Food: My Feminist Issue

Marie Drews

[1] In March of 2006, Ariel Meadow Stallings, a 31-year-old Seattleite, posted a short article on her blog, Electrolicious, titled "Fat is a Feminist Issue." In the piece, Stallings, a committed blogger, journalist, and author of the collection Offbeat Bride, discusses her preoccupations with food and her eventual decision to join Weight Watchers. As a child, she "grew up without a scale in the house." Stallings' mother, dedicated to raising a healthy, self-confident daughter, did not buy her Barbies; rather, Stallings played with My Little Ponies, plastic horses with "stumpy legs and plump bubble butts," toys which, she reflects, provide a "much better body model for little girls." As she acknowledges the tools she was given to help her grow up with a healthy body image as well as healthy eating habits, Stallings questions the development of her worries about weight and eating, worries that arose after her more or less "sedentary" work as a writer led to the gain of a few additional pounds each year. Her discontent with her body following her weight gain and her subsequent decision to lose weight test her confidence about eating, dieting, and feeling comfortable in her body.

[2] Like many young women who support women's rights and women's issues, Stallings was confronted with the problem of what it means for her to think about food, consumption, and her body even as a person who consciously aligned herself with the work of women's empowerment movements. "As the feminist daughter of a feminist mother," Stallings writes, "I've always thought it was my duty not to think about food," suggesting that to do so meant to suffer from the internalization of patriarchal oppression. Additionally, she writes, her worry about her own body seemed to contradict her self-assigned role as a model of healthy eating, a role she assumed to support her best friend who suffered from anorexia and bulimia during high school. For Stallings, eating disorders resulted from the consistent attention and thought women paid to food and eating. If she was already eating healthy foods, to change her eating habits was to move in the direction of disorder.

[3] Stallings' thoughts on food shifted after her "various exercise regimes" left her more bulky than trim. A friend encouraged her to try Weight Watchers, an organization Stallings was initially opposed to for both its connotations as a weight loss system and as a capitalist enterprise. After joining Weight Watchers, however, Stallings came to consider the organization not as a diet group but as a group that fosters conscientious, balanced eating habits that she could work into her everyday life. There was no "bad food" in Weight Watchers, a disparaging and dangerous concept that Stallings felt was a downfall of most weight-loss programs; rather, she could eat what she wanted as long as she was mindful of portion size and meal planning. After Stallings starts thinking about what she eats, she joins an aerobics class, and her clothes fit better. She leaves her scale in her basement and weighs herself once a week. She realizes she can be a feminist and think about food—she can even lose weight.

[4] Stallings' blog post developed popularity on the web. The online magazine Sirens reprinted the article October of 2006, and shortly thereafter, an online alternative news source,, also posted the article. When Stallings' original work was reposted, the title was changed to "Is Dieting Anti-Feminist?" and the comments changed from the relatively positive responses Stallings posted on her blog to more angry responses from a larger online readership. The online forum at Alternet lit up with readers who were frustrated with Stallings' references to feminism or indignant about her decision to chronicle her struggle with her weight. Some saw her post as an advertisement for Weight Watchers (JesseBC) or a diatribe that perpetuated weight oppression (marilynwann). Others considered her writing to demonstrate the decline of feminism into a less politically active, more superficial, self-absorbed practice (faultroy). While a few readers commended Stallings' approach, the conversation that evolved was one that typifies discussion about women and food in the 21st century. Women like Stallings, politically active individuals concerned with women's rights, do think about food and its effects on their bodies, but when they raise the subject for conversation, specifically when they invoke feminist rhetoric, they are tackled from a variety of different angles. For a woman to talk about her personal relationship to food, it seems, means that she must also hold her feminist positioning up for critique. Oftentimes her positioning is cast as post- or anti-, a facile feminism that seems to defeat rather than support the project of imagining women as equal members of the global community.

[5] What is interesting about Stallings' article is that in its initial posting it recalled the title of Susie Orbach's 1978 anti-diet guide, Fat is a Feminist Issue, which argued that fatness was a response to patriarchal oppression whereby women consciously and unconsciously gained weight as a form of resistance. Stallings does not reference Orbach directly in her writing, and given the web-based outlet and thematic content of her work, the piece seemed directed to a population of readers who might never have heard of Orbach's book despite its 2006 reprinting. Given that only a few years earlier in 2002 Orbach had waged a war against Weight Watchers, a compliant member of what she felt was an oppressive diet industry, Stallings' article was oddly stationed. Was she talking back to Orbach, sarcastically overturning the decades-old moniker, or was she simply carrying on a conversation about women and food that had never truly left off? For the two feminist writers bridged by a similar title, fat was certainly a different kind of feminist issue, and it necessitated different responses.

[6] I choose to work from Stallings' article because it illustrates well the dilemma of thinking about food and weight particularly for twenty- and thirty-something feminists who, after riding the waves set into motion by their mothers, must decide how they will live, or more important in this case, how they will eat as feminists. Food remains a contentious issue even for those who support women's liberation and the battle against sizism. I can say so because Stallings' struggle is also my own. I am a 26-year old doctoral candidate at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I joined Weight Watchers in February of 2004, a year and a half into graduate school. I didn't expect that I'd lose weight—I'd been chunky since I was a kid—but I thought I would see what the organization was all about. I didn't have anything to lose except for the $9 it cost for me to attend the weekly meetings and, of course, a few pounds. [1]

[7] The program started working for me almost immediately. As I was trying to finish my Master's thesis and grieving over the unexpected death of a friend the previous fall, watching my weight gave me a degree of control over my body that I lacked in other areas of my life. I could see on the reading that appeared on the scale each week that I was making visible progress toward something. At first my weight loss project was personal—I didn't tell anyone how much weight I was losing, and few people aside from my Weight Watchers friends knew that I was even trying to lose weight. But people were able to see my change. By August, I had lost 47 pounds. Most of the loss I attributed to my decision to stop drinking regular soda and to pay more attention to the food I put in my mouth, but I had also started exercising. I never would have thought that I would find a release and enjoyment in exercise or that in the summer of 2005 I would finish a sprint triathlon. The ways I learned to think about food during the first year I was involved in Weight Watchers changed my perspective on my body and myself in positive ways.

[8] I have kept the weight off relatively well. But, in the last several months, I feel as if I have lost my handle on food. I ate my way through a summer of study and then through my comprehensive Ph.D. exams last fall. I relearned bad habits that I thought I had conquered during my period of weight loss, and I find myself eating far beyond the point of hunger out of tiredness, discontent, boredom, or sadness. One voice in my head tells me that I could stop that behavior if only I tried hard enough, but another part of me is having trouble mustering the energy to think about what and why I eat. My thoughts on my body have changed as a result of my changing relationship with food. Given that I exercise less rigorously than I used to, my muscle tone has diminished. I never understood why it was always thin women who seemed most reluctant about gaining weight until I started to feel my body shift after I put on a few pounds. I feel more body conscious, more disappointed in myself now that I can no longer button my size 10 jeans than when I had to move from a size 16 to an 18 four years ago. I am still at a healthy weight, and I know that I should not be worried about my body, that my size does not dictate who I am. Yet, there is a disconnection between what I would like to believe and the reality of my discontent, guilt, and lack of self-control. At this moment, I have a bag of jellybeans in front of me. I know I have eaten too many and am struggling with whether I should get up and go throw the rest of the bag in the trashcan so that I can stop worrying about how many more I might eat. Is this normal?

