Tag Archives: food/agriculture

Delicious Juxtaposition

I took these pictures at a Vons in Los Angeles, CA (Eagle Rock neighborhood):

Someone or someones somewhere made a conscious decision to hang candy bars on the outside of the freezer doors leading to the TV dinners marketed as healthy. I think it nicely illustrates how, in American culture, we are subject to incredible temptation and pressure to consume more calories than we need at the same time that we’re encouraged to look as if we do not submit to that temptation. This is good for the economy in that both the food industry and the diet industry are far larger industries than they would be were we to restrict our caloric intake according to need.

NEW (from Gwen): I took the following two photos in my office building at Nevada State College. We don’t have any food service program and there aren’t any places to eat within walking distance, so the only options faculty and students have are the vending machines. The other day my attention was drawn to this sign posted inside one of them:

Now, on the face of it, this seems all good–individuals should take responsibility for their food choices by choosing healthier options, and the vendor is even providing guidelines. How nice!

But then I stood back and looked at the products for sale in that same vending machine (there were a couple of rows of chips at the top that got cut off in the photo):

None of these products had nutritional information in view, so I couldn’t actually see how many of them fell within the guidelines helpfully posted along the side. I know, from looking at similarly-sized packages at a convenience store later, that all the chips had over 350 calories.

My guess would be that most people would choose the “yogurt apple nut mix” on the next-to-last row as the healthiest item, but I’ve found that mixes like that often have surprisingly high fat and calorie contents, particularly because they often come in multiple-serving packages. But without access to more information, the consumer is left to try to guess what would be healthiest and what might have lots of hidden calories (like those yogurt-covered nuts might).

I thought it was a great example of how concerns about unhealthy eating habits and obesity are often framed as failures of individual responsibility–people just eat too much and make bad decisions about food. The food industry likes this explanation because it takes the focus off of the types of products it makes available or the responsibility food companies might have for producing healthier options…or at least telling us more openly about what we’re eating. But this framing of the issue ignores the fact that it’s often very difficult to make better eating decisions; nutritional information is often lacking (I have on several occasions asked for nutritional information at restaurants, just out of interest, and usually found that employees have difficulty locating it; in one case they eventually found it posted on a chart hidden by a fake plant), and in other cases there simply aren’t better options (or they’re more expensive than the unhealthy ones). Providing platitudes about “making balanced choices” isn’t that helpful in the absence of specific information about and access to foods that are, you know…balanced.

Vintage Ads Depict African Americans as Dirty

Ben O. forwarded this ad for Fairy Soap (found here). It plays into the idea that African Americans are dirty and either lazy or stupid (since they don’t bother to wash their children), but that enlightened, kindly, clean whites can help them. It would make a good accompaniment to the chapter “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising” in Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, by Anne McClintock.

UPDATE: In a comment, Brendon proposed a reading I didn’t think of:

The second ad is troubling, but my interpretation of it wasn’t that the ad was implying that African Americans are dirty – it’s implying that the young white girl believes the black girl is covered in dirt, which is the only reason why the black girl doesn’t have the white skin she does. It’s about the ‘folly’ of youth – this girl isn’t versed in the discourse of racial difference yet!

Of course, Eric points out that the “cutesy” element is undermined by the fact that the ad was made by adults who, unless we’re both totally wrong, didn’t hold such an “innocent” view of the differences between African Americans and Whites.

Also, as a commenter pointed out, given changes in hairstyles and dress for children over time, it may be those are boys, not girls.

NEW (July ’10)! Monica Y. sent along another example, this one an ad for Vinolia Soap:

Food Is Fashion (Okay, Sex)

A familiar trope: draping the object of sale on a naked woman. This time it’s pasta from a home machine.

Marcato Pasta Maker Ad

Picture via Serious Eats via Erin Doland

Louis Vuitton Mommy Diva Birthday Cake

I took this photo last week at a deli here in Las Vegas. It’s an example of a cake you can order there:

It’s supposed to be a Louis Vuitton handbag, such as this one (image found here):

The cake is called “Happy Birthday Mommy Diva Cake.”

