[CUA Office of Public Affairs]   



   Feb. 1, 2005


CUA Course Explores How the Media Shapes Perceptions of Food


Why does a glossy magazine photo of a chocolate layer cake conjure up images of Mom and home? What does an ad for lime-green Jell-O say about American life in the 1950s?   


“Food and Media,” a Catholic University course that started Jan. 10, seeks to answer those questions by exploring the media’s role in shaping our perceptions of food. The course also examines how factors like class, gender and ethnicity play a role in our food choices.


Food studies courses are increasingly popular on college campuses, according to the Association for the Study of Food and Society, a multidisciplinary international organization dedicated to exploring the complex relationships among food, culture and society.


But “Food and Media,” taught by Stephanie Hartman, a lecturer in CUA’s Department of Media Studies, is the first class in the Washington, D.C., area to focus on how the media have reflected and influenced the ways we think about food.


Hartman takes a multidisciplinary approach to her topic with assigned readings from history, poetry, art history, anthropology and sociology texts. Students are examining films, cookbooks, Web sites, magazines, works of art, advertisements and television programs, paying particular attention to the visual representation of food.


One of the course textbooks is the catalogue from “Sweet Tooth,” an art exhibit that examines society’s love/hate relationship with sweets. Independent Washington, D.C., curator and critic Sarah Tanguy, who put together the 2003 exhibit in Napa, Calif., will join the class for a discussion on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.


On a day when sweethearts share bon-bons and heart-shaped desserts, Tanguy will discuss the exhibit, whose images include a dancing cake on doll’s legs and pictures of slain rap artists on candy wrappers in a box of chocolates.


Tanguy, who is currently curator of the State Department’s ART in Embassies Program, will also talk about two other exhibits that she’s curating for 2006 openings in Napa and Daytona Beach, Fla. The exhibits, “Breaking Bread” and “Taken for Looks,” examine how, as a society, we place value on what we eat. They also reveal the strategies artists use to critique our patterns of consumption.


Whether the purpose is art or commerce, food lends itself to many meanings, says Hartman. “In the class, we’ll talk about how food can communicate a wide range of messages about desire, comfort, nostalgia, even sin and guilt,” says Hartman.


Hartman says the course focuses on how gender and class issues “are encoded in food, and how people define their identity through the types of food they choose or reject. For example, eating health food can be a way to mold a particular kind of body and self-image and maybe to distance yourself from the people who eat at McDonald’s.”


Hartman notes that 20 years ago a picture of truffles — a symbol of conspicuous consumption — reflected wealth and social status. But nowadays a simpler array of food — figs and a loaf of crusty bread on the cover of a recent New York Times Magazine — reflects affluence. “As tastes have changed, so have images in the media,” she says.


MEDIA: For more information, contact Chris Harrison or Katie Lee in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.




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Revised: 2/1/2005

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The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.