[9] While I know many women share similar feelings about food and eating, what makes me self-conscious about my experience is that the work that I am doing as a doctoral student would in most cases suggest that I am one of those women who has somehow overcome ambivalence, that I am one who is able to maintain a healthy body image and healthy, guilt-free eating habits—or that I most definitely "should" be. In my dissertation, I examine the ways 19th and 20th century women writers use discourses of food and eating to respond to normative power structures, particularly the racial/social/behavioral structure of whiteness, that are cultivated in mainstream domestic manuals and cookbooks. I read recipes as historical texts that offer insight into women's communities, and I talk about the ways that amalgamation of foods in an ethnic cookbook can be read as a disruption to regulative notions of national and racial identification. It is my goal to continue the work of scholars who are looking back to see just what women could do with their food that brought them power, place, and political voice. Yet, when I think about how I have eaten too many jellybeans, I feel that there is an irreconcilable chasm between my self and my work. How can it be that I can work to revise historical readings of women's involvement with food yet see food as such a problematic and troublesome object in my own life? The way I treat food, my participation in Weight Watchers, my nervousness about gaining weight seem to contradict all that I set out to do in my academic career.

[10] When Stallings suggests that as a feminist she was conditioned not to think about food, she makes an important observation that is beginning to help me consider my anxieties about what I eat, what I think about eating, and what I think about my body—anxieties that seem to conflict with my identification as a feminist food scholar. For women like Stallings, those who are conditioned during adolescence to develop healthy eating habits and a positive self-image, to display worry or stress about food consumption and its effects on their bodies is to exhibit behaviors antithetical to mainstream feminist movements. The negative reception of an empowered woman's skepticism about eating and weight speaks to the idea that somehow feminists more so than other individuals are supposed to live in a "natural" relationship with food, understanding their hunger, and eating when necessary. Food is not supposed to be a problem for the woman who fights for equality. In the case of feminist responses to food and eating, however, it is clear that food is a problem, a problem that feminists have been talking about for a long time.

[11] At the same time that women like Stallings, women like myself, were growing up encouraged to develop a healthy and natural attitude about food, we were also growing up within a feminist social climate where food was the object onto which patriarchal pressures were mapped, where feminists disagreed about what kinds of food to eat and how they should be prepared, and where feminists took radically different positions on dieting. Food products face the brunt of feminist worries about housework in the work of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Martha Rosler. What to eat becomes a subject of discussion for the Bloodroot Collective, Laurel's Kitchen, and Carol Adams. Women's concerns about body consciousness arise for Susie Orbach and Nicky Diamond. These conflicting visual and rhetorical references to food in feminist work influence a climate in which thinking about food in its simplest form—what will I eat, what should I eat—becomes a troublesome process, especially for those women who identify as part of women's liberation campaigns. Feminist depictions of food implicate food goods themselves as actors in the feminist political project and thus, I argue, denaturalize women's ability to consider food solely for nourishment. Ultimately, feminist rhetoric that excludes the multiplicitous relationships women have to food and eating contributes to women's anxieties over food consumption rather than aiding their resolution.

[12] Feminists must reclaim the right to bring up food, whether in celebration or with ambivalence, as a topic of conversation that does not reflect negatively on their commitment to making the world a better place for women. To be a feminist is to actively promote healthy, open conversation about women's relationships with food as a source of individual psychological struggle that will for many women never be resolved. While this suggestion of feminist food ambivalence runs contrary to feminist empowerment rhetoric that purports women should feel liberated enough, safe enough, confident enough to take control over the food that they eat and the body that they inhabit, what it offers me is the reality that maybe I am—that maybe we, as women supporting women, are—not in a world where we can yet claim that enough is enough. Food, then—eating it, preparing it, not feeling guilty about it—becomes my feminist project. And I have much work yet to do. [2]

[13] Before I continue I want clarify what I mean when I speak of "food" in this context. I use the term generally to stand for what women eat, how they eat it, and how they feel about themselves after they eat it. I see this as separate from conversations that are already occurring among feminist scholars that address women's roles within culinary history. In the last two decades, the academy has welcomed scholarship on food culture, which has established the field as one of serious and important inquiry. With the work of Susan Leonardi, Anne Bower, Janet Floyd, and Laurel Foster readers are encouraged to examine recipes for their literary and social value. Laura Shapiro, Mary Drake McFeely, Barbara Haber, and Sherrie Inness have provided much insight into the social history of women in the kitchen, specifically how gender norms are created in relation to actions and products associated with cooking. Feminist inquiries of women's eating habits and disorders, including those by Susan Bordo, Catrina Brown, and Karin Jasper run separately from the abovementioned sociocultural investigations, but perhaps have a longer history within the academy. What this important work, work that I look to and extend in my dissertation, seems to engage less thoroughly are discussions of women's continued problems—translated: anxieties, devaluations, frustrations—with what they eat. We have context for women's positioning within the kitchen. We have information that suggests the patriarchal superstructures that influence how women imagine their bodies. Yet lacking are discussions about what women do with food once it is sitting in their refrigerators or on their plates.

[14] Arlene Voski Avakian's 1997 collection Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking, a compilation of personal writings which Avakian identifies as "feminist" in nature, is one of the few texts which has engaged with women's concurrent celebrations and concerns about food. The collection evolved conscious of the resistance evident in Stallings' blog post, the contention that feminists do not and should not talk about food. In her introduction, Avakian includes responses from feminist Ruth Hubbard, a professor emerita of biology at Harvard, who wrote in opposition to Avakian's call for papers on food and feminism. In a letter to Avakian after the call for papers was circulated, Hubbard writes that she felt it "self-indulgent to put together a U.S. collection on 'women and food,' when women and feminists are confronting so many problems and engaged in such important struggles in this country and elsewhere" (qtd. in Avakian 5). Frustrated by the pejorative connotations of women's food talk, she asks, "Haven't we had enough of women being viewed through the kitchen window" (qtd. in Avakian 4).

[15] Hubbard's comments seemed strikes against Avakian's goal of creating a medium in which feminists could converse about food in writing. Yet, further consideration of the factors that influenced Hubbard's opposition illustrates the need for such conversations to occur. Hubbard's negative response developed out of her own conflicting feelings about food. As an adult, Hubbard does not like to eat. She has always felt that people want her to eat more than she wants, a problem that was especially violent when she was an adolescent and would eat then vomit. She comes to recognize through correspondence with Avakian that it is her "negative connotations with food" that prompted her aversion to the collection (qtd. in Avakian 7). It was her own ambivalence about food, an ambivalence she had not before questioned, which encouraged her to view Avakian's project as one that posed a contradictory feminist agenda. While she would not overcome her ambivalence, she would recognize it, and she would realize that perhaps talk of food could be part of the feminist movement.

[16] What has seemed to happen in existing scholarship on women and food is that scholars have looked at the social, cultural, historical, and even scientific factors that influence women's eating habits. Conversations where women like Ruth Hubbard and Ariel Stallings respond to the many academic "explanations" of women's food concerns—their displeasure with eating, their concern over how much or how little they eat—are only beginning to take place in public forums. I discuss this aspect of these kinds of ideological battles over food in their scholarly context and from the personal subject position as a woman conflicted over what I eat even as I know what has been written to try and explain my dilemma. Given the scope and space for this article, I recognize that my analysis leaves room for further discussion. I have asked several questions for which I know no answers. I invite the conversation and all the possible answers that might arise.

