The Rhetoric of Food Narratives: Ideology and Influence in American Culture

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Sara Jane Littlejohn (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Myers

Abstract: Although food takes up such a large portion of daily life, its critical interrogation is a field of study that demands greater exploration, particularly given the current cultural moment that is beginning to recognize that ignoring our relationship to food has significant and deleterious effects on our health, economy, and environment. Even though there is some acknowledgment of the power of food to send messages, it is the narrative qualities--captured in discourse and behavior--that contributes to its meaning making, thus persuasive, properties. The stories we associate with food and food ways become food narratives, as they are converted through discourse and behavior into what Roland Barthes calls cultural myth. Informed by cultural and critical theories, food narratives as they are connected to narrative, performative language, and ideology become part of the rhetorical situation. Based on Kenneth Burke's conceptualization of rhetoric as an imbricated equation that includes meaning making, persuasion, identification, and consubstantiation, I argue that food narratives function as a rhetorical force used by "human agents to persuade other human agents into action" (Rhetoric 41) and that this persuasion occurs ideologically without public awareness. Finally, this lack of awareness results in non-reflective engagement with food and food ways that can become an opening for consumer manipulation. Opportunities for the rhetorical manipulation of food narratives occur in many cultural contexts, but specifically, this study examines the following areas: cooking shows that maintain and perpetuate food narratives that result in non-reflective engagement with the practice of cooking; fast food narratives that result in a manipulation of consumers to buy product; and finally, food narratives of politics that result in a manipulation of voters as they disengage with the processes of the election. Each of these contexts illustrates how food narratives are operating as a rhetorical device, ideologically persuading Americans to buy and think in ways that serve political and economic agendas other than their own.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2008
Food, narratives, rhetoric, American culture, health, economy, environment, Kenneth Burke
Food in popular culture $x Political aspects $z United States.
Food in popular culture $x Social aspects.
Rhetoric $x Economic aspects.
Food preferences.
Food industry and trade.
Food habits.

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