Food, the Brain, and the Consuming Self
It is the same for our past. We would exert ourselves to no result if we tried to evoke
it; all the efforts of our intelligence are of no use. The past is hidden outside its realm
and its range, in some material objects (in the sensation this object would give us)
which we don't suspect.
Proust 1984: 59
What is the role of food in pop culture? Why does it seem to crop up everywhere we look? What are the mechanisms that determine its influence on how we chose, buy, consume, and enjoy ourselves? After all, one could say, eating and drinking are mere reflections of biological necessities and functions. As a matter of fact, they are usually perceived as purely “natural” aspects of our lives. If this were actually the case, how could they ever become an arena for competing political projects, ideological approaches, and deep beliefs and principles? If food were only a matter-of-fact, mundane requirement with which all humans need to cope on a daily basis, just like breathing or sweating, how could it acquire such weight and become the expression of multi-layered and intense attachments? The answer is quite straightforward: precisely for its key role in our survival since infancy as physical beings, eating is charged with very intense and complex emotional significance. In the following chapters we will see how this basic fact has found expression in different aspects of pop culture. In fact, hunger and the desire for incorporation and appropriation, together with sexual drives, are arguably at the origin of consumption in all its expressions. It is definitely the case for contemporary consumerism, which lies at the core of Western society as its propelling engine, filtered through social and economic structures and dynamics. After all, it was the desire for goods and commodities that prodded Europeans to travel, explore, and colonize (Braudel 1982; Wallerstein 1980; Welch 2005).
Nevertheless, as modern Western consumers, we are definitely more complex than a simple bundle of drives and impulses. We are far from being defenseless victims of marketing and political maneuvers. We think, we evaluate, we decide, basing our choices and actions on values and goals. Although crucial, the emotional and physical influences of hunger and ingestion on our day-by-day choices and