[17] In 1963, American women were hearing two very different perspectives about food and cooking from the year's best selling authors. While Julia Child was trying to convince her readers that "cooking is fun," Betty Friedan was fiercely encouraging women to untie their aprons and get out of their kitchens. The two women's frequently juxtaposed notions about the meaning of food and food preparation in women's lives reflects the beginnings of feminists' competing discourses over women's kitchen work. While Child suggested that it was through the preparation of food that women could gain access to an art that had been reserved for the masculine gourmet food tradition, Friedan used food as an image through which the "problem that has no name" could be illustrated, even despite the fact that she felt the problem incurred for women "a hunger that food cannot fill" (26). Mary Drake McFeely considers Child's encouragement of women's engagement with patriarchal food traditions as an alternative feminist undertaking that mirrored the work Friedan called for, albeit in a different form (124). While this reading makes sense retrospectively, Friedan's position as the face of the feminist movement prefigures a traditionally "feminist" view on cooking and housework that underrides women's consistently troubled relationship with food. No matter how much women like Child liked to cook, Friedan suggested, equality was not to be found through the kitchen door.

[18] In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan provides two important illustrations of "the problem without a name," which implicate foodstuffs as an object of women's oppression. These illustrations subsequently complicate women's—and, more importantly, feminists'—relationship with food on an alimentary level. First, Friedan discusses the housewife heroine who, discontent with her limited allowance, starts making sandwiches that she can sell to make some money of her own. Through making sandwiches with "special touches," the housewife is able to make the process "sort of creative" and find some kind of fulfillment beyond economic advancement. Friedan suggests that the housewife makes sandwiches, earning $9.00 net profit, until "she is disgusted by the smell of food," but must continue to make lunches for her children. Ultimately, this disgust leads her to forsake her investment in the several hundred sandwich baggies she had purchased and quit her self-employment (45). The housewife never eats the sandwiches, but she harbors a physical reaction against the sight of them. This repulsion seats the sandwiches, the food which the housewife had prepared, as a signifier of discontent with her "work"; they are made the emblem of her inability to hold a prosperous career of her own. The sandwiches she has made thus become inedible.

[19] Friedan's illustration intuits that, following the tradition of women's kitchen work, not only does food become an object of disgust and disdain, but also that the project of food production ultimately fails as a viable means for women's financial or psychological uplift. In her 1972 novel, Small Changes, Marge Piercy retells this same story. Miriam, a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, starts a bread-baking business with Phil, a lover and friend from her past. The business at first provides Miriam with release, specifically through the act of baking itself. "[Y]ou can't guess how sensual it is! It competes with fucking," she tells her girlfriends (334). When Miriam and Phil decide to sell Miriam's bread, Miriam feels that she has "something" to do, something where "she could make a little money," something that "wouldn't take her out of the home or away from [her daughter]," something that was "healthy and womanly" (481). The business, it seems, would allow her to maintain the best of both worlds: her role as a woman and mother, and her desire for an income of her own. In the same way Friedan's housewife's business cannot be kept up, however, Miriam's business also fails. One day when Miriam's daughter is hurt while the bread is baking, the bread burns. Worse than the burned bread is its aftermath. The kitchen is left a "catastrophe," with flour, burned bread, and dirty pans lying about. Miriam's husband is livid. "It's filthy! It stinks!" he shouts, unamused and unaccepting of the possibility that the business might continue. Friedan would have forecast that Miriam could not escape her problem with bread alone. While the bread is "not so badly charred that it couldn't be eaten," Piercy writes, "it was too burnt to deliver," too burnt to make a profit (485). All of the burned bread, the object that represents the end of her employment, is thrown into the garbage uneaten.

[20] Perhaps it is because she feels that women are unable to use their housework for personal economic gain that Friedan pointedly critiques consumer studies that sought to market products to the Balanced Homemaker, the woman who would cook not for profit but for the care of her family and for her own self-fulfillment. Friedan was particularly angered by the creative foods movement, which she viewed as a disguised operative, a ploy to hold women to the kitchen. She references "X Mix," a food good whose marketing campaign is consistently revised to take into consideration women's "disappointment," their "guilt," and their conflicting feelings over their role as housewives. She suggests that marketers co-opt the strategy of "creativeness . . . modern women's dialectical answer to the problem"(214), a strategy that is used primarily in association with food products. If women fear the guilt of using packaged goods, the marketed answer to that problem would be to encourage her to experiment with different options, to be artistic in her presentation, to vary her method.

[21] While Friedan is most critical of food production and the capitalist scheme to keep women buying "creative"-option packaged goods, her critique of patriarchal capitalism extends to the produced foodstuffs themselves. Friedan does not suggest that those who face the problem eat the foods that they are confined to making; rather, she suggests that while they exercise their creativity in cooking for their children and husbands, they "get rid of it"—their remaining creative energy—by resorting to "eating a chalky powder and wrestling with a machine" themselves recalling dieting as an answer to help remedy their discontent (254). Following Friedan's logic, women's disordered eating habits are a symptom of "the problem," a response to their consistent coercion to remain the selfless cooks, and "X Mix" foods are or at least should be deemed inedible if only for the role they play in that coercion.

[22] Friedan's use of food as a conceptualizing mechanism through which to illustrate women's discontent bears negatively on women's relationship with the food and eating in ways that I'm not sure Friedan intended. For Friedan, women's movement into a more equal situation "is not a question of women having their cake and eating it too" (375); women must build a new life plan, as Friedan calls it, by reconsidering both the meaning of traditional household work and marriage. In order to support her own liberation as well as the liberation of all women, a woman must situate herself outside of the social and familial framework that she had traditionally assumed rather than working from those roles to advance. Friedan's cake metaphor illustrates her larger ideological grounds that feminism is not a political venture that allows for pluralism. To be feminist was not to dabble in liberation and housewifery. Rather, Friedan suggests, women's equality demanded that they turn over their cake plates in return for something better. This exacting rhetoric created within the feminist movement little room for alternate conceptualizations of feminist work, of alternate feminist views of food and cooking, and of alternate conceptualizations of the feminist herself.

[23] Perhaps one of the most divisive splits that influenced feminist food and body politics in the decade following The Feminine Mystique was the differing conception of how a feminist should appear to her constituents and to the patriarchy she was crusading against. Friedan was created as the face of the movement during its developing years. She was always known for her "long nose," and by 1970, her New York Times profile compared her to "somebody's eccentric, middle-aged aunt, her hair a swirl of cowlicks, her face deeply lined, her chin double, her brown eyes coursing back and forth" (Wilkes). The community of feminists who followed her was created as "hairy, ugly, man-hating shrews," Ruth Rosen explains (217). Feminists were also consistently characterized as fat. When Gloria Steinem, a prominent journalist, joined in the fight for liberation in 1969, she was constructed as part of an alternate feminist camp. After founding Ms. Magazine in 1972, she became the feminist "public-relations representative"; blond, thin, and straight, her "telegenic" appearance suggested that even beautiful women could fight for women's rights (Rosen 217, 238). Friedan became known as "Cinderella's older sister," Rosen explains, the "mother superior," as Paul Wilkes calls her, of the unattractive feminist collective, a group that sat opposite the young and beautiful, not to mention slender, followers of Steinem.

