Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste

By David Bell; Joanne Hollows | Go to book overview

7 Cookbooks as manuals of taste

Danielle Gallegos

They peddle vicarious ‘gastro-porn’, provide travelogues for exotic locations, and are utilitarian manuals, and as such cookbooks have finally emerged as objects enmeshed in the cultural and social fabric of life. As examples of lifestyle media, cookbooks fulfil mundane needs by assisting in the preparation of food; at the same time they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity (Giddens 1991). Their significance lies not in the reproducibility of their recipes; rather, their significance is their emergence as the vehicles and tools used to maintain the communication between the web of flows that is ‘culture’. An examination of cookbooks, therefore, serves to tell us more about ‘a people's collective imaginations, symbolic values, dreams and expectations’ (Fragner 2000: 71).

Along with magazines and television cooking programmes, cookbooks are proponents of taste and fashion and have a role in inscribing the self with a sense of place, belonging and achievement (Appadurai 1988; Mennell 1996; Heine 2000). They ‘set standards and attempt to influence consumption’ (Ireland 1981: 108), and in so doing provide a means through which changes in taste can be discerned (Santich 1996). Yet to describe cookbooks as simply discerning taste perhaps constructs them as cultural objects of little significance, as simply reflecting changes in taste rather than actively shaping it. Cookbooks facilitate the production of a moral self as ‘good’ cook, ‘good’ parent and ‘good’ spouse. They also facilitate the production of ‘good’ citizen by providing standards through which pluralism can be explored.

This chapter maps the evolution of Australian cookery writers as intermediaries for developing and communicating taste of the ‘other’. As cultural intermediaries they bring knowledge of taste to ordinary people who can use them to master a lifestyle that embraces the notion of what it is to be ‘multicultural’ and, in this case, ‘Australian’. Cookbooks enable a collective national identity to be forged that is always debated and contested. They elevate, in late modernity, hybridity and inclusivity as the contemporary lifestyle offering distinction.

Taste has emerged as one technology that the self can use in order to undertake the ongoing project of identity building. However, any discussion of food and its consumption highlights the dual meanings of ‘taste’. First, taste refers to the biological manifestations utilizing the

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