behavior of other artifacts in being invested with intense psycho-social meanings related to the body, identity, and social categories such as class, ethnicity and nationality, and as a physical product managed through distribution channels linking corporations to retail outlets to household and individual consumption (Mintz 1996, 1985; Adams 1990; Elias 1978).

Historically, studies of food consumption reflect multiple intellectual perspectives and developments in academic disciplines which have contributed to the field of consumer behavior. For example, political economic studies of food consumption dating from the early 1900’s were concerned with rationalizing distribution systems, and food safety. By the 1940’s psychological studies emphasized latent motivations for food consumption, such as explanations for housewives’ resistance to instant coffee in terms of its inability to express their devotion to their families (Bartels 1986). Trends of modernization are readily evident in food studies as well, as the study of food consumption mirrors changes in food production over a fascinating trajectory from fresh foods, to canned, frozen and prepared foods, to genetically altered Frankenfoods (Mintz 1996). Paradoxically, modern technologies of food production offered dualities varying between the hopes that industrialization would feed the world and end human suffering, as perfected crops would transcend natural limitations, and the fears that humans will soon overwhelm the food supply, while genetic mutations will eventually threaten our means of survival. To date marked contrasts between developed and developing nations regarding food consumption continue; overabundance characterizes the food markets in wealthy countries, while millions of people die from starvation and suffer from malnutrition in developing nations. Contemporary developments in food studies range from attempts to link efficiencies of food production to remedy global hunger, to studies of changing dietary patterns and cultural values with fast foods, to examinations of the intense psycho-social dynamics of eating disorders, and efforts better manage food safety and ethnical issues related to technological advancements in mass production and genetic engineering (Mintz 1985, 1996; Smith 1991; Fishler 1990; Jonia 1995; Pimental 1994).

The general orientation of the session is interpretive, in bringing together papers dealing with such topics as globalization and consumption of foreign foods, the exoticism and selective rendering of history for foods consumed as leisure/tourism activities, consumption of foods with high fat content, and the political and institutional dynamics of regulating food safety. The unit of analysis varies as well, as individual, household, cultural group, and macro institutional dimensions of food consumption are addressed. The first three papers deal with psychological and social dimensions. The first paper begins the session demonstrating how foods are employed in conveying the properties of cultural groups, as Guion focuses on the role of food consumption in conveying culture for tourists. In the second paper Kaazi and Pe±aloza food consumption practices are viewed as fertile terrain for examining the negotiation of individual and group identities and values, respectively, including those related to the nation-state and household. In the third paper, Askegaard examines phobias associated with the consumption of fat in foods against the backdrop of social pressures to conform to standards of health and slimness. Finally, the fourth paper takes an institutional, political economy perspective. Acknowledging changes in the institutional configuration of nations in Europe regarding consumption for their citizens, the increasing power of multinational agriculture companies, and the increasing significance of trade in international relations, Kalfagianni takes a network analysis perspective to food regulation in response to meat in the European Union.

Overall this session should stimulate discussion and debate regarding a number of issues central to the field of consumer behavior. First, the role of social contexts as more than extraneous factors influencing consumer behavior is emphasized. Instead differences between developing versus developed nation states, leisure versus routine household settings, social class, gender and history play formative roles in constituting different consumption behaviors. Second this collection of papers articulates important processes through which identities are produced and maintained in and through consumption artifacts. In this sense, foods serve as the means for consumers in crafting understandings of themselves as human subjects, and of the world around them. The unique properties of food in nourishing the body are important; however, the body is filtered through the mind, in the form of narrative-based understandings. Finally, food consumption entails more than the activities of consumers, as government policy, agricultural lobbies, and corporate interests come together in important ways in enacting the demonstrably social milieu in which consumers operate.

This session should appeal to consumer behavior researchers interested in identity/ self-fulfillment, gender and household roles, globalization and tourism. This work should also appeal to public policy administrators in the area of nutrition, symbolic consumption, and international regulatory and policy development.