[24] The disparate representations of Friedan and Steinem inform both women's writings on food in important ways. While their writings share similarities, they exhibit important differences that begin to frustrate a distinct "feminist" position on food and eating. Like Friedan, Steinem saw food as a stifling object in women's lives. In her 1980 essay "The Politics of Food," published in a special issue of Ms. that featured food as a topic of discussion, she begins, "For much of the female half of the world, food may be the first signal of our differentness" (48). She goes on to make the case of women's consistent position as bearers of food, first through breastfeeding and then as cultivators and preparers of food. She extends Friedan's argument about the oppressive nature of food preparation when she argues that food is often withheld from women as men's food needs are given priority, a problem which results in women's nutritional deficiencies. At the close of her article, Steinem argues for women's "nourishment," suggesting women's need for "strength—health, muscles, endurance" to win their equality. "Do we think of this [nourishment] as we imagine beauty? Or crave empty calories? Or pass knowledge on to children and younger sisters?" she asks, prompting Ms.'s readership to reconsider their own relationships with food in relation to their nutritional needs (91).

[25] When Steinem revises and reprints the essay in her 1983 collection Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, there is a distinct difference in the first sentence: "For much of the female half of the world, food may be the first signal of our inferiority," the article now reads (191; my emphasis). The rhetorical difference between the language of "differentness" and "inferiority" lies at the center of women's conflict with food and with the representational divergence between the feminisms advocated by Friedan and Steinem, a conflict that continues to influence young women like Stallings and myself. If food signals "inferiority," women's struggles with food preparation, eating, and weight will be constant, irrefutable. But what about "differentness"? If food signals "differentness," might women be able to resignify their roles as cooks, to rework and reclaim the meaning of food in their own lives? While Steinem speaks about food, her rhetorical shift helps explain the conflicting reception of Friedan and Steinem as representative feminist figures. What began as "differentness" in terms of each woman's perspectives, agendas, and appearances shifted into a discussion of "inferiority"—one brand of feminism valued over another. For those women who read feminism in terms of a spectrum of inferiority rather than difference, how they answer Steinem's concluding questions, which encourage women to reassess their need for nourishment, is skewed depending on where they position themselves in relation to the "beautiful" Steinem and the "ugly" Friedan.

[26] While Steinem's language on food progressed from difference to inferiority, Friedan reconsidered her relationship with food more positively. In January 1977, Friedan includes an article in the New York Times aptly titled, "Cooking with Betty Friedan . . . Yes, Betty Friedan," in which she reevaluates her oppositional thoughts on food and cooking. She realizes the drastic change in her position, introducing her article with the statement that she is "not announcing defection from the women's movement," as if her thoughts would suggest this. She follows with her realization of her discontent with constantly eating in restaurants rather than cooking, a realization prompted by her desire to cook as an act of care and love. She explains, "The stress of finding our own identity in the society, the energy it took to achieve independence . . . and our rage against the barriers in our way somehow turned off or sapped our willingness or even our ability to cook creatively for those we loved." For Friedan, "coming out on the other end of women's liberation" means cooking a meal for her son, for her lover, and eventually cooking a meal for herself as a welcome relief from having to eat at a restaurant, a relief that she likely would not have considered while writing The Feminine Mystique. Friedan is able to see the "differentness" of food and its influence on women's lives rather than its supposition of "inferiority," an important awareness that helps her to enjoy both cooking and eating. She realizes the ability to choose what she will cook and when and that making that choice does not compromise her political project. Given the shift in Friedan's conception of food and cooking, by 1977, it seemed possible that Friedan and Julia Child might have been able to share recipes and discuss their favorite dishes, a dinner fostering reconciliation, unexpected, yet healthy.

[27] While Friedan's reconsideration of food demonstrates well the possibilities available when women can stop thinking about food as a signifier of inferiority, within the feminist movement, reconsideration of food would not be so easy. During the time in which Friedan reassessed her relationship with food, feminist writers and artists continued to situate discussion of women's oppression within the household, specifically within the kitchen. In 1975, activist and artist Martha Rosler circulated a short film titled "The Semiotics of the Kitchen." Beginning with A for Apron, Rosler moves through the ABCs of the kitchen to demonstrate various kitchen implements and tools laid out on a table before her. She takes the C-chopper and jams it into the B-bowl several times. She winds the metal E-egg beater around in a metal pan for several seconds. As Rosler recites her alphabet, she becomes increasingly more violent in her "demonstration," and the sounds of the kitchen implements are stark against the background silence. Rosler takes the F-fork and stabs it in the air maniacally, the same action she takes with the K-knife. When she gets to L-ladle, Rosler mimics the stirring of soup and then pretends to throw a ladle-full out the window. She repeats this action with the M-measuring implements and the S-spoon. She uses her arms rather than implements to make the U-V-W-X-Y-Z. At the very end of the film, Rosler stands for a second, shrugs with reticence, and the scene fades to black.

[28] Through her alphabetical demonstration, Rosler offers the same critique of women's patriarchal localization in the kitchen as Friedan offers in The Feminine Mystique. Rather than using real food in her film, however, Rosler leaves it only as an object for viewers to imagine. Her decision suggests that it is not her intention for women to read the work of the kitchen tools to create negative connotations about food products. In fact, Catherine Brunsdon argues that Rosler's film is not about cooking at all but rather about Rosler responding to popular representations of women in the kitchen. Rosler creates herself as a figure of "disidentity" that clearly differentiates the feminist sensibility from the expectation of housewifery, Brunsdon argues (42-43). [3] Because food goods—vegetables, stock, meat, flour—would normally be the subject of her antics, however, it is difficult to imagine Rosler's work without imagining that she is taking the anger of her position in the kitchen, as the bearer of the tools, onto the food itself. The violent action she takes out of the invisible foodstuffs provides one illustration of how women might develop volatile thoughts about what they eat. Viewers are left wondering at what point food becomes inedible when it is treated with such vehemence and aggression on the part of the cook.

[29] In Rosler's later work, a collection of postcard novels, A Budding Gourmet, McTowersMaid, and Tijuana Maid, bound in 1978 as Service: A Trilogy on Colonization, food is no longer invisible; rather, it is very much present as a source of the writer's contempt and frustration. [4] Situating this later work in relation to "Semiotics of the Kitchen" suggests a more nuanced reading of women's relationship with food. In A Budding Gourmet, for instance, the main character is a woman who wants to learn to make gourmet food because she feels that the talent "will enhance her as a human being" and to "make eating into an experience" more so than simply nourishment (1). [5] Rosler's sarcasm seats food as the "experience" of gender oppression and colonization. The woman's desire to "experience" food develops out of her husband's desire that she keep up appearances for company (4). Given the pressure from her husband, it makes sense that the character finds the books on French cooking that she buys "scary . . . all that work and what if it didn't come out" (4). Cooking becomes an expensive process (if one is shopping at the gourmet grocery store, as the character prefers) but it does allow her the opportunity to explore, or as Rosler's tone suggests, colonize other food cultures.

[30] While Rosler keeps her angry housewife from "Semiotics of the Kitchen" and her budding gourmet separate, novelist Sue Kaufman had already provided a combination of the characters in her depiction of Bettina Balser, the protagonist of her 1967 novel, Diary of a Mad Housewife. At a climactic point in the novel Bettina makes a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner to please her husband. The meal does not turn out as Bettina had planned—her daughters are unhappy with gourmet changes she has made to the traditional dinner, and her husband is too ill to eat. Bettina clears the table and brings out the store-bought pumpkin pie, the part of the meal she knows her family will eat. After dinner, Bettina is content to be alone in the kitchen to clean up the mess. Teary eyed, she scrapes plates of food into the trash, and just before starting to wash the dishes, she takes an antique serving dish full of pureed chestnuts and hurls it at the door. The dish breaks and the chestnuts splatter all over. "Purged," Bettina feels a little release and returns to her sink full of dishes (193).

