Media Food and Identity

International Symposium
University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Humanities
November13th and 14th, 2012
Auditorium 22.0.11

Forside af bogen "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution"

For registration and questions please contact Jonatan Leer,
For PhD-students it will be possible to do the confenrence as a PhD-course accredited 1 ECTS

Welcome to the Media Food and Identity-Conference.

Why is food so important in the construction of contemporary identity? What can we say (and not say) about contemporary identity when we take a closer look at the media foodscape? Are we really what we tweet?

These are just some of the questions we will be discussing during this conference. I’m very happy to present a great number of exciting papers that will take us on quite a journey: from post communist Romania over contemporary Britain and Denmark to 19th century Canada, from celebrity chefs to postmodern mothers, from idealists to escapists.

I would like to thank all the contributors for taking the time to travel to Copenhagen to enrich this conference. A special thanks to our distinguished key notes speakers Joanne Hollows, Karen Klitgaard Povlsen, Signe Rousseau, and Bente Halkier for so enthusiastically accepting the invitation to this conference.

Also a grand thank you to CEMES and TRAMS for the generous funding that has made this conference possible.

So welcome to all and I hope we will have a thoughtful and fruitful “gastroacademic” ride.

Jonatan Leer

Key note speakers:

Joanne Hollows, Nottingham Trent University (UK)

Karen Klitgaard Povlsen, University of Århus (DK)

Signe Rousseau, University of Cape Town (ZA)

Bente Halkier, University of Roskilde (DK)

This Conference is made possible with the support of:



PhD-programme in Transnational and Migration Studies (TRAMS)


Tuesday, November 13th:

10.00 – 10.15: Welcome and introduction.

Session I Moderator: Inge-Birgitte Siegumfeldt, University of Copenhagen.

10.15- 1130: The Politics of the Campaigning Culinary Documentary

 Joanne Hollows, Reader, University of Nottingham.

11.15-11.30: Break

11.30-12.45: How Danes Use Media in Relation to Food

Karen Klitgaard Povlsen, Associate professor, University of Århus

12.45-14.00: Lunch

Session II – Moderator: Stuart Ward, University of Copenhagen

14.00-14.45: Transcultural Food Exchanges in Open Letters

Vera Alexander, University of Copenhagen

14.45-15.30: Save Our Singularity: what is the Use of a National Cuisine?

Florina Pirjol, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Bucharest

15.30-15.45: Break

15.45- 16.30: Cooking as Masculine Escapism

Jonatan Leer, PhD Fellow, University of Copenhagen.



Wednesday, November 14th:

09.30-09.35: Welcome

Session III – Moderator: Jørn Boisen, University of Copenhagen

09.35-10.50: Twitter Feeding: Food, Identities, and Social Media

Signe Rousseau, Lecturer and Researcher, University of Cape Town.

10.50-11.15: Break

11.15-12.30: Contested Food and Mothering. Relations with Different Genres of Mediafood in Everyday Life

Bente Halkier, Professor, University of Roskilde.

12.30-13.30: Lunch

Session IV – Moderator: Birgit Henriksen, University of Copenhagen

13.30 – 14.15: Acquiring a Taste - Gender Strategies and Professional Identity in Making in Institutional Food Programs in Denmark 

Nanna Friche, Postdoctoral fellow, and Anna Mia Steno, PhD fellow University of Roskilde

14.15-15.00: Just Like Any Other Parent Trying to Get Their Kids to Eat Veggies... Michelle Obama,Public Image, Politics and Food.

 Katrine Meldgaard Kjær, Graduate Student, University of Copenhagen.

15.00-15.20: Break

15.20-16.00: Round Table.



The Politics of the Campaigning Culinary Documentary

Campaigning culinary documentaries are structured around a problem-solving narrative in which television personalities and celebrities drawn from the world of food media seek to utilize their status to affect some kind of social, economic or cultural change. While drawing on conventions from lifestyle programming and documentary formats, they frequently also draw heavily on conventions from reality TV. This sub-genre not only relies on the ‘makeover’ format in its use of ‘ordinary people’ whose habits must be transformed but represents the food personality or celebrity as an ‘inspirational’ figure who is potentially capable of effecting a much wider-scale makeover of institutions, industries or practices.  Many of these conventions were first utilized effectively in Jamie’s School Dinners (2005) and, in the UK, the format has remained closely associated with Channel 4 in series such as Jamie’s Ministry of Food (2008), Hugh’s Chicken Run (2008), The People’s Supermarket (2011) and Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket (2012).

