Rhetoric and Food for Thought

For a skinny kid, I think a lot about food.  Not so much the tastes and textures, but the politics, value-systems, and rhetorics that surround its place in culture.  There is a developing food movement in this country; it’s comprised of many sub-movements based around the concepts and practices of “organic,” “sustainable agriculture,” and “slow food,” with “local” similarly occupying a prominent position.

We’ve not only seen the items on our supermarket shelves change over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the surrounding rhetoric shift in places and intensify in others.  With the introduction of genetically modified foods in the early 1990s, the expansion and entrenchment of industrial farming and monocrop culture, and the consolidation of powers that control the entire system, the message that accompanies food has increased in significance, adopting narratives of progress in some sectors, while remaining obstinately old-fashion in others.  For example, listen to Michael Pollan kick off the powerful documentary, FOOD, Inc., with a quick, but incisive rhetorical analysis on some of the persuasive techniques used to sell food:

(Perhaps y’all could chime in with some of your favorite rhetorical approaches and we can keep this conversation going . . .)

Of course, our movement is mirroring those elsewhere throughout the world.  It’s distinct, however, given our consumer-centric society and place in the hierarchy of consumption (we comprise about 5% of the world’s population and consume roughly 1/3 of its meat).  Food Sovereignty Movements are in nascent stages across Africa, Europe, and South America.  Soon enough we will also be in a position where one must declare (as ludicrous as it sounds) the right to grow food and have a say in where the rest comes from.

Currently, however, the word “organic” is the dominant term in our food conversations.  The term carries vast and various associations and values that go far beyond a simple label indicating how the food was raised.  Here’s some fodder for you rhetoric junkies: The Daily Show’s look at the White House’s organic garden reveals a struggle over which values will get associated with organic.  Enjoy watching while I go hunt down some articles on the rhetoric of “organic” for a future blog post . . .

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3 thoughts on “Rhetoric and Food for Thought

  1. There’s also this article that makes some interesting points. For instance, if we’re using corn to make ethanol, is it really necessary that it be grown organically?

    Interesting, interesting. . .

  2. ooh! a kairotic moment?

    Call for Proposals
    Food Theory
    Pre/Text A Journal of Rhetorical Theory (http://www.pre-text.com/pt/)
    Guest Editors Jeff Rice and Jenny Rice

    Nourish. Taste. Cultivate. These are terms familiar to writing and rhetorical studies as descriptions of writing. They are also terms relevant to food. In our current state of mass media (TV, the Internet, film, radio) the conflation of composing and food consumption has become de facto. Roland Barthes once wrote that “the Author is thought to nourish the book.” Indeed, food production has become a type of rhetorical exercise: Anthony Bourdain adventures around the world, chefs compete against one another on cable television, while Michael Pollan and films like Food Inc. and Supersize Me warn us of the problematic global practices inherent in corporate foods.

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