[31] Certainly for Bettina, the semiotics of the kitchen are a reality where the food is not invisible and the fear of failed gourmet food preparation materializes into a dinner that her family will not eat. Rosler's decision to tease apart Bettina's identity and create two characters seems to suggest the second-wave feminists' assertion that somehow critique of the oppressive gendered role of kitchen work could be separated from the critique of women's desire to engage with food production as a means of fulfillment. Helen Anne Molesworth suggests that Rosler uses A Budding Gourmet and "Semiotics of the Kitchen" to engage "the space of the kitchen and cooking as forms of social aspiration and entrapment, respectively" as two separate projects (137; my emphasis). What Kaufman's character suggests is that perhaps the yearning of Child and the resistance of Friedan exists in the same woman at the same time. Certainly this complexity—this simultaneous desire for and hatred of cooking and eating—feeds feminists' ambivalence about food. Disagreement over exactly what it was that feminists should be eating would only complicate feminist food politics further.

[32] In 1977, between the years Rosler was working on "Semiotics of the Kitchen" and the postcard novels, the Bloodroot Collective, a group of women seeking to build a woman-centered space, opened a feminist restaurant, bookstore, and women's center in Connecticut. The women adopted the name Bloodroot from a wildflower whose roots spread, each sending up a shoot on which a flower blooms; they imagined their collective as the root system that fosters the independence of the shoots but the interdependence of the root system. Five years after they opened the restaurant, they published a cookbook called The Political Palate. Their goal in both enterprises, as they write in the introduction to the cookbook, was to create a feminist food experience, one that considers the way women eat as part of the way that they live and act in the world. For the Bloodroot women, feminist food is seasonal, organic, and vegetarian. Food is about art and politics. It is a venture in which individuals might learn about other cultural traditions. It is produced by a collective and is considered as much for its richness and quality as it is for sustenance. The food experience they offer at their restaurant and in their cookbook is not meant to exclude men, but it is designed specifically to suit the interests and needs of women.

[33] The Bloodroot's vision for feminist food practices is laudable. Their mission is sound, and their recipes sound delicious. As a community of women, they are able to turn the work of the kitchen, the work of the budding gourmet, into a viable, ethical business venture that continued to be profitable. Theirs is the success that Miriam and Bettina were unable to achieve. The Bloodroot's feminist food project does have limits, however, particularly because it is a project dependent on a socio-economic position that is not available to all women. I write from the privileged position of being a single white woman with no dependents (aside from my lovable oaf of a dog) who makes a living wage through her teaching assistantship and other campus odd jobs. The Bloodroot women suggest that feminist food is seasonal—I can afford to eat feminist food during the time that the farmer's market in the next town over is in session as the produce sold from certain vendors fits my budget. I do have a car, which allows me to get to the market. When the market is not in session, however, I cannot afford to eat as the kind of feminist the collective describes in its mission statement. Because I live in a semi-rural community, the life of the market is limited to late June through September when locally grown produce is available. There are seasonal organic offerings available at the food cooperative and grocery store during the rest of the year, but they are far too expensive to fit my income.

[34] When I think of my position, I realize that I have more choices about what I eat (in terms of my economic status, my access to a vehicle, and the area in which I live) than many women who are committed to feminist ideals. For the single working mother who leaves an abusive relationship to put an end to the cycle of violence in her own life, or for the young feminist college student who has to eat in the dormitory cafeteria in order that her financial aid will cover her living expenses, a vegetarian lifestyle is difficult, an organic lifestyle likely unavailable. Rosler's Tijuana Maid, the character of her third postcard novel, is worried first about making money to send to her family in Mexico; to feed herself is less of a priority. The cheap foods available that fit her budget include processed pastas, starches, and beans—foods antithetical to the Bloodroot initiative. If the answer to developing healthy, feminist relationships to food is eating organic vegetarian fare, as is suggested by the Bloodroot Collective, what is the feminist who wants to eat "right" but cannot afford organic vegetarian to do? [6]

[35] The Bloodroot Collective's approach to food is similar to that of other vegetarian cookbooks produced during the 1970s. In 1976, Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey published Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition, a guide to eating a whole-foods diet that Mary Drake McFeely reads as a vegetarian version of Fannie Farmer's 19th century cooking almanac (142). The cookbook provides not only meatless recipes but tables of nutrition information meant to teach individuals how to eat better, a habit that Flinders writes in the preface will help them live more contented lives (12). For Robertson, Flinders, and Godfrey, to work away from processed food trends of the "X Mix" days of which Friedan writes takes time and patience in the kitchen, but it also allows the kitchen to become a transformative space where women can enjoy preparing meals and enjoy eating the food they prepare. To cook in this way is to see the home as "the most effective front for social change" (62). A comment appearing just inside the cover of the cookbook suggests that "a wholesome meal . . . unites the home" and prospers a nurturing space where "a woman plays a part equal to any other the world offers her" (inside cover). Through recognizing their own worth in the domestic space, women can re-envision the feminist doctrine of domestic entrapment critiqued by Friedan and Rosler. Of course, this reconsideration of the kitchen was not met without response. McFeely notes that some viewed Laurel's commitment to the kitchen as one that set women back years in terms of the second-wave goals of getting women out of the kitchen (145). But, if the kitchen were a space where women might be able to enact social change, could it be a feminist space? If the goals of eating organic, holistic, vegetarian foods, required time in the kitchen as it did for both the Bloodroots and for Laurel, were they incompatible with the movement of women out of the home and into the workplace? Could women have their vegetarian fare and eat it, too?

[36] Women's commitment to food preparation as in the case of the Bloodroots and Laurel's Kitchen readers raises tension among those feminists who think it damaging for women to make the choice to return to the kitchen, to enjoy cooking, and likewise to enjoy eating. The same stigma that led Friedan to pronounce that she was not turning her back on the women's liberation movement by talking about cooking remains strong within feminist communities. Recently, feminist scholars have looked to popular cook and cookbook writer Nigella Lawson with the same frustration as they had looked to Flinders, Robertson, and Godfrey over twenty years earlier. Jane Hollows investigates Lawson's cookbooks and television series to "identify what kind of postfeminist identity can emerge in a domestic context" (180). She specifically interrogates the possibility of fantasy Lawson encourages in suggesting readers imagine themselves as domestic goddesses, the variable antithesis of Friedan's beleaguered housewife and Kaufman's Bettina Balser. Hollows reads Lawson from the outset as "postfeminist," or one who promotes an attitude about cooking "historically post-1970s feminism" and prompts "a construction of the cook [that] does not conform to 1970s feminism" (181). The postfeminist approach to cooking as a pleasurable activity (and therefore suggesting that eating, too, is a pleasurable activity) does contradict feminist ideologies proffered by Rosler.

