"Food Media and the shaping of taste:
authenticity, exoticism, and categories of recommendation"
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Abstract: In their study of gourmet food writing, Johnston and Baumann (2007) argue that for foodies, food is legitimised when it can be framed as authentic or exotic. They cite four attributes used to construct authenticity–geographic specificity, simplicity, personal connection and historicism (tradition)–and categorise as exotic foods which in some way fall outside the mainstream, challenge accepted norms or are difficult to obtain. This paper argues that underlying these frames of authenticity and exoticism are more fundamental values which food writers draw on to validate their choices and underpin their concept of legitimate taste. These are the eight ‘principles of recommendation’ which Warde (1997) identified from his study of the way recipes were promoted in women’s magazines and which he grouped into four pairs of antinomies–novelty/tradition, health/indulgence, economy/extravagance, and, care/convenience. Warde claims that these are the eight categories of judgement regularly used to guide practical conduct and aesthetic appreciation and demonstrated how the relative importance of these principles of recommendation varied over time. Authenticity and exoticism then can be read as the manifestation of the current tension between these opposites.
Alison Vincent has qualifications in science (BSc, Food Technology, UNSW) and history (BA, MLitt, UNE) and a PhD from Central Queensland University. She is a student of Australia’s food culture, with research interests including restaurant criticism and the role of restaurant criticism in establishing standards of good taste, the social history of dining out and the history of writing about food in Australia. Some of the results of her research have been published in Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, Proceedings of the Dublin Gastronomy Symposium, TEXT (Journal of the Australian Association of Writing Programs), Lilith: A Feminist History Journal and The Journal of Australian Studies. Contact email – email@example.com
Noted. I'll have to check out Warde's body of work. Thanks Jean.
Strong paper. Disengaging with 'authenticity' is a smart move, as would be 'quality' if a deadline is nearby, though these categories are not always avoidable. There is work from the anthropology of food that tends to be more readable than sociology, I'd say. The book by Richard Wilk Home Cooking in the Global Village comes to mind.
A thoughtful and well-considered paper that provokes thinking beyond its structured boundaries – legitimate taste in food media has multiple levels of entry and departure. Loved it Alison! This has me going along another previously unexplored thread in my own research. Thank you and congratulations!
It has been interesting in my own work to discover that 'Health' and 'Hedonism' for instance, are seen as mutually exclusive. Further that 'hedonism' is seen as a synonym for both Gluttony and Debauchery. These binaries are amazing fuel for further research!
An interesting comment, Alison. I must admit I have trouble with most binaries, even tradition/novelty, but agree they can be used to make a point or to examine degrees of difference. I suppose it depends how baldly ) or not) these oppositions are applied. You should keep writing on this! It’s very pertinent to recent debates as well as previous ones ...
Alison, a brief but extremely lucid paper (I wanted more). And it was great to see you taking on some of the foundational theory (even if relatively recent) of food studies. My own reflections centre on the opposing "authentic" and "exotic" anyway. I'm not sure it's quite so clearcut, even though you hint this yourself with these categories being "not entirely independent" in foodie arguments. Can taste/tastes be both authentic and exotic, I wonder? For example, a lot of those arguments re culinary colonisation seem to assume a certain frisson from a combination of these qualities? Perhaps there is pleasure in eating the exotic, the unfamiliar knowing it is authentic in someone else's culture and distinguishing oneself by doing so? Just ruminating. Let's talk more ...
Great analytical framework Alison. Authenticity always slippery but the notion of exotic is alluring. The practical 'authentic' vs indulgent 'gourmet' (noting that the 'g' word is not used) has seen lamb shanks accelerating in price, brisket the latest victim of similar trend, and Ottolenghi's black garlic sprouts come to mind - retail $10 - $15 garlic to dress $7 worth of sprouts. Food media's job is essentially the 'emperor's new clothes'; its lifeblood reliant on making (suggesting, manipulating, representing) the traditional or authentic, exotic.
I really enjoyed your paper, Alison. Indulgence really drives traffic in Instagram posts. (Want high volume traffic? Post dessert.)
It would be interesting to look at where different types of media sit on a continuum between Warde's four antinomies.
@Alison Vincent will be chatting about her paper in the Symposium Saturday (17th July) zoom sessions. Schedule is coming and will be posted in all the usual places.
Ooooh...I landed on the old 'Health vs Indulgence' (apparent) mutual exclusivity! I am so glad you're diving deeper into the vaguaries and utter questionability of narrative gastronomic paradigms! An extremely enjoyable read, and a great kick-off to a larger discussion.
Alison - a great paper and I absolutely agree that Warde's antinomies are a good lens through which to look at the way that food media has shaped Australian tastes!