Deirdre T. Guion, University of Utah, USA

In the marketing of New Orleans, music, food and entertainment feed the larger discourse of the hedonic and gastronomic spectacle attracting millions of domestic and International visitors each year. This study explores and critiques how the marketing and consumption of food play prominently into one particular discourse of New OrleansBthe nostalgia of antebellum Southern hospitality. I begin by reviewing theoretical work on the production of cultural knowledge and how it is situated within particular socio-historical contexts. I then proceed using discourse analysis methodology to examine the intertextuality of the visual and the verbal in the official tourism website of New Orleans and two travel brochures, emphasizing the food section as a system of communication within the larger socio-historical context of the city. The final section of the paper develops implications regarding the marketing and consumption of culture, as multiple cultural representations of food feed into the larger discourse of the unique consumption experience of New Orleans.

Seminal to the theoretical development in this research is the work of Michel Foucault. Foucault’s conceptualization of discourse considers how historically and culturally located systems of power and knowledge construct subjects and their worlds. Foucault (1972) describes the discursive formations as "systems of dispersion," in that they consist of relations between parts of a discourse. These systems include the working attitudes, terms of reference, and courses of action suffused into social practices. Also helpful is Costa’s (1998) deployment of Said’s (1978) analysis of Orientalism, specifically how constructions of superiority employ the discourse of the Primitive as a powerful tool in the construction of knowledge. Costa suggests that marketing tourist destinations can be understood as discourse conveying meaning to the consumer and the consumed in their invocation of otherness and the primitive.

Data consists of the official website of tourism for the city of New Orleans, www.neworleansonline.com and two travel brochuresBThe Good Times Guide and Christmas New Orleans Style. These texts are analyzed for the prevalence of themes communicating the role of food and the visual images that support the textual communication (Gill 1996). A concatenation of music, food and entertainment in the marketing of New Orleans form the systems of dispersion manifest in places, events and personalities. The French Quarter, Jackson Square and the Garden District, mark the influence of French and Spanish history in architecture and space. Mardi Gras, the Jazz Fest and the Christmas Reveillon convey entertainment and revelry as a way of lifeCThe Big Easy. Celebrity chefs and cooks, e.g., Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, and the late, yet still celebrated Justin Wilson, act as ambassadors of the mysterious creole and Cajun cuisine legitimizing high gastronomy, while the music of Louis Armstrong, The Neville Brothers, and Harry Connick, Jr. validate New Orleans as the birthplace of Jazz.

Findings suggest that the sites simultaneously invoke and recreate a romanticized, stereotyped New Orleans of the Old South as currently available and accessible for all to consume. The verbal and visual representations of food casually combine the customs of distinct ethnic groups, while downplaying the contributions of Africans and ignoring the contributions of Native Americans. Behind the mouth-watering images and descriptions of this time-honored, mysterious cuisine, resides a nostalgic discourse that embraces and celebrates the exclusive luxury of Creole aristocracy and ignores the oppressive history of antebellum Southern hospitality. Implications discuss: 1) cultural principles underlying this selective rendering of cultural history for tourist consumption, 2) the role of these cultural discourses of New Orleans as is relates to tourist consumption of the place, and 3) the complex, contradictory interweavings of civilization and refinement with the primitive and the carnal as it relates to discourse and practices of food consumption.



Saadia Kaazi, University of Colorado, USA

Lisa Penaloza, University of Colorado, USA

Markets are an important site of cultural dynamics, with consumers and marketers serving as important agents of social change. In the contemporary global economy, a major area of cross-cultural confrontation and corresponding social change is international trade. Consumers attribute to products and companies identities and meanings linked to the foreign nations from which the products originate (Gurhan-Canli and Maheswaran (2000). At the same time, consumers imbue them with localized meanings as a function of domestic personal and social dynamics (Ohnuki-Tierney 1997).