[37] As I consider the exclusiveness of the language of "postfeminism," I wonder why it is that a woman who has returned to the kitchen to prepare food for her family, to find joy in food preparation, to enjoy wholly the food she cooks is considered someone who is "post," one who seems to privilege patriarchal structures, one who has passed by the feminist movement. The 1977 Friedan would seem to respond to Lawson's love of cooking and care for her family as "coming out on the other end of women's lib" rather than a post-feminism that renounced the liberation movement. Others, however, saw postfeminism as a response to the differentness/inferiority split intimated by Steinem. Feminism did not offer a different but equally fulfilling political choice; rather, according to Susan Bolotin, it offered an inferior "unhappy," "bitter" lifestyle. In her 1982 article that is perhaps the first to discuss the concept of postfeminism, Bolotin interviews young women about their thoughts on feminism. "I heard feminists described not as women who were helping other women to achieve economic equality," she explains, "but as icy monsters, as women who had 'let themselves go physically,' who had 'no sense of style.'" [7] Even during the 1980s, young women had held onto the idea that feminists somehow had to be homely or fat or unkempt. Certainly, following this approach, the svelte, sexy Lawson would certainly qualify as a post rather than a feminist. Her attitude toward food would be considered likewise.

[38] The debate over the "postfeminism" of the kitchen is not the only debate that presents seemingly incompatible food-related feminist ideologies. In terms of food practices, vegetarian feminists are resolute in their maintenance of a meatless diet. While the Bloodroots and the writers of Laurel's Kitchen foster vegetarian practices, Carol J. Adams who published The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory in 1990 makes clear the relationship between feminism and vegetarian practices. Adams marries the use and consumption of meat to the oppressive patriarchal superstructure and suggests that "women and animals are similarly positioned in a patriarchal world, as objects rather than subjects" (180). For Adams, "feminism is the theory and vegetarianism is part of the practice"; therefore, eating meat means to parade with the patriarchal marauders. To eat meat is to live under rather than to resist to a patriarchal superstructure which continues to defeat women and animals. To eat meat is to give up living one's life as a feminist. The carnivores and postfeminists must all be eating at Nigella Lawson's house tonight.

[39] Novelist Ruth Ozeki responds to the problem of feminism and the eating meat in her 1998 novel My Year of Meats in which her main character Jane Takagi Little directs a television show aimed to promote the consumption of American beef in Japan. The consumption of meat affects each of the female characters differently, and while Ozeki strongly critiques the meat industry, her novel takes into consideration the complications of rejecting meat-eating habits altogether. Carol Adams would anticipate the problems one young girl faces in the book when she is poisoned by the hormones in the beef her parents raise and so develops breasts and starts menstruating prematurely. Adams would also support the overall aim of the book to critique the sale and consumption of unhealthy meat, which is supported by Ozeki's inclusion of supplemental reference material at the end of the book. But Adams might be surprised Ozeki considers the possibility that women may grow healthy through consuming meat. One young girl who is injured severely in an accident recovers with the help of her favorite meal: lamb chops. Another protagonist who had continually vomited when eating beef does not grow healthy through eating vegetarian fare, but rather, it is lamb chops that give her the nutrients that allow her body to resume menstruation and become pregnant. For Ozeki, eating healthy meat, meat free of hormones and chemicals, can be a positive and affirming choice.

[40] While Adams' theorization provides useful links between the presentation, advertisement, and use of meat and the feminist project, if readers consider Adams' linking of meat and women's bodies as the objects on which patriarchal power plays out, they must also consider the objectification of food more generally. For Friedan's housewife, sandwiches become the object of disgust. Robin Morgan explains a variety of food referents used to describe the objectification of women: tomato, peach, chick, cow, cookie, luscious dish . . . only two of these terms of refer to meat products (43). Rosler's semiotics suggests the violence of kitchen work on pretend food objects, those that do not even need to be present. I think of the jellybeans that I wonder if I should throw away before I eat them all. If meat is the object of patriarchal oppression, so are other foods—foods that women have prepared without thanks, foods that have caused illness, even the lack of foods that has caused hunger. [8]

[41] In the same February 1980 issue of Ms. Magazine that featured Steinem's discussion about food, pornography was also included as a featured topic. In a letter to the editor that followed the food issue, Marcia Weeden expressed her dismay that food and pornography would be discussed in the same issue. She felt that the more important discussion of pornography was "diluted and weakened, possibly not even read" because readers were also provided articles on collard greens and cookbooks (12). Weeden's position confirms certain feminists' frustrations that food should be discussed in a self-declared feminist publication. What is important about her comparison between food and pornography in terms of feminist food politics is that only five years later, Rosalind Coward would unite what Weeden saw as two incomparable topics in her discussion of "food pornography," suggesting that the food, too, could be implicated in the same kind of oppression that some feminists saw implicated in pornography.

[42] Coward's "food pornography" complicates feminists' understanding of food through looking at it through the lens of desire. She argues that representations of food in advertising, often advertisements in women's magazines, reflect a guilt-inducing, desire-filled form that closely resembles pornography. "If sexual pornography is a display of images which confirm men's sense of themselves as having power over women," she explains, "food pornography is a regime of pleasurable images which has the opposite effect on its viewers—women" (103). She continues that these kinds of representations "produce complicity in [women's] subordination" because they divorce the produced foodstuffs from the context of their labor and production but yet encourage the reproduction of food and meals that maintain such idealistic presentation (104). Given the increased pressure for women to diet, food pornography cannot even be enjoyed without guilt as can conventional pornography.

[43] Coward sees food pornography inducing particularly harmful behavior as women translate the images of the foods they see in advertising into signs of how they should expect foods to appear in their own kitchens, signs of the pleasure and indulgence, signs that eventually come to bear on their bodies. Not only do the pornographic food images posit expectations of women's roles as food preparers—those who are to recreate impossible culinary creations—but they also influence women's mixed feelings about what they should eat versus what they desire to eat. "The glossy, sensual photography legitimates oral desires and pleasures for women in a way that sexual interest for women is never legitimated," Coward explains. "At the same time, however, much of the food photography constructs a direct equation between food and fat, an equation which can only generate guilt about oral pleasure" (105). The pornographic pictures appear alongside advertisements for dieting and within a social context that demands unachievable standards of thinness. To see an image of a sensually lit piece of chocolate cheesecake, topped with well-shaped mounds of whipped cream and dusted with cocoa powder is "naughty but nice." For women to consider the bodily effects of indulging in that piece of cheesecake is for them to fall victim to the problems for which traditional pornography is critiqued. For Coward, however, looking at food as an object of desire eventually inculcates the consideration of women's bodies as requisite objects of male desire—bodies that will wear the rich food, likely in ways that do not appeal to socially determined beauty standards. In this context, Marcia Weeden might reconsider her anger over the pairing of food and pornography, for perhaps the outcome of analyzing both is not so dissimilar as she had first thought.

[44] While one side of the feminist movement was contemplating what to eat, another group was in conversation about how much of it to eat. Ariel Stallings' predicament over whether she can be a feminist—a vegetarian feminist at that—and still worry about her weight makes historical sense as it reflects two conversations feminists were having when she was a child. At the same time the Bloodroots' restaurant was prospering, Susie Orbach, a British psychologist, published Fat is a Feminist Issue: A Self-Help Guide for Compulsive Eaters. Her use of "feminist" in the book's title indicated a target audience of women who had been concerned with the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps those aligned with Friedan's or, later, Rosler's politics. Orbach's work is centered on women's liberation in that she seeks to identify the reasons why women have strayed so far from natural eating habits, or consumption that sustains the body. She suggests that women overeat and gain weight in order to defy socio-cultural norms of thinness, norms that relegate women to vulnerable, patriarchy-dominated states. Thus, gaining weight becomes a complicated act of resistance where women strive to feel safe, to feel as if they have claimed a space in the world, but concomitantly struggle with the feelings of invisibility caused by living as larger people in a society where the culture determines that to be thin is to be beautiful. At the same time, Orbach contends that in a world where sexual violence continues, many women find safey and protection in their invisibility. To be thin is for a woman to be visible and thus for her to open herself to the possibility of violence.