In this paper, I focus on these example to explore how they represent the relationships between the classed and gendered identities of both the ‘inspirational’ food personalities at the centre of these series who act as campaigning moral entrepreneurs and the ‘ordinary people’ whose habits must be made-over or transformed if social change is to occur. I examine how these identities are associated with different ethical dispositions, both in Bourdieu’s theoretical sense of the term and in relation to more commonsense understandings of ‘ethical consumption’.  However, I also suggest that these series work to individualize social and economic problems and also work to associate political responsibility with charismatic individuals rather than government responsibility. This is located within a broader context of the current political climate in the UK.

Dr Joanne Hollows, Reader in Media and Cultural Studies, School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University (UK). For more than a decade Joanne has been a leading figure in researching media food, with numerous articles on identity construction in media food from the Playboy era to contemporary celebrity chefs as Jamie Oliver, NIgella Lawson, Heston Blumental and Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall among others. She has shown a particular interest in gender positioning and domestic culture.

How Danes Use Media in Relation to Food

The paper will present a qualitative study of how Danes use digital media in combination with more traditional media to inform, entertain and organize themselves in and around food as a field in an everyday context. The basic question is: is there any relation between media preferences and food preferences? The basic answer is: if a relation exists it is a very complex and highly individualized relation.

The 16 Danes were recruited for in-depth interviews through a survey conducted in autumn 2009. I chose informants with some media use in relation to food: 8 women and 8 men, half of them living in Copenhagen, half in Jutland, ages between 29 and 63 and educations from vocational training to university educated MAs. Thus the paper does not present the average Dane. On the contrary; all 16 informants seem individual and different in their media use, their media preferences and their food preferences. Neither age, nor gender, nor education seems to form matrixes for media uses in relation to food. The paper thus discusses food as a special field of differentiation, especially when seen through the lens of media use. Contrary to common sense, the elderly (55+) and the disabled persons were the most advanced digital media users while a few of the younger and best educated men might be called foodies or food fanatics. On the whole, all informants agreed that good food is important. Nevertheless, the understanding of what good food is seemed to differ widely from individual to individual. Almost all informants stated that they use media too much and that media use in general is bad. Nevertheless most of the informants had difficulties remembering especially their uses of the computer or laptop and could only when asked to show me on screen what they do remember their digital media practices.

Thus both fields of media use and food preferences are highly complicated fields that have to be understood as practices that are always embedded in the context of everyday life habits and patterns.

Dr Karen Klitgaard Povlsen, Associate Professor, Department of Aesthetics and Communication - Media Science, University of Århus. Karen began her many years of research on media food with her 1986 PhD thesis on aesthetics in women’s magazines. She has since written on the New Nordic Cuisine and Julia Child. More recently she has been conducting a study on the Danes’ consumption of media food.

Transcultural Food Exchanges in Open Letters

This paper will examine and contrast the representation of food in the writings by pioneers Catherine Parr Traill (1802-99) and Susanna Moodie (1803-85). Emigrating from Britain to Canada in the 1830s, both published personal guide books based on their experiences in the shape of personal letters and diaries. Traill and Moodie's autobiographical writings are personal recipes for immigrant success as a whole, telling British women what to expect and how to prepare for the Canadian bush. 

The writers approach the challenge of nation-building and the construction of a Canadian identity from a domestic angle. Food plays a crucial, connective role in this process, both in terms of imaginary, metaphorical and practical concerns: it brings people together, triggers memories and emotional responses and balance the shifting boundaries of the expanding domestic sphere and the wilderness, thereby connecting the old and the new worlds the writers experience. 

Both food and life writings have private and public dimensions. They are interactive, involving readers in a politics of transcultural development that is paradoxically both essential and discursively marginalised as forming part of the domestic sphere of Victorian womanhood. The gap between the food available prior to emigration and after opens a space for reading food in Traill and Moodie as an expression of heterotopian ambivalence. Through the medium of writing about food, describing new discoveries (eg. maple syrup, dandelion coffee and herbs on the borderline between indigenous food and medicine) and depicting them through botanical drawings Traill and Moodie traffic ambivalent attitudes about the Canada they are struggling to improve and make palatable. 

Dr Vera Alexander, University of Copenhagen. Author of Transcultural Representations of Migration and Education in South Asian Anglophone Novels and has edited essay collections on Romanticism and Indian diasporic literature. She has published widely on postcolonial and anglophone authors from South Asia, Canada and Australia, migration literature and life writing. She is completing a monograph on the representation of gardens in anglophone novels and autobiographical writings from the 1880s to the present. She currently teaches at University of Copenhagen.

