The focus of this project is food and its deeper meaning in relation to society. I listened to three podcasts: “Poultry Power: The Fried Chicken Chronicles” from Gastropodcast, “Other People’s Food Pt. 2: What’s ‘Poor People’s Food’” from The Sporkful, and “Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food” from Gravy. Although different, all three podcasts discuss the underlying stereotyping of the food Americans eat. From fried chicken to Chinese food, food in America has very close ties with race and socioeconomic status, from who prepares the food to who consumes it. In “Poultry Power,” the racist history of fried chicken in the United States is discussed. Fried chicken has been consumed since the days of slavery; slave women would cook this poultry dish for their masters, and the technique would be passed from one generation to the next. When the Emancipation Proclamation finally freed African Americans from their horrid plight, some black women continued to make fried chicken, this time for a profit, and opened up restaurants. The association between African Americans and fried chicken was further strengthened due to Jim Crow Laws. Segregation prevented blacks from having access to many kinds of food, and thus they often consumed fried chicken and ate it cold as leftovers. To this day, fried chicken continues to be thought of as a stereotypically black food and a food for poorer people, especially fast food from fast-food restaurants. Fried chicken, among other junk foods, is often consumed by lower-class people because it is affordable. The documentary “A Place at the Table” says that since 1980, processed foods have decreased in price by forty percent, while the price of non-processed foods like fruits and vegetables has increased by forty percent. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that poorer people eat a lot of supposedly cheaper and more processed foods like fast-food fried chicken instead of supposedly more expensive but healthier fresh food options. As a consequence, people of a lower socioeconomic class have become associated with junk food. However, Mark Bittman in his article “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper” points out that junk food is actually often more expensive than food cooked at home. The reason more poorer people choose to eat junk food (and thus become associated with it), is due to the fact that heavily processed foods are way more heavily advertised than healthier options. In addition, processed food like fast-food fried chicken are quick, convenient options that require no preparation or cooking, which is something that appeals to many people, especially poor people who may work long hours.
I enjoyed the design choices for this podcast. From the start, the listener is drawn in by the cheerful opening jingle, a mixture of narration between two speakers, interviews, and audio clips from other sources. The conversation between the two narrators is especially effective in drawing in the listener’s attention. It is interesting to hear what sounds like an unscripted conversation between two individuals. The music choices and sound effects for this podcast are very upbeat and engaging (there are chickens squawking, for example), and those selections further help to pique the listener’s interest. Not only is this podcast extremely informative, the listener is also hooked by the changing soundtrack. Although the topic of fried chicken and its roots may not seem interesting to someone who has never seriously considered the cultural associations of the food, the style of the podcast helps to grab the listener’s attention and makes the subject engaging.
The podcast “Other People’s Food” further discusses racial and class stereotypes about food. Fried chicken is mentioned again in the context of how it relates to black culture. African American cookbook author Nicole Taylor, like many other African Americans, will not order fried chicken when she goes out to eat because of the racial stereotype surrounding it. Racism is something that is so unfortunately yet deeply ingrained in American history and culture that it can be lined to all aspects of American life, including American cuisine. Furthermore, the podcast explains that regional foods from countries around the world are lumped into categories based upon stereotypes. When cookbook author Chitra Agrawal wanted to publish a South Indian cookbook, she faced obstacles from publishers who had already published a North Indian cookbook and refused to publish hers, thinking that all Indian food was the same. Yet again, racism can be seen. However, rather than this being overt racism, as can be seen through the association of African Americans with fried chicken, the racism demonstrated here is less visible. Perhaps it is not racism at all, but rather ignorance on the publishers’ part for believing all of India eats the same foods and therefore has the same culture. Economics also plays a role in society’s views on food. One might ask why we connect the economy to food from different countries, even when the ingredients used to make those foods are the same. During an interview in the podcast Professor Krishnendu Ray says “If a group of people are doing well and if a country is doing well economically, we tend to upgrade our estimation of their culture. And that feeds back into whether we consider it to be cheap ethnic food or expensive foreign food.” This explains why Japanese and Italian foods are often more expensive than Mexican or Chinese foods. People generally want to be thought of as having a higher class, and one indicator of class is food purchased and consumed. Eating more expensive foods from richer countries (such as Japan or Italy) associates people with those countries, and this itself translates over into others assuming the people who eat these expensive foods are of a higher class. Class differences in what people eat are further evidenced by Tracie McMillan in her article “Do Poor People Eat Badly Because of Food Deserts or Personal Preference?”. McMillan states that “the affluent spend more at restaurants each year than the poor spend on all their food.” The food that wealthy diners eat at restaurants is expensive and frequently originates from economically successful countries, while poorer people do not have access to these foods.
