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Discussion: Becoming food, eating media

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Commentary on Themed Issue, Food, Media and Space: The Mediated Biopolitics of Eating
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  Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Geoforum  journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/geoforum Discussion Becoming food, eating media Michelle Phillipov  Journalism, Media and Communications, University of Tasmania, Australia In their examination of the intersecting relationships between food,media and space, the papers in this special section share many the-mes — interests in food governance, sustainability, health, and celebrity,among others. But as a media scholar, what is perhaps most striking tome is what these papers reveal about media ’ s complex, contra-dictory — and increasingly central — role in the production of foodpractices and politics. We see in this themed section examples of mediathat has been shoehorned into the services of capital accumulation andthe production of normative identities, but we also see examples of media ’ s own tendencies and trajectories. These construct media as aspace of potentiality through which food — and food politics — can notonly be reinscribed, but also reimagined and remade. How media helpsus to understand the  ‘ work ’  of food, and how food helps us to under-stand the cultural and material  ‘ work ’  of media, are among the mostinteresting questions these contributions raise.The papers by David Bell, Joanne Hollows and Steven Jones,Christine Barnes, Jennifer Silver and Roberta Hawkins, and RebeccaWells build upon an established literature on the pervasiveness andpower of food media as a tool of food governance. Across examples of celebrity chefs, social media, news and campaigning culinary doc-umentaries, they highlight the various ways in which media poses ‘ solutions ’  to food systems problems, provides desirable models of  ‘ good ’  consumer-citizenship, and o ff  ers audiences a series of   “ knowl-edge- fi xes ”  (Barnes) that cross the boundaries of media, cooking, con-sumption, production, health, nutrition and government.In their examination of the National Geographic reality  fi shingprogram  Wicked Tuna , its paratexts, and a series of other media textsand celebrity personas that advocate for sustainable seafood, Silver andHawkins show how a tendency to frame  fi sh as  “ food ”  rather than “ wildlife ”  constructs the problems and solutions of   fi sheries limits inparticular ways. By speaking to audiences as  “ consumers ”  and byprioritising consumer-focused solutions to the problems of seafoodsustainability, these texts work to  “ fuse the imperatives of neoliberalcapitalism ever more tightly with existing structures and practices of  fi sheries management/conservation ” . Individual, consumer-based so-lutions also abound in the examples of celebrity chefs who operate as “ talking labels ”  (Barnes), the campaigning culinary documentaries that “ responsibilize ”  consumers to solve food crises from obesity to animalwelfare (Bell et al.), and the UK news coverage that emphasises in-dividual lifestyle  “ choices ”  as key risk factors for bowel cancer (Wells).In a number of these cases, celebrity plays a key role in linkingneoliberal capitalism to a potentially more progressive food politics.Individualised, consumer-based solutions are facilitated by narratives of  “ heroic ”  celebrity chefs intervening in food systems crises; in the wordsof Bell et al. (emphasis added), this works to  “ individualize the politicalimaginary surrounding social change , in terms of both celebrity inter-ventions and more broadly by transferring responsibility to the in-dividual and away from state initiatives ” . Such an approach to food andcelebrity forms part of an established history of reading food and life-style media as modes of governmentality and as neoliberal technologiesof the self (see Ouellette and Hay, 2008; Lewis, 2008; Zimmerman,2015) — and, certainly, these papers show how power is both pervasiveand productive in the Foucauldian sense, and how intensi fi ed mediaand consumer interest in food o ff  ers celebrity chefs and others involvedin the production of media texts a range of new opportunities forbranding and capital accumulation (see the papers by Bell et al., Barnesand Silver and Hawkins).However, these studies are not simply limited to such readings. Bellet al. point to the incompleteness with which campaigning culinarydocumentaries articulate neoliberal values, showing how particularnarrative arcs (such as when the crusading celebrity chef inevitablymeets with a senior political  fi gure) contribute to the responsibilizationof other food system actors in addition to consumers. Barnes highlightsthe ways in which audiences can and do  “ talk back ”  to celebrity chefs ’ talking labels. Wells shows how user-generated comments on onlinenews articles o ff  er a space for the articulation of   “ diverse nutritions ” (Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy, 2013) that challenge the contra-dictory evidence of conventional nutrition reporting and present a morecomplex view of the factors that enable and constrain nutrition “ choices ” .While these moments that exceed or escape hegemonic discourseso ff  er what Barnes calls  “ moments of possibility ”  whereby new politicalpractices and identities can be constructed and dominant political,economic and cultural formations resisted, the papers in this themedsection also reveal the extent to which the apparent  “ resistance ”  that wesee in both traditional and social media is so often shaped by the lan-guage and values of the hegemonic. For example, the  “ diverse nutri-tions ”  identi fi ed by Wells are perhaps only  apparently   diverse: whilesome online commenters locate nutrition in broader social, cultural andeconomic contexts, most critique established nutrition advice by eitherpointing to its contradictions (while maintaining its nutrition-centricapproach) or by asserting the sovereignty of the individual subject and http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2017.06.019  E-mail address:  Michelle.Phillipov@utas.edu.au.                   constructing nutrition as a personal and private matter in which othersdo not have the right to intervene (and thereby preserving in-dividualised discourses of health).In the papers by Rick Flowers and Elaine Swan and Emma-JayneAbbots and Luci Attala, we see a reemergence of hegemonic structureseven in those practices that explicitly seek to resist or evade them.Flowers and Swan examine the online communication strategies of Taste Tours, a social enterprise designed to challenge racist perceptionsof southwestern Sydney, Australia and its large migrant and refugeepopulations. Although intended to address racism, in order to remainappealing to a tourist sensibility, Taste Tours inadvertently replicates arange of gendered and racialized stereotypes, with  “ friendly ”  images of women shopping, bright colours and smiling shopkeepers adopting anumber of signi fi ers of feminised racialized passivity.In Abbots and Attala ’ s study of the social media practices of amateurcompetitive eaters, we see how competitive eaters subvert establishednotions of   “ civilised ”  eating and challenge dominant conceptions of their practices as disgusting and grotesque. However, the terms bywhich they do this largely replicate hegemonic paradigms of eating andnutrition. In their reframing of competitive eating as about disciplinerather than excess (such as by presenting it as a sport that demandsdedicated training) or in challenging the notion that competitive eatingis  “ unhealthy ”  by pointing to the slimness of many of its proponents(and thereby upholding the notion that thinness equals health), thecompetitive eaters  “ di ff  er from others in terms of what constitutesdisciplined [and healthy] eating, but in doing so they do not contest thenotion that eating  should  be disciplined [or healthy] ”  (emphasis insrcinal).These papers show that for all the liberatory potential of online andsocial media (see Ratto and Boler, 2014), power imbues even the spacesthat seek to escape it — the  “ dominant ”  frequently su ff  uses the  “ alter-native ” . Nonetheless, there remains an optimism through the papersabout the capacity of contemporary media to produce new kinds of cultural space (Abbots and Attala), new political possibilities (Silverand Hawkins; Bell et al.), and new ways of   “ talking back ”  to discoursesand  fi gures of authority (Wells; Barnes). The papers also o ff  er new waysof understanding the  ‘ work ’  that both food and media do — the e ff  ects of which cannot always be anticipated in advance.This is demonstrated most powerfully in Anna Lavis ’  paper on foodporn. Lavis o ff  ers the themed section ’ s most radical intervention instudies of food, media and space in which she highlights the power of media to remake the categories through which we understand materi-alities and bodily processes. In her discussion of the use of food porn byin-patients of an eating disorders clinic, she makes the provocativeassertion that images of food are not simply  viewed , but also  eaten . Thatis, in its capacity to elicit feelings of satiety in those who view it, foodporn gives rise to  “ nascent and contingent forms of eating ”  involving “ tasting without swallowing, viewing without chewing, ingestingwithout incorporating food ” . Through the act of engaging with foodporn, eating itself becomes  “ recon fi gured and retextured ”  in ways thatnot only transcend, but also produce, the materiality of food; this callsinto question what is meant by both  “ food ”  and  “ eating ” . Implicit inLavis ’  analysis is that it also calls into question what is meant by “ media ” . If media can produce not only a ff  ective and visceral mediatedexperiences of food but  food itself  , then it is not just eating, but alsomedia, that is recon fi gured and retextured.All of the papers in this themed section highlight media ’ s role inconstructing  “ moments of possibility ”  (Barnes) but we can  fi nd in Lavis ’ conceptions of materiality as virtual and the Internet as visceral  “ mo-ments of possibility ”  for food and food politics that we may have not yetimagined. If food can not only become media, but media  become food ,the papers here raise the possibility that it is perhaps media that holdsthe key to how we might remake food and the food system in radicalnew ways. References Hayes-Conroy, A., Hayes-Conroy, J. (Eds.), 2013. Doing nutrition di ff  erently: criticalapproaches to diet and dietary intervention. Ashgate, Farnham.Lewis, T., 2008. Smart living: lifestyle media and popular expertise. Peter Lang, NewYork.Ouellette, L., Hay, J., 2008. Better living through reality TV: television and post-welfarecitizenship. Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA.Ratto, M., Boler, M. (Eds.), 2014. DIY citizenship: critical making and social media. TheMIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Zimmerman, H., 2015. Caring for the middle class soul: ambivalence, ethical eating andthe Michael Pollan phenomenon. Food, Culture and Society 18 (1), 31 – 50.  M. Phillipov       
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