In September 2012, high school students in Sharon Springs, Kansas, created a video about school lunches that attracted over 1 million hits on YouTube. Using the popular melody of “We Are Young” by the band Fun, students parodied this song by replacing the lyrics with “We Are Hungry” to protest the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s policies on reducing the size of school lunches. This video is revealing for two reasons: it demonstrates how the government plays an active role in American foodways. But equally important, it shows how social media has become an important device to protest policies and discuss topics relating to food. This is the very subject of the newest issue of Food, Media, and Culture, an annual online journal produced by the American Studies Program in American University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Food, Media, and Culture gives American studies students the opportunity to publish their food-related research and make it available to a broader audience. It is also the only existing journal today that offers an academic view on the interplay of food and media in the United States. The journal discusses current issues from a fresh perspective. Past issues have received recognition for articles on road kill cuisine, the performance of masculinity in television cooking shows, and queer cookbooks. In pushing their research through a rigorous editorial process, students learn how to transform their seminar papers into scholarly articles which prepares them for publishing scholarship in the future.
The latest issue of Food, Media, and Culture focuses on the impact of social media on food culture in the United States.
Inspired by the seminar Foodways 2.0, taught in the fall of 2012 by Baylen J. Linnekin (Executive Director of Keep Food Legal), the journal features four articles written by AU students Melanie Löff-Bird, Juliana Crum, Nicole Federica, and Shamar Walters.
Juliana Crum critically examines the Internet’s impact on the culture of food and reveals how the increase of information about food on the Web is both productive and dangerous. Citing a number of examples, Crum focuses on British chef and celebrity Jamie Oliver, who recently attacked a popular burger product known as “pink slime.” Oliver declared “pink slime” unfit for restaurants and school lunches—a declaration that quickly spread on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Comparing this situation to other controversies involving KitKat, PETA, and Chicago food trucks, Crum raises awareness on how social media can both expose and obscure the truth about food.
Nicole Federica’s article demonstrates the power of social media and how it has created an important network connecting food consumers and suppliers from around the world. Concentrating on issues of obesity and school lunches, Federica illustrates how everyone from American chefs to students to First Lady Michelle Obama use social media to promote healthier eating in America. She specifically uncovers how students have devised creative ways to protest government restrictions on school lunch programs. In the end, Federica concludes that “social media is critical to impacting social policy on food.”
Melanie Löff-Bird takes readers back in history to compare early American tavern talks and cookbooks to today’s Pinterest boards and food blogs. Critical of websites and blogs that show “food porn” and discuss food superficially, Löff-Bird discourages readers from passively engaging with information about food on the Internet. Praising the Web-based organization “Feastly,” which brings together strangers for home-cooked meals, Löff-Bird proposes alternative ways for people to interact with food in today’s multimedia world.
The journal concludes with an article by Shamar Walters, who provides an insider look at food truck regulations in Washington, D.C. Writing clearly and concisely about D.C.’s complex food truck regulations, Walters walks readers through the ins and outs of starting a food truck. He discusses hot debates in the food truck community that involve substantial changes made to parking and vending rules. With exclusive interviews from D.C. food truck owners Che Ruddell-Tabisola of the BBQ Bus and Doug Povich of Red Hook Lobster Pound DC, Walters explores current food truck disputes from all angles.
Walters, and the other contributors to this year’s journal, hope that readers recognize how “the culture of food is changing right before our eyes.” To learn more about the impact of social media on food, read the latest issue of Food, Media, and Culture online and use #FoodMediaCulture on Twitter or Facebook to spread the word.