In this research we use ethnographic methods to explore consumers’ understandings of market development by focusing on food consumption patterns in Karachi, Pakistan. While it is likely that third world consumers exhibit an analogous mix of foreign and domestic food consumption, how cultural meanings come to be attributed to domestic and foreign foods, and how these meanings are embedded within intra-national and international cultural dynamics are of interest.

Theoretically, we draw insights from previous research on national development, cross cultural consumer behavior, and market signification. At the macro level, such issues as respective stages in market development across nations, economic and political policies managing industrialization/modernization, and relations between nations of differing levels of development, especially relations between former colonizing nations and their former colonies are relevant (Mintz 1996). The predominance of market capitalism as the means of national development worldwide has spurred intense debates regarding on the one hand enhanced national power, wealth, and democracy with expansions of international trade and market capitalist economic programs. On the other hand, critics charge severe limits on national autonomy, losses of cultural traditions, and exacerbated gaps between the "haves" and "have nots," as multinational corporations extract more and more capital from developing nations (Lechner and Boli (2000). Against this backdrop, we are interested in the ways various discourses of market and national development are played out politically in Pakistan, and in international relations between this nation and developed nations such as Britain and the United States.

Our purpose in going into the household is to explore how these larger socio-political currents filter into consumers’ daily lives. Thus, the second part of this work is micro in its orientation, and examines gender roles, women’s educational and employment levels, concepts of childhood, and tensions between individual autonomy and familial expectations. Because our focus s on food consumption, we are particularly interested in the relative presence and significance of foreign and domestic foods, how food consumption differs at home as compared to away from home, various household roles related to food, activities with friends and family, and individual activities related to food consumption.

In exploring food consumption in Pakistan in this way, we hope to stimulate theoretical and substantive discussion regarding the important nexus of national development, household dynamics, and personal freedom. Previous research on globalization has highlighted the concept of hybridity, as elements of the domestic and foreign collide and interpenetrate. Clearly various stages of development simultaneously co-exist in different sectors of society and do not necessarily entail a direct temporal sequence from Third to First world models of development, as Alvarado (1996) noted. Our goal is to move beyond recognition of the presence of products and meanings systems related to multiple cultural domains in Third World nations, to begin to unravel the respective roles of discourses and practices regarding the nation-state, the household, and the individual as they overlap in fashioning ideals of freedom, health and status.



Soren Askegaard, SDU Odense University, Denmark

"Nothing was forbidden but most anything was dangerous. Ultimately, all the things in our houses and surroundings were threatening in one way or the other. We became more and more afraid, because we felt surrounded by evil spirits, spirits which lived in our clothes and our food. Spirits who would make us ill or even kill us. These spirits were called Calories, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Asthma, and Cancer. It was hopeless to avoid them. Even the light and the air could lead to what was called a premature death. It sounded like one could die before one died, and that really sounded scary." Jacob Jonia (1995)

In this retrospective portrait of the time around the turn of the 21st Millennium, Danish author Jacob Jonia captures the essence of what this paper is about. The paper grows out of a larger project investigating the lipophobia of modern societies, i.e., that they express a deep anxiety of fat and fatness (Fischler 1990). From many contemporary medical and governmental sources, fatness is presented as one of the potentially most costly and lethal epidemics of late modern society. One the other hand, though biased towards the lipophobic side, public discourses about health and well being are far from unanimous. The background for this paper represents an attempt to understand how consumers experience and negotiate the contradictory messages of hedonism and asceticism, indulgence or health advanced by various professional, commercial, personal and governmental agents (Warde 1997).