Might be useful for a discussion of the glorification of conspicuous consumption and the way we often portray women as high-maintenance divas. Or the way advertising and marketing has shifted from focusing on function (i.e., all a purse really needs to do is effectively hold some stuff) to symbolic “lifestyle” messages (you buy a Louis Vuitton bag for what it says about you that you’d have one–that you’re rich and have “good taste”–not because Louis Vuitton bags are superior vessels for carrying your car keys).
I am always fascinated by the way companies are able to so connect their products to qualities we want to have (coolness, class status, etc.) that we’ll wear or use products with their logos or brand names all over them, providing them free advertising, as a way to announce to others that we have those qualities.

Of course, I just stood there and stared at it for a while with no more insightful sociological thought than “WTF?!?”

Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner) of Olympic Champions


Mary M. (of the fantastic blog This Book Is For You) sent links to these two video segments about the diets of Olympians. This first one (found here), about swimmer Michael Phelps (and titled “Fuel for Phelps”), approvingly discusses how much he eats:


Fuel for PhelpsFunny bloopers are a click away

Compare it to this video about swimmer Kate Ziegler (found here):

Mary says,

Both of them have to consume a ton of calories to recover from their workouts, but I thought it was interesting that Phelps was encouraged to “cram in as much food as possible,” much of it incredibly unhealthy (pancakes, sausage, Chinese take-out, deli sandwiches, fast food) while poor Ziegler gets stuck with a trainer who has her on a diet of “clean” foods, whole wheat toast and eggs, and criticizes her for what seems like pretty normal, moderate consumption of processed foods. I’m not a nutritionist, so there may be some difference between men’s and women’s bodies that necessitates this, but it seemed odd to me.

Cool find, Mary! And seriously, if you like books, you should check out her blog. She writes excellent reviews.

There’s No Middle Class at United Airlines

You’re either having a scotch at the Red Carpet Club or you’re downin’ cheap coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts:

This picture, which I happen to find hilarious, was taken by me during an unsuccessful attempt to get out of Logan Airport after the American Sociological Association meetings in Boston.  I ended up being treated very nicely at the Days Inn.

Framing Social Issues: The Humane Society Slaughterhouse Cruelty Video

Today I saw an interesting talk about public reaction to the Humane Society (HSUS) video of cruel treatment of cattle at the Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino, California. As you may recall, someone from the Humane Society took a job at the plant and secretly videotaped the practices there for about four months. In late January, 2008, HSUS released the video. Here is a video from the HSUS website that shows images from the original video footage (and yes, it’s a disturbing video, even by my Oklahoma-ranch-raised standards):

The talk I saw today, titled “Westland/Hallmark: When You Don’t Care Enough to Send the Very Best,” by David Holt and Michelle R. Worosz (presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Manchester, NH) provided an interesting analysis of how issues get framed in the public. The HSUS undertook this investigation, and released the video, primarily because of concerns about animal cruelty and the mistreatment of cattle, particularly those that could not stand or move on their own.

But as sociologists studying framing and social movements have often noted, once an issue gets out there, organizations can’t control what the public, lawmakers, or the media will make of it, and this case is a good example. Once the news broke, what came to the forefront were food safety issues, particularly the idea that so-called “downer cows” (that is, cows that can’t stand or walk on their own) might have made it into the food supply. Downer cows are a concern because of the (very small) risk that they might be suffering neurological damage from BSE, or Mad Cow disease. After an outcry several years ago downer cows were barred from human consumption, but back in 2007 the USDA quietly relaxed the standards so that downer cows can be slaughtered for human consumption if a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) veterinarian inspects and passes them.

Anyway, it turns out that this particular meat processor was a major supplier of beef to the nation’s school lunch program. This exacerbated concerns about the (remote) possibility of BSE-infected meat getting into the food supply. And that quickly overwhelmed the animal-cruelty concerns that had motivated the HSUS investigation in the first place. The Congressional hearings and (superficial) changes to processing practices that occurred as a result of the video focused primarily on improving food safety, with little discussion of how animals bound for slaughter are, or should be, treated.

It reminded me of how Upton Sinclair said that, when he wrote The Jungle, that he “aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach,” meaning that he’d meant to bring attention to the horrific conditions immigrant workers faced at work but what the public outcry centered on was the idea of rats in their meat.

I thought this might be a good example of how activists try to frame issues but have incomplete control of the framing process once it enters the public domain and may find that media depictions and public discussions of the issue take a very different path than they would have liked.

Bros Before Hos


Thanks to Thorsten S. for the link!