This podcast is especially intriguing due to how it is styled. It is full of interviews with people who discuss the relationship between regional foods and regional sterotypes. When Nicole Taylor discusses why she will not eat fried chicken in public, one hears the raw frustration and sadness in her voice. Similarly, when Chitra Agrawal talks about the delay in the publication of her cookbook, her annoyance over the publishers’ disregard for her culture’s cuisine is clear. Much like the soundtrack to the “Poultry Power” podcast, music also helped to make this podcast more interesting, but the interview style here was most helpful in adding emotion and keeping the listener’s attention.
The third podcast to which I listened is titled “Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food.” Returning to the subject of the “Poultry Power” podcast, this podcast from Gravy discusses the history of fried chicken in the United States and the romantic or sentimental associations that many Americans have with the food. Fried chicken first became an “emblem of the South” when slave masters ate this dish cooked by their slaves. When slaves were finally freed, they continued to cook fried chicken, this time to make money, and gained renown for the food they made. For example, in the town of Gordonsville, a major train stop in Virginia, women called “Waiter Carriers” would sell platters of food including fried chicken to train passengers. This specialty became so well-known that people would deliberately travel to Gordonsville just to try this legendary dish, and even today the town is known for its rich history of producing delicious chicken. Unfortunately, even as Gordonsville is associated with fantastic fried chicken, fried chicken itself continues to be associated with a stereotypical view of black people. Many Americans view it as a food of a romanticized South, a food cooked by black women in a peaceful countryside. This is the reason why some black people refuse to eat fried chicken in public: it is associated with a frustrating stereotypical image of their race that they do not wish to perpetuate. Similarly, other areas of the food industry, such as farming, are often viewed by the American public through rose-colored glasses because of the associations they have with their food. In the article “Bringing Good Food to Others: Investigating the Subject of Alternative Food Practice,” author Julie Guthman explains how agriculture in America is romanticized. Guthman states, “The agrarian imaginary persists in alternative food movement politics, despite that farming in the US continues to be based on white land ownership and non-white labor, with its persistent and well-documented injustices of various kinds” (435). Americans continue to believe that they acquire produce from family-run farms run by predominantly white, happy farmers. In reality, most of the produce in America is the result of often-abused migrant farm workers from Mexico, yet the image of the family farmer persists.
This podcast had less music incorporated into it, but what it lacks in that department it definitely makes up for in the power of its narration. The narration is full of vivid imagery, and through voice overs, interviews, and audio clips from other sources, one is drawn into the past. The listener can clearly picture “Waiter Carriers” surrounding trains full of eager, hungry passengers ready to dig into some delicious fried chicken as well as the process of cooking these foods.
All three podcasts contain similar design elements. Each employs the use of music to catch the listener’s attention and to provoke emotional responses, albeit to various degrees. All three podcasts also contain interviews in addition to narration which engage the listener while adding different perspectives. Interviews also help to explain in further detail some aspects of the topics discussed in a way that remains thought-provoking.
All three podcasts connect food and the stereotypes associated with it. Whether it is fried chicken’s association with poor and black people or class differences associated with different ethnic foods, all food has stereotypes attached to it. Whether the stereotype is that a food is only consumed by a certain race of people, that certain types of food are mostly eaten by a certain class, or that food is produced by a certain group of people, different food at all levels is associated consciously or subconsciously with different people. Food is more than just something to be consumed: food has close ties with culture and society, food is rich in history, and food, no matter what it is, has and tells a story.