Save Our Singularity: what is the Use of a National Cuisine?

We define ourselves by what we eat, but also by how we eat. However, in a world which gravitates towards a unique and uniform identity, the national cuisine becomes an increasingly tenuous concept. Turned into a cliché and depleted through overexposure by the kitschy ethno-tourism or by the Diaspora’s hazy nostalgia, the gastronomic singularity is an unconcealed living archaeological quarry. Bearer of memory and repository of unique identitary data, the national gastronomical heritage, along with language, folklore, heroes-models, cultural monuments, forms an integral part of the immutable symbols of a nation, (often enough, following a need to vindicate a cultural and historical foundation, such „traditions” were not only catalogued, but also fabricated).

In 2000, an important Romanian television network, PRO TV, began to broadcast a show about Romanian cuisine, hosted by the gastronome, bon viveur and writer Radu Anton Roman. In a country in which 83% of the population watch TV on a daily basis (according to research conducted in 2010 by the National Audiovisual Council), Radu’s Kitchen became a benchmark and had the merit of broaching the concept of Romanian national cuisine. The show rode high because it crossed the borders of a simple gastronomical performance, being at the same time a sort of bohemian roam through a rural country that kept its traditions alive, a demonstration of cooking skills and a consistent and charming dialogue about eating and food stories.

What is the use, today – in the context of globalization, but also of fusion cuisine in which all styles amalgamate and influence each other ceaselessly – to speak of a national cuisine? Is there a Romanian national cuisine (some say that it is merely a synthesis of dishes borrowed from the neighbouring nationalities)? Does this TV show get to lend credit to the concept of national cuisine, compromised by the constant trumpeting of national symbols during the communist period? What is the role of television in cultivating a sense of affiliation through food habits and how present is the subject in today media? We will try to answer all these questions by carefully canvassing the records of the TV show, but also by placing the subject in a broader context and analyzing the gastronomical identitary discourse in relation with the western models.

Dr. Florina-Elena Pirjol, postdoctoral researcher, Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest, Romania. PhD Dissertation on autofiction in Romanian post-communist literature. Current project deals with gastronomic imaginary and “food habits” in the 19th century, but also during the communist period, as reflected in fictional texts. The project combines various perspectives: anthropological, sociological, historical, literary, and aims to recover/ re-read two centuries of culture through gastronomical details found in literature.

Cooking as Masculine Escapism

The boom in food television has presented a whole new gallery of celebrity chefs. From a masculinity perspective it is striking that the majority are men and that many of them can be read as being in constant process of negotiating the ‘uncertain’ masculine position through cooking. A case in point is Jamie Oliver’s innovative show The Naked Chef in which he uses cooking to balance out competing discourses on masculinity in his cosmopolitan London life style. 

This paper sets out to investigate a very different kind of masculinity performed through cooking by reading an episode of the popular Danish food show Spise med Price, in which two brothers cook in an isolated summer house.  Theoretically this analysis will draw in Dorte-Marie Søndergaard’s theory on post-traditional gender as an act of balancing and a contextual negotiation.

It will be argued that the Price brothers are using cooking to create a performative space of homosocial bonding that allows them to play with the taboos of everyday life. Their attitude towards this homosociality is rendered ambivalent through an explicit use of irony and humour.

Finally it will be suggested that the show can be read as part of a tendency within contemporary cooking shows to portray men escaping the post-traditional social scene and its imperative for gender negotiation.

Jonatan Leer, PhD Fellow at TRAMS, University of Copenhagen. After many years’ interest in French Literature and cultural history, especially representation of love and sexuality in the work of Guillaume Apollinaire and Roland Barthes, he is now entirely devoted to the study of food cultures. Currently through a PhD-dissertation on masculinity in contemporary European food programs and cook books.

Twitter Feeding: Food, Identities and Social Media

Food and social media share two important qualities: they bring people together, and they provide endless opportunities to express our identities.

So it is no surprise that some of the most dynamic social media activities are those related to food, and that some of the most thriving virtual communities are those built around cooking and eating. But how do the constraints and fluidities of social media affect the way we represent ourselves? Do new technologies alter the what of our identities, or do they just provide a new how to express them? What happens when the proverbial milk turns sour and social media become anti-social? And what does it say about us that we pay such an inordinate amount of attention to food?