[45] Orbach's book received much notice following its initial publication in 1978. Subsequent reprintings, most recently in 1994 and 2006, and their dialectical responses (not to mention the number of times writers have signified on Orbach's title) confirm the book's place within public consciousness. Two contrasting reviews of the book in Off Our Backs: A Women's Newsjournal outline well key receptions of the text. Martha Tabor applauded the book's suggestions about how women might work together to understand the psychological explanations riding behind compulsive eating habits. For Margaret House, however, the genre of the book was the source of criticism. She suggested that the "self-help" aim of the book fell short of filling a need within theory and scholarship, specifically because it seated the book under the genre of other "pop psychology diet manuals" and thus undercutting the "severity" of women's overeating behaviors as a serious social problem.

[46] Other responses to Orbach's book suggest a rift within feminist studies as irreconcilable as disagreements over vegetarianism and whole foods. Six years after the initial publication of Orbach's text, Nicky Diamond, a doctoral student at the University of Kent, responded to Fat is a Feminist Issue with an article in The Feminist Review called "Thin is the Feminist Issue." Diamond spins the language of Orbach's title and argues against the rhetorical valuation of the language of "thinness," which she believes stands against "fatness" as a socially defined term that is too broad in its use. She critiques Orbach's juxtaposition of such terms and suggests the continued reconsideration of social structures that give the terms meaning. Moving away from the fat/thin binary, a binary she feels that Orbach privileges, is what Diamond suggests will offer women the possibility to reconsider their own body shape.

[47] Orbach responded to what she called Diamond's misreading of the book and suggested that whereas once her book had been critiqued for encouraging fatness to be scourged, for promoting thinness was worse ("Responses" 119). Rather than promoting fatness or thinness, Orbach argued, her book was meant to use the fat/thin binary within the "therapeutic context" to begin to break down its psychological hold on women (120). Reading both Diamond's article and Orbach's response over twenty years removed from its genesis, I am at a loss to understand exactly how their end goals are so different as to leave Orbach demanding that she not be seen as anti-feminist (121). Both women seem to move toward a similar goal. In her conclusion, Diamond suggests a dismantling of the structures that encourage women to feel trapped between thinness and fatness, two oppositional body types. She encourages body diversity and works toward a new understanding of the terms individuals use to codify bodies. Orbach, too, is committed to breaking down patriarchal structures through encouraging dialogue about food, eating, body size, health. The two women are not so diametrically opposed as their writing sets them out to be, yet even in the titles of their articles, they enter a rhetorical feud. Can't fat and thin together be considered feminist issues?

[48] Orbach would have taken a distinct opposition to Stallings' 2006 post that shared the name "Fat is a Feminist Issue." In 2002, Orbach announced her goal to sue Weight Watchers, a diet industry that she feels obstructs individuals' ability to learn their natural eating habits, eating when hungry and maintaining a healthy weight for their body type and shape. (Joanna Briscoe restates Orbach's natural relationship with food as Orbach explains it in her 2002 book On Eating: "She must pee, as she must eat.") To combat the Weight Watchers industry, a goal not intended to be seen as a fight against weight loss as a whole, Orbach created the online community AnyBody, a space in which those working with Orbach might share their ideas and post their accomplishments. Orbach's solution is to retrain bodies to eat only when hungry; to nourish one's body in a healthy, balanced way is noble. She hopes to fight the "recidivism" of the diet industry by encouraging women to understand their relationship to food. But, the reality of her suggestion is much more complicated, much more tortuous than her latest efforts to combat Weight Watchers demonstrates. How are women supposed to conceptualize "natural" eating habits within a culture, even within a feminist movement, that has taken so many positions on how and what women should eat? As Lorraine Gamman, an author who examines food and fetishism, suggests, "it's one thing knowing that fat is a feminist issue and another waking up in the middle of the night with the urgent desire to defrost a black forest gateau with the aid of a hairdryer." [9] Weight Watchers provided me with a system and a way of thinking about what I eat that helped me begin to understand how much food my body might need. For me, it was necessary to join a group and be handed an artificial system to being to understand what a more "natural" relationship with food looked like. It seems that this is what the group did for Ariel Stallings, too.

[49] Like Stallings, I do have some issues with the organization. Stallings is frustrated by Weight Watcher's push of non-natural sweeteners. She does not attend the meetings because she does not feel as though they would meet her needs and "doing it online was cheaper" ("Fat"). In her Foucauldian examination of Weight Watchers, Cressida J. Heyes critiques the normalizing function of the organizations' hupomnemata or its circulated texts, which seem to confront the notions of self-care that the organization promotes at the same time. I am frustrated by the organization's lack of attention to the various stages of weight loss and body image comfort that members bring to the meetings. For those who attend the meetings because their doctors—or, more importantly their own pain receptors—have recommended that they lose weight to combat diabetes, heart disease, or advanced joint problems, the psychological and emotional investment in Weight Watchers is much different than for me, a twenty-something who lost weight and is trying to teach herself how to stop eating compulsively.

[50] I understand Orbach's concern about the diet industry, how much money it makes. I have invested quite a bit of money in Weight Watchers in the last three years. But, I've also invested a lot of money in other things—coffee, movies, gasoline—things that haven't changed my perspective or made me ask questions about the way that I am in the world. Weight Watchers, as any other system that encourages women to think about what they eat, is fraught with specifics that any number of women will disagree with. I am not sure, however, that prompting a campaign against the diet industry that encourages women to question their adherence to feminist, women-centered principles gives those who continue to be frustrated with their own compulsive eating habits many options to productively and safely understand their relationship with food.

[51] It is not only Ariel Stallings who is asking questions about the state of her feminism if she goes on a diet. India Knight, British author of Neris and India's Idiot-Proof Diet, speaks back to Orbach in her February 2007 article that appeared in The Guardian. In her article, titled, "It's not unfeminist to go on a diet," Knight suggests that it is not wrong or anti-feminist for a woman to be able to look in the mirror and feel good about her body shape:

There exists a very bizarre, inverted kind of feminism (invoked by critics of dieting) that isn't about what you can achieve, but what you mustn't achieve. . . . Its adherents write and speak as if being a woman consisted of being under constant siege from the male gaze (yeah, right – maybe one day, eh?), which rather misses the point that many of us dieters aren't particularly thinking about the male gaze. We are thinking about our own gaze..."

While Orbach and others might argue that the woman's gaze has been conditioned by a patriarchal society which values only specific notions of beauty, Knight's position suggests that not only can women have a gaze of their own, but they can also exert that gaze. In the same way that the radical sex feminists claim sex as an act through which they can achieve self-empowerment and defeat objectification, Knight seems to suggest the power of controlling one's relationship with food and losing weight is an act women can pursue as purely selfish and self-empowering. My body is for myself. [10] Knight despises the infighting among feminists over the issue of dieting, and suggests that encouraging women to claim their bodies for themselves must start with "women not bullying women."

[52] Orbach has taken on new projects that I think reflect more positive possibilities for feminist work to fight sizism and unheathly body image circulation in the media, two problems that influence women's concerns about food consumption. She organized a protest at the London Fashion Week, protesting for a broader diversity of body size and shape on the runways. She is currently involved with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, a project to re-imagine beauty standards through education and changes in advertising standards, specifically for adolescent girls. Perhaps these alternate projects that Orbach is taking on suggest a more balanced movement in conversation about food feminisms, a movement toward an informed, educational activism that is not founded on exclusion.