The more specific aspect of this investigation emphasized here is the degree to which current lipophobic discourses have generated a kind of food scare that is different from the "standard" food scares discussed in the media (e.g., unwanted ingredients found in food products, or a more general scepticism towards modern production technologies such as genetically modified organisms (cf., Ekstrom & Askegaard 2000). Lipophobia is oriented towards food in general and has potential consequences of anxiety-related attitudes and concerns regarding what might be perceived by others as normal food products. These attitudes may appear to range from the slightly peculiar to the outright bizarre. This kind of food scare is not an equivalent to pathological eating patterns like anorexia or bulimia, although for some unfortunate people it might be a step on the way to developing such diseases.

The empirical material of the paper consists of investigations of 40 young women’s (20 Danish and 20 Swedish) relationship to consumption of fat, to their own bodies and to their consumption in the realms of food, leisure and fashion. Only the data pertaining to food are used in this context. The empirical study took place in three steps. In a first step, empirical material was collected through an adapted use of the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET), generating a set of projective data. In a second step, this data set was discussed in a semi-structured interview with informants. Finally, the informants were gathered in focus groups of approximately 6 participants each in order to discuss researcher-provided material covering, sometimes in a provocative way, the different discourses on lipophobia.

The paper thus provides a metaphorically and cross-culturally rooted image of consumers’ fat intake and dietary practices. It furthermore represents an attempt to destigmatize consumers’ body imagery, inform future food policies, and analyze to what degree the food industry satisfies public and private interests in consumers’ dietary patterns. In these ways the paper contributes to an understanding of the complex role of food consumption or non-consumption in a contemporary food market, where the body is in focus as a personal and social asset, and where food thus becomes a primary locus of meaning for many consumers. "And since we did not have to fight for our food, we started to fight against it" (Jonia 1995).



Agni Kalfagianni, Universiteit Twente-BSK, The Netherlands

This paper analyses and explains the political feasibility and potential effectiveness of EU and Dutch policy proposals fostering transparency in the Dutch meat chain. Our analysis provides a clear insight on the way the level of transparency in the meat chain is decided in the Netherlands, and the implications such decisions have for the consumption choices of the final consumer.

The several food crises that outburst in Europe recently resulted in a major public distrust in food handling and regulation and an urgent call for reform of food policies (Vos 2000; Smith 1991). The EU and national authorities, realizing the economic losses incurred by the food industry, the potential threat to the smooth functioning of the common market, and the political consequences faced by the bodies responsible for food, decided to proceed to a reorganization of the food policies, placing consumer health safety at the fore. Under this spirit, transparency in the food chain received central attention as a prerequisite to restore consumer confidence to the food industry, on the one hand, and to the ability of public authorities to protect public health, on the other.

As a consequence, a number of policy proposals have been initiated at the EU level (Revised General Product Safety Directive 2001/95/EC, EU Food Law Regulation 2001/95/EC), and a number of initiatives are being undertaken at the Dutch level (i.e. the establishment of Information Chain Technology in the food chain) to foster transparency in the food chain, from farm to table. As yet no final decisions have been made.

In this study we explain how the network of public and private actors in the Netherlands, which has evolved around the issue of transparency, influence the final provisions of the identified EU and Dutch policy proposals, determining in that way their political feasibility and potential effectiveness (Kellow and Zito 2002; Ligteringen 1999; Kassim 1994). More specifically, we use a policy network approach to assess actors’ policy preferences, as well as their resources and relations (Greer 2002; Konig and Brauninger 1998). Thereby we assess in what way and to what extent the identified actors can influence the fate of policy proposals. In short, actors’ positions explain the direction of influence, be it positive or negative. Actors’ resources explain their ability to exert influence. Among the important resources we have identified are: political authority and legl rights, financial resources, internal coherence, availability of expertise, and information on other actors’ positions and resources. Finally, actors’ relations explain further their ability to exert influence through access to and coalitions with other important actors.

The basic tool for data collection is structured interviews with representatives of the most important actors around the Dutch meat chain, including governmental organisations, food companies, meat processors, retailers, consumers’ organisations, independent food organisations. Information is also being gathered from policy documents, research institutes and the literature.


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Lisa Penaloza, University of Colorado, USA


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