Understanding the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food as a form of communication, critical/cultural scholars approach food and food related activities as texts, asking questions about power, identity, political economy, and culture. The emergent field of critical food studies represents a growing interdisciplinary interest in taking food seriously. Approaching cultural practices as the site of resistance to and incorporation into hegemonic social structures, cultural studies orients us towards questions regarding the politics of food practices with an eye towards social justice. Framed by an awareness of the performativity of cultural practices, both food studies and critical cultural studies engage questions of subjectivity, symbolic meaning, institutional power, identity, and consumption.
Broadly speaking, critical cultural studies scholars examine foodways—the cultural, social, and economic aspects of the production and consumption of food—as (a) symbolic repertoires for the production of social identity; (b) a site of cultural performance; and (c) a metaphor for race, class, gender, and sexuality within popular culture. These areas overlap, reinforce, and problematize each other, and are not intended to provide an exhaustive account of the approaches critical cultural scholars take when integrating food studies into their research.
As symbolic repertoires, food, foodways, and cuisine are often understood as integral to articulating identity around nationhood, race and ethnicity, class, and gender. Food, foodways, and cuisine provide potent examples of how symbols construct knowledge and meaning. As a site of cultural performance, foodways are understood as part of a cultural system embedded within a matrix of rituals, values, and practices that comprise the rhythm of daily life. Paying attention to food as performance reveals the intricacies of our understandings of and negotiations between self and community; nostalgia and the present moment; home and away; family and individual. Finally, cultural studies deconstructs the metonymic functions of food as presented in media texts. Methodologically, this research provides a textual analysis of how particular foodstuffs function rhetorically within media texts. Theoretically, it provides an important addition to our understanding of the workings of hegemony within the context of food as a metaphor for race, ethnicity, and gender, particularly on cable networks, reality TV, and in film.