Food, Consumption, and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Food, Consumption, and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Food, Consumption, and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Food, Consumption, and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction

Synopsis

This study explores the subtle and complex significance of food and eating in the fiction of contemporary women writers. Sarah Sceats' lively analysis demonstrates that food and its consumption are not simply fundamental to life but are inseparable from questions of gender, power and control. Focusing on the work of Doris Lessing, Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Mich¿le Roberts and Alice Thomas Ellis, she makes powerful connections between food and love, motherhood, sexual desire, self identity and social behavior, and engages with issues as diverse as cannibalism and eating disorders.

Excerpt

Eating is a fundamental activity. It is more or less the first thing we do, the primary source of pleasure and frustration, the arena of our earliest education and enculturation. Food is our centre, necessary for survival and inextricably connected with social function. What people eat, how and with whom, what they feel about food and why – even who they eat – are of crucial significance to an understanding of human society. The major significances of eating, however, are not biological but symbolic. According to psychoanalytic theory, formative feeding experiences are inscribed in the psyche; food and eating are essential to self-identity and are instrumental in the definition of family, class, ethnicity. These are not vague associations, for eating practices are highly specific: encoded in appetite, taste, ritual and ingestive etiquettes are unwritten rules and meanings, through which people communicate and are categorised within particular cultural contexts. The essential and necessary qualities of eating invest its surrounding activities with value, whether psychological, moral or affective.

The central role and multiple significances of food and eating entaila link with epistemological and ontological concerns. The prevalence of eating disorders in western culture indicates at least an insecurity about embodiment, the nature of being and the boundaries between the self and the world. Physical boundaries are clearly crucial to food and eating activities as substances pass into, and out of, the body. Uneaten food is 'other', part of the world outside, but its status changes as it is taken in to the mouth, is chewed, swallowed, digested. At what point does it become part of us? How do we locate activities such as tasting and regurgitation, and liminal substances such as spit and vomit? We live in a state of uncertainty about how much the self is influenced, changed, nourished or poisoned by what is taken in of the world, the extent to which people are defined by what they eat, or are affected by whoever provides their food. These questions are gendered, for both bodily and ego boundaries are . . .

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