These are some of the questions that confront us in a paradoxical media landscape inhabited variously by stories of gourmet and gluttony, obesity and hunger, and an apparently insatiable appetite for all things food.

Dr Signe Rousseau teaches critical literacy at the University of Cape Town, where her doctoral work was driven by the question of why chefs have become the new superstars. Signe is the author of Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference and Food and Social Media: You Are What You Tweet. She is also a contributing author to numerous food media-related publications, including Icons of American Cooking, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, and A Cultural History of Food.

Contested Food and Mothering. Relations with Different Genres of Mediafood in Everyday Life.

Eating and providing for food are complex practices, and the category "good food" is negotiable, due among other things to the contestation of food in various media representations. One of the questions that can be raised is how the genre of mediafood might impact how food identifications and negotiations are formed.

The presentation compares patterns of "mothering" and food from two empirical qualitative studies on contested food consumption in relation to two different mediafood genres, behavioral change campaigns and lifestyle magazines.

Dr Bente Halkier, Professor at the Department of Communication, Business and Information Technologies, Roskilde University Center. Bente has devoted most of her research to the relation between communication, consumption and everyday life. In 2010 she published the highly acclaimed Consumption Challenged: Food in Medialised Everyday Lives

Acquiring a Taste - Gender Strategies and Professional Identity in making in Institutional Food Programs in Denmark 

This paper examines the stereotypical professional chef identities available within the public media, the educational institutions and among young trainee chefs themselves. Essential questions to be raised and answered are: How does one – male or female – become a professional chef and what does it mean to acquire a taste? What representations and categorizations do young people who want to become chefs relate to and how do they perceive themselves in relation to these categorizations? How can we doing research in the field open up to more complex understandings of gendered professionalism?

In this paper we argue that a methodological grip and focus on gendered stereotypes together with dissolved professional figures may foster new discussions and talks with young chef students, and thereby provide new insights into the identity work of chef students. Following this line of argumentation we point to the necessity of broadening the spectrum of possible gender identities – for professional chefs as well as in society in general.

Dr Nanna Friche. Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Psychology and Educational Studies  University of Roskilde. Research interests center on educational evaluation and assessment practices in upper secondary education, specifically within vocational education and training. Current research focuses on identity work among boys and young men in upper secondary education. The aim of the study is two-fold; to understanding male students’ subjectivity (aims for life, worldviews, morals, values and preferences) on the one side and on the other side the institutional and social context of their everyday life.

and Anne-Mia Steno, PhD fellow, Department of Psychology and Educational Studies, University of Roskilde. Previous work on cultures of education and civilizing processes at Shamayita Math Ashram and multi-religious schools in India and Bangladesh.  At present doing fieldwork at various vocational colleges, with a focus on institutional food programs and auto mechanics. Doing studies on gender, social navigation, institutional selection and educational strategies.


Just Like Any Other Parent Trying to Get Their Kids to Eat Veggies... Michelle Obama, Public Image, Politics and Food.

Within the last year, and especially within the last 6 months, Michelle Obama has become increasingly politically active, seemingly shying away from her previous Jackie O-like image as a style-conscious doting mother and wife in favor of more Eleanor Roosevelt-like comparisons, complete with accusations of a brush with socialism and enforcing nanny-state tendencies that has left some voters concerned.

Interestingly, Michelle Obama has chosen to focus this political activity on issues of food and nutrition. In my paper, I will argue that although it remains controversial for a First Lady to be overtly and outspokenly political, Michelle Obama’s political focus on issues concerning food and nutrition has allowed her more leeway than most. In fact, Michelle Obama has long practiced a delicate balance between portraying herself simultaneously as a strong intellectual peer to her husband and as a softer, feminine maternal figure. As such, this new move into the politics of food and nutrition is thus in tune with a career as First Lady that has been marked by constant and complex gender-based negotiations and shifts.

By applying Judith Butler and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s theories of cultural legitimacy and gender-based rhetorical appropriateness in an analysis of especially Michelle Obama’s own presentations/speeches of and on her political causes, I will argue that by adhering to certain gender-related expectations – or constraints – that generally apply to presidents’ wives, Michelle Obama has opened up the possibility of a public goodwill towards her easing into political activeness. In turn, this has allowed her to renegotiate her public identity, moving away from style and toward substance.

Katrine Meldgaard Kjær is a graduate student at the department of English at the University of Copenhagen. Katrine’s interests revolve around postcolonial theory and queer readings of contemporary American culture and politics, and she is currently focusing her work on racial- and gender performances of identity in the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama.