Transforming tastes: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Alice Waters, and the revision of American food rhetorics Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Branch, Erin L.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • Transforming Tastes: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Alice Waters, and the Revision of American Food Rhetorics examines rhetorical alternatives to the rhetorics of quantification and science that have long dominated American food discourse. In the late nineteenth century, reformers' efforts to professionalize homemaking led to the development of home economics as an academic and professional field. This new field sought legitimacy by conferring scientific status on domestic work and by persuading the public that the nation's moral health depended on women keeping house according to modern methods. Almost simultaneously, the nascent field of nutrition science began disseminating research via government-sponsored publications that offered dietary advice in the form of numbers (e.g., of servings, calories, etc.). As American food discourse became a scientific, data-driven enterprise, this field meant to empower women instead marginalized women's everyday practices by validating only knowledge acquired through legitimate institutional channels. Three public figures--essayist M.F.K. Fisher, cookbook author Julia Child, and activist Alice Waters--provide rhetorical alternatives to these powerful discourses of home economics and nutrition science. Fisher's writings recount her personal experiences with food to celebrate the sensory pleasures of preparing, eating, and sharing food with loved ones. By organizing her texts around pleasure, Fisher's texts challenge received notions about the gendered nature of food-writing genres. Although Child's now-renowned books barely escaped publishing oblivion, they persuaded audiences that delicious homemade meals were within reach. Child's rhetoric thus successfully reached an American middle class that had, by midcentury, largely abandoned from-scratch cooking in favor of quick, easy, processed foods. Waters is founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant and the Edible Schoolyard and a leader of Slow Food International. Her texts draw on the manifesto genre, and mix sensory descriptions of food with calls for wholesale reform of the food system. This dissertation demonstrates that in countering dominant discourses, Fisher, Child, and Waters created rhetorical space for today's flourishing and diverse food discourses.
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  • In Copyright
  • ... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of English and Comparative Literature.
  • Danielewicz, Jane
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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