[53] The divisive rhetorics of feminist food politics leave women with only questions about the status of their feminist engagement rather than productive means to continue to revaluate their anxieties about food and eating. Certainly, these food fights have reflected the problems of more general feminist infighting, fighting which seems to occur most often over categorizations of inferiority rather than differentness. What is troublesome about feminists' disagreement over food politics is that it builds a social atmosphere where women are unable to reconcile their differing positions on food and eating. When this happens, many women are caught in the middle. Women like Stallings, like me, are made to feel that there is no space for our concerns—that somehow our ambivalence about food, our anxiety about our bodies is disallowed. If we are unable to talk about our concerns, our food problems will only grow worse. Laura Kipnis jokes, "If only internal gymnastics burned calories" then all women would achieve the thinness for which they are conditioned to hope. Unfortunately, internal gymnastics tend to eat away at women until they reach states of physical and psychological disorder.

[54] As I began looking into Orbach's current projects, something caught my attention in the promotional short posted online that used to advertised the protest and its resultant petition. Towards the end of the video, one woman is shown holding up a sign that says, "Let them eat cake." I wonder if this liberatory suggestion is not the better position to thinking about women's food issues, one that shows the development of women's food politics away from Friedan. Rather than suggesting that women live in a world where, as Friedan suggests, they can't have their cake and eat it, too, meaning that they can't have a feminism that goes both ways, we should think in terms of letting women eat cake, as the protester suggests. Let women talk about eating cake or not eating cake or thinking about cake. Let them feel okay if they stand in front of their refrigerator and stare at their black forest gateau. Let women talk about how they make their cake—vegan, organic, from a mix. Let women talk about how many points are in their piece of cake. Let them talk about what it feels like to have eaten too much or not to be able to eat any at all. No two women are going to think about the cake that they are eating or not eating in the same way. And they should not have to.

[55] But, it is important that whatever they do with their conversations about cake that their positionality as feminists, as women seeking to build a better, safer, more equal space for themselves in the world, is not called into question. To classify women's approaches to food and eating as inhabiting positions on an anti-/pro- feminist spectrum is to further complicate the already burdensome process of sitting down to a meal. If women who support women's rights cannot agree to allow themselves and others to feel ambivalent about food, about weight loss, about dieting, about eating then they will never be able to sit down at a meal together to make plans for the future. The many conversations taking place like the one posted by Ariel Stallings are a productive part of the feminist project—and they must continue. When one respondent, Elli, who appreciated Stallings' post, thanks Stallings for encouraging "other women permission to define feminism for themselves," she identifies an important point especially in terms of women's relationships to food (qtd. in Stallings, "Ripples of Bitterness"). For each woman, food must be a feminist project. This project will take different forms and engage different habits. My project will be different than yours. But maybe, sometime, over a piece of cake, perhaps, we can sit down and talk about what is working and what is not. And, we can talk about the differentness of our projects. And, we can consider our conversation our means of uniting as feminists working towards a similar goal.


[1] When I began Weight Watchers in 2004, there was a $9.00 meeting fee for students. The company no longer offers the student fee, and prices have since increased to $12.00 per week with the option of plans where individuals can save money through purchasing passes to a number of meetings. While I've been a member of Weight Watchers, I have chosen to limit my discussion of my experience with the group because I think it is important that the group remain a safe space for women to talk about their concerns with eating.

[2] I realize here that my discussion is limited to certain facets of feminist discussion. I am primarily concerned here with feminist food politics in the United States between the 1960s and the present. I have not incorporated hunger studies or global feminist perspectives here, which I realize leaves out important discussions about women and food consumption especially in third-world regions where food ambivalence takes different forms. For a beneficial overview of current sociocultural materials on global food feminisms, see Doris Witt's "Global Feminisms and Food: A Review Essay." Also, for a more thorough historical overview of feminist approaches to food study, see Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber's "Feminist Food Studies: A Brief History" in From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food. Lastly, while I write about women's concerns with food specifically, I do not want to suggest that men do not feel similar ambivalence about food, eating, and weight issues. See Lynne Luciano's Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America for further discussion.

[3] When Brunsdon writes that Rosler's semiotics are not about cooking, she does not take into consideration the possibility that Rosler's commentary falls within a social situation wherein metaphor cannot be separated from reality. In doing so, Brunsdon presents a reading of Rosler that follows mainline feminist work on kitchen culture, gender, and food studies. Brunsdon's analysis of how Rosler ends up serving as a figure of disidentity for contemporary women who enjoy cooking is engaging. Rosler becomes the figure by which other women like Martha Sterwart and Nigella Lawson position themselves with "I'm not like that" opposition to second-wave feminists. While her views are useful in conversation with writers like Janet Hollows, who looks at Nigella Lawson as a post-feminist figure or Jennifer Horner, who examines Betty Crocker as an instigator of Friedan's nameless problem, Brunsdon's separation of gender identity from women's thoughts on food glosses over the impact of gender roles and kitchen work on women's eating behaviors. It is important that we reconsider the possibility that these two veins of analysis are not separate yet must be engaged simultaneously.

[4] Rosler's postcard novels were sent out, postcard by postcard, every five to seven days. The version that I am working from was bound and printed in 1978, although a prefatory remark by Rosler at the beginning of the texts suggests the postcard project started in 1976.

[5] Rosler has also produced a 17-minute film called The Budding Gourmet. The film is currently owned by six libraries who will not allow its circulation, thus I cannot incorporate its analysis into the discussion. A synopsis of the film is available online.

[6] While the issue of access is often discussed in relation to third-world feminism, the problem of low-income women eating in the United States remains at issue and illustrates the gate-keeping mechanisms in place that limit the feminist food practices outlined by the Bloodroot Collective. The government is working to create programs that broaden low-income families' access to fresh produce. The WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program is available in 45 states. Unfortunately, women in my area cannot benefit from this program because Idaho, the location of the closest market, does not yet offer the program. The recently revised Thrifty Food Plan, engineered by the United States Department of Agriculture to help determine the amount of money families and individuals are offered through the Food Stamp Program, operates without the use of the terms "vegetarian" or "organic."

[7] Ruth Rosen also references this passage from Bolotin's article (275).

[8] Current web discussion also suggests frustration with animal rights groups for incorporating advertisements that make use of the female body. The objectification of women's bodies by groups like PETA complicates Adams' linking of feminists and vegetarians. See Nikki Craft's online discussion, "PETA: Where Only Women are Treated Like Meat." Craft also provides a link to Carol Adams' response to PETA's campaign: "PETA and a Pornographic Culture II."

[9] For more discussion of food and fetish, see Laura Gamman and Merja Mikelson's Female Fetishism (1995).

[10] India Knight's suggestion that women reclaim the power over their bodies is similar to the aims cited in the 1973 Fat Liberation Manifesto written by the Fat Underground, an activist group devoted to fighting fat oppression (Freespirit and Aldebaran). The seventh tenet on the manifesto reads: "We fully intend to reclaim power over our bodies and lives." Certainly, however, those writing the Fat Liberation Manifesto would be opposed to Knight's suggestion that she could reclaim power over her body through dieting. The fifth tenet on the manifesto reads that the group's "special enemies" are "the so-called 'reducing' industries."

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