Review of:
Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World.
Edited by Psyche Williams-Forson and Carole Counihan. New York: Routledge, 2012. Pp. xv + 635, index.




Taking Food Public: Redefining Foodways in a Changing World is essential reading for the scholar of food studies. This extensive anthology reads like a full-course meal, covering the many layered meanings and uses of food with five interrelated sections: food production, consumption, performance , diasporas and activism. In total, there are forty-three articles with topics ranging from the corporate industrialization of food markets to emerging food-based discourses on gender and social movements.

Eighteen articles have an international scope, while the remaining twenty-five articles focus on the USA. Several of the articles were previously published in scholarly journals or books, and a few were specifically published for this version. Editors Psyche Williams-Forson and Carole Counihan have chosen works that describe and critique how food shapes our public sphere and sense of equality. The various articles discuss how women, farmers, ethnic, poor and disenfranchised people are creating new ways to garden, grow and sell their product. Anthropologists, sociologists, and folklorists alike can draw articles from this book to complement courses on food activism, the global food security system, and how food relates to culture.

While the contributing authors of Taking Food Public present and analyze challenges to the current global food system, they also acknowledge that wholesale dismissal of this system is not a viable solution. Tim Lang’s essay “Food Industrialisation and Food Power” shows that since World War II, the global agrifood system has been characterized by concentration, long-distance trade and high chemical and fossil fuel inputs. In the face of continued rural depopulation, capital investment and intensification of technology, Lang argues “it would be foolish (and historically myopic) to pronounce an end to the industrialised system” (21). This volume shows how capitalism and alternative economics affect what we eat. The editors have chosen texts that show the intersectionality of food and identity, examining what our food says about our social status, gender, race, class, disability or obesity. Ferne Edwards and David Mercer’s article, “Gleaning from Gluttony,” is a fascinating case study of how Australian youth cultures are using dumpster diving and freeganism to challenge capitalist food paradigms. A similarly compelling article is “Inequality in Obesigenic Environments: Fast Food Density in New York City” by Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Chun-Yip Yau, Ji-Meng Loh and Donna Williams. The authors uncover how obesity is more prevalent in Black areas and demonstrate why it is crucial to understand race and class when formulating policies to reduce obesity.

For the scholar interested in identity, gender, and sexuality there are several thought-provoking papers in the third section, “Performing Food Cultures.” For example, Julia C. Ehrhardt’s “Towards Queering Food Studies: Foodways, Heteronormativity, and Hungry Women in Chicana Lesbian Writing” discusses Carla Trujillo’s lesbian novel, What Night Brings, and her challenge to patriarchy. Meanwhile, C. Wesley Buerkle ponders masculinity and meat in “Meterosexuality Can Stuff It – Beef Consumption as (Heteromasculine) Fortification,” asking what it means to eat like a man.

Another very worthy addition to this anthology is G. Denise Lance’s article, “Do the Hands That Feed Us Hold Us Back? Implications of Assisted Eating.” This investigation is based on the author’s personal experiences, along with others who need eating assistance. Lance demonstrates how assisted eating impacts social capital, privacy and romantic relationships. In the section on “Food Diasporas: Taking Food Global,” we discover articles about coffee farmers in Honduras, the Chinese vegetable trade in New York City, Yoruba-Nigerian food in London and why tequila shots are so popular in Mexico. Ty Matejowsky’s essay, “SPAM and Fast-food ‘Glocalization’ in the Philippines,” explores the country’s particular fondness for the ham and pork-shoulder blend. Following the fast-food model, we learn that a Filipino entrepreneur created the SPAMJAM Café, capitalizing on the nation’s love of the product and fascination for American culture. As the author explains, the SPAMJAM Café takes a “distinctly global product and redefines it into something largely divorced from its US roots” (378).

The sheer breadth and ever-expanding potential of food studies is made clear by the anthology’s final section on food activism. Here we find articles on local food and sustainable tourism, community kitchens in Peru and Bolivia, and even the personal and political tensions of being a vegetarian. In a photo-essay and ethnography, editor Carole Counihan shows how Hispanic women in Southern Colorado use food practices to make money, create agency and engage in new public spheres. Instructors and students alike will appreciate the debates and conversations that emerge from this extensive volume. Taking Food Public is a worthy addition to modern food studies and affirms the rapidly growing nature of the field.