Three-D Issue 17: Thinking with food: an ideas exchange

Julian Matthews
University of Leicester

28 September 2011
University of Leicester

On 28th September 2011, The University Leicester played host to ‘Thinking with Food: An Ideas Exchange’, the first annual research event of the Department of Media and Communication’s Cultural Production & Consumption Research Group. The event attracted participants from across the UK and EU, including academics, postgraduate students and practitioners involved with the study of food.

Designed as an interactive event, the day included a mixture of sessions: formal research papers focused on food in the media and the mediation of food, and hands-on and reflective activities through which all participants had a chance to critically and creatively engage with, apply and develop the ideas and concepts related to the cultural production and consumption of food. In short: a busy and productive day!

After introductory remarks from event co-organizer Julian Matthews, session one offered short research papers on ‘Food in the Media.’ Roger Dickinson’s paper set the tone for the day, underlining the need to consider how media representations are involved in the shaping of social processes and individual experiences. Jennifer Cole’s paper echoed some of these concerns, highlighting how food magazines shape and define thrift as a cultural value. Anna Claydon followed up with an animated tour of the use of food as spectacle in horror films.

Following a break, session two  involved participants working in small groups to devise discursive strategies to frame a food/drink item as a desirable premium product for a UK consumer. However, these were not your average premium products! Traditional premium products from non-traditional producers (Lebanese and Chinese wine) sat alongside non-traditional premium products (Pot Noodle, Mars Bar), and non-traditional food items (tenebrio molitor and gryllus campestris: mealworms and crickets, respectively). Groups adopted various strategies, such as highlighting their product’s ‘back story’ and the significance of place, locality, heritage and production techniques for adding value. This activity demonstrated among various things—as one participant noted in reflection—everyone’s uncanny knowledge of advertising speak!

The afternoon began with short research papers on the ‘The Mediation of Food.’ Peter Lunt’s paper provided an in-depth account of the process behind the bid to regulate ‘junk food’ advertising aimed at children. Drawing on past and recent writings, Joanne Hollows examined the role of TV celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson in the construction of (classed and gendered) legitimate and illegitimate culinary practices and identities. Finally, Jennifer Smith Maguire discussed how wine writers, in selecting and framing wines in particular ways, were implicated in both constructing provenance value for wines, and simultaneously constructing a provenance consumer and market.

Interactivity was the priority for the final sessions including a ‘roundtable reflection,’ and a session focused on researching a local food festival, for which groups were asked to devise a potential research project to address the question: ‘How is value (for and through) food and food practices constructed at the Festival?’ Many of the projects examined the construction of Leicester and ‘the local’ via food and the Festival.

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