Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Consumption, Health, and Disposability in SpongeBob SquarePants

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Consumption, Health, and Disposability in SpongeBob SquarePants

Article excerpt

In recent years, food scholarship has been entangled with issues surrounding health, culinary education and lifestyle. Important examples such as Caplan's Food, Health and Identity (1997), Nestle's Food Politics: How the Fast Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (2002) and, famously, Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2002) have drawn attention to the relationship between food habits, culture and commerce, and exposed the inner workings of the fast food industry from a sociological perspective. In an age of globalisation, in which the Western world has access to a variety of consumables that often exceed biological needs for nourishment, the attention to food and consumption also brings into focus the necessity to rethink the relationship between production and consumption, sustainability, disposability, and health concerns. With what is known as the 'obesity crisis' plaguing most Western countries in the 21st century, food has also become an educational priority. The emphasis on what Sumner (2013) calls 'the pedagogy of food' has gained significance in a number of contexts, both in and out of the classroom (p. 44).

Simultaneously, food and food-related concerns have also become a recurrent part of the media and popular culture. These spheres are rich in examples where pedagogical concerns over food--as well as environmental issues concerning culinary waste and pollution--and the pursuit of entertainment collide. One need only think here of successful television programs such as Jamie's School Dinners (Oliver & Gilbert, 2005), where contentious celebrity chef Jamie Oliver took responsibility for removing all junk food from the kitchen of a school in Greenwich, England, in the hope of providing nutritious and 'healthy' meals for the children, while educating them, as well as the viewing public, on the dangers of eating 'harmful' foods. Jamie's television efforts are indicative of a widespread preoccupation with food, especially where children are concerned, that is visible and identifiable in Western countries at both macro (as far as governments are concerned) and micro (school and family) levels. The emphasis placed on popular culture as a medium involved in the educational strategies of food is evocative of Giroux's (2004) contention that, as far as systems of representations are concerned, 'the political becomes pedagogical', particularly in relation to how seemingly private issues--such as food and eating--'are connected to larger social conditions and collective forces' (p. 62).

As far as children, as well as youths, are concerned, the 21st century has shaped the term 'popular culture' to include a number of both reflexive and participatory activities, which include but are not limited to 'music, television, movies, video games, sport, internet, text messaging, style, and language practices' (Duncan-Andrade, 2004, p. 313). These activities, as popular and seemingly unregulated as they may be, need to be conceived of as a 'socio-politically charged space', because they have 'an increasing influence on the cultural sensibilities' of the next generation (p. 314). In similar vein, Weiner (2001) contends that popular culture--television in particular--holds a 'pedagogical capacity' to 'normalise representations so that they appear correct and consistent with our common sense' (p. 435). Taking eating's popularised status as a point of departure, this article analyses the multiple representations of food, culinary habits and culture, as well as their connections to health and environmental concerns, in the popular children's show SpongeBob SquarePants. Focusing on the specific food-related preoccupations that are recurrent in the series, my article analyses how SpongeBob SquarePants offers parodied critiques of late 20th and 21st century commercial and cultural trends, while providing a ground for communicating a message to children about food, health and the environment that holds distinctive pedagogical potential. …

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