Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture

By Fabio Parasecoli | Go to book overview

5
Jam, Juice, and Strange Fruits
Edible Black Bodies

That endurance is my heritage – as a woman, and especially a black woman. I'm
convinced that we black women possess a special indestructible strength that allows
us to not only get down, but to get up, to get through, and to get over.

Jackson 2004

Keeping an eye on dieting, sports, and wellness trends, it is easy to realize that gender plays a huge role in determining performances, practices, and ideas about food and body images. However, it is not the only element to consider: race and ethnicity, fundamental in shaping Western cultural identities, are at least as relevant. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the colonial expansion of many Old World countries brought non-white populations to the forefront of economies, social dynamics, imagination, and shared fantasies. The worldwide abolition of slavery alongside the explosion of mass migrations and new means of transportation brought an end to colonial powers and major changes in race relations. Since its foundation, the United States has been an interesting laboratory in the definition of concepts and practices concerning race and ethnicity. In this sense, it is a great place to start looking into the connections between food, the body, and the politics of race. Furthermore, American pop culture is so pervasive worldwide that it is exporting perceptions and images that, interacting with different social and political environments at the local level, give birth to interesting cultural phenomena that deserve further investigation. We have a hilarious representation of this state of affairs in Liev Schreiber's 2005 movie Everything is Illuminated. In a delightful scene, a young Ukrainian man – with an adoration for Michael Jackson, Shaquille O'Neal, Kangol hats, and flashy jewelry – hears in disbelief from an American that there actually exist “gay negro accountants,” that Sammy Davis, Jr. had converted to Judaism, and, above all, that the word “negro” should not be used at all.

The race-related stereotypes and the misunderstandings created, diffused, and reinforced by pop culture deserve to be examined and unpacked because of their affect on culture and collective imagination. Eating and ingestion, we will see, play a crucial role in the development of these discourses, revealing how food can turn into weapons in power relationships and the political struggles that originate in them. To begin an analysis of the complex dynamics of food and race in America, we begin,

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