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Food, Health and Places of Pleasure in the US during the 1970s and 1980s (tentative title)

Stefanie Büttner (Erfurt University)

„Food is fundamental, fun, frightening, and far-reaching“, that is how Paul Rozin, an American scholar in psychology with strong interest in food, appropriately summarized the wide range of means a developing interdisciplinary field of Food Studies is concerned with when talking about food. Basically that alludes to this key term as a diverse, often neglected and nevertheless fruitful object of research on the one hand. On the other hand scholars interested in all sorts of food-related topics paradigmatically advocate for food as an analytical lens which enables fresh views on various contexts. Such a framework also structures the following project from a historiographic point of view. A strongly assumed interconnectedness of food, health and concepts of pleasure in relationship to both dietary and consumerist behavior ‘set the table’ from which American society during the 1970s and 1980s will be looked upon within this project. Historicizing food practices framed by diverse social settings and norms as well as depicted as multiply relevant for individuals and groups, accompany a broader perspective on twentieth-century USA. Looking at how Americans during the 1970s and 1980s were approaching their diets and attitudes towards food enables views on how they had to position themselves in relationship to both needs and possibilities of modern society that increasingly envisioned its ideal members as rational, able-bodied and self-reliant subjects.

Within my approach, however, I assume that food and eating as aspects of everyday life remain increasingly connected to pleasure and leisure for contemporaries, although Americans at that time already have been strongly encouraged to maintain a balanced diet or to be concerned with their health. It can even be recognized that e.g. pleasure in eating, enjoyment of cooking or developing qualities of shopping for food that appear as pleasurable activities, have gained more and more importance within American society during the decades. These phenomena thus have to be analyzed in relation to contemporary assumptions about consumption or individual life-style as well as they ought to be discussed in the light of the wide dissemination of industrial produced and high-caloric food in the US. Furthermore they have to be examined with regard to alternative approaches towards food and sustainable consumption gaining currency at that time – to only mention some of the main issues.

Central to my particular attempt to trace these entanglements are questions about certain spatial qualities that can be attributed to the relationship of food and pleasure, especially because it might be assumed that here pleasure shows more facets than experiences in good taste or preferences of extraordinary foods. Presumably these culminated in experiences that have their specific spatial manifestations. Therefore, asking in particular for places where food and eating for pleasure still could be realized within a society, constituting itself as governmentally and bio-politically structured in a sense Michel Foucault would apprehend these terms, the project will figure out how and where these spatial components of food-related practices might be recognized.

The objective of Food, Health and Places of Pleasure therefore is to focus on diverse places, often supposedly perceived as transgressing or “eigensinnig” that functioned as spatial possibilities where Americans of the 1970s and 80s were able to negotiate their position towards interrelatedness with food and pleasure. Through an approach based on methods of discourse analysis in that sense that public expressions and dialogues about pleasure in food within contemporary media will be examined, it will be asked to what extent spatial phenomena light up within several publications that in turn can be traced further into actual places or regions exemplifying the described associations in the course of the project.

Stefanie Büttner studied British and North American History, Medieval and Contemporary History, and Geography at the University of Cologne. After her graduation as Magistra Artium in 2014 she received a „PhD-Preparation Scholarship” from the a.r.t.e.s.-Graduate School for the Humanities, Cologne, and started to develop her PhD-project in North American cultural history. Since October 2015 Stefanie Büttner has been working as a research assistant at the Chair for North American History at Erfurt University, associated with the joint project “Ernährung, Gesundheit und Soziale Ordnung in der Moderne: Deutschland und die USA” funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. Her research interests are U.S. Cultural History (19th and 20th century), Food History, Cultural History of Amusement and Leisure, History of Tourism, and Spatial Theory.

Stefanie Büttner at Erfurt University …