31 January 2008

Food Puritanism and Food Pornography:
The Gourmet Semiotics of Martha and Nigella

From Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-present), Fall 2007, Volume 6, Issue 2
by Richard M. Magee

Many of the food icons that capture our attention appear at first taste to fall easily into two opposing kitchens: food Puritanism and food pornography. These two terms, though, are much more complex than they might indicate, and, when we consider them carefully, the terms collapse into each other as they are propelled by the same sets of cultural anxieties and nutritional superstitions. On the one hand, food Puritanism can be represented by a wide variety of cultural markers ranging from Morgan Spurlock’s self-flagellating documentary Supersize Me to the latest scientifically-based, strictly tested diet book. Food pornography, the obvious counterpoint to the Puritanical trend, takes the form of glossily lush photographs of voluptuous and sinfully rich desserts, or of fantasy recipe and lifestyle images that, in the words of Molly O’Neill, are “so removed from real life that they cannot be used except as vicarious experience” (39). Martha Stewart, with her faux-Wasp name and carefully cultivated image as doyenne of New England ├╝ber-domesticity, seems to be the perfect candidate for the voice of food Puritanism. Her past legal troubles and incarceration even reinforce this notion: her much-discussed legally imposed ankle bracelet became the scarlet letter whose ultimate significance became unfettered from its legal meanings.

Standing at the other side of the kitchen divide, apparently willing to wear the apron of food pornographer, is the saucy Brit Nigella Lawson, who once called her show “gastroporn” (Hirschberg). Lawson’s interest in eating the food she cooks competes with her joy in cooking it, and she seems to derive more sensual pleasure out of the taste of good food than any famous cooking figure since Julia Child. However, despite the apparently obvious dichotomy separating Stewart and Lawson, the categories will not stand. By carefully reading the images that each author creates to construct a personal mythology of food and domestic labor, we can see that Stewart’s Puritanism becomes a sort of pornographic and obsessive fantasy that has as little to do with the real pleasures of eating as the other pornography has to do with the real pleasures of sex, and that Lawson’s highly eroticized postures tend to break down the barriers between sexual and gustatory pleasures.

As Steve Jones and Ben Taylor have pointed out, much of the scholarship done on food up to this point has focused on sociological or cultural analyses of food cultures, that is, on the food itself, and relatively little on the rhetoric of food (171). Nevertheless, the anthropological approach does provide ample background to the study of food writing, beginning, where much food analysis does, with Roland Barthes’s Mythologies. Barthes’s approach is particularly useful when considering the cookbooks that Stewart and Lawson have written based on their carefully constructed respective myths. Barthes points out that ornamental cookery is “supported by wholly mythical economics” (79), and, indeed, the economics of the two writers, Stewart in particular, are based more on a fantasy unapproachable by most American readers.

You can read the rest of the essay here


Anonymous said...


I won't be leaving my children a penny, says Nigella Lawson

Last updated at 08:43am on 29th January 2008

Although Nigella and her husband are worth £110million, she says she won't pass on a penny to her children
As the daughter of a former Conservative chancellor, Nigella Lawson knows a thing or two about privileged upbringing.

But when it comes to raising her own children, the celebrity chef clearly believes in tough love.

She shares an estimated wealth of more than £110million with her husband, the marketing guru Charles Saatchi, and has a £7million London home.

However, Miss Lawson says she will leave none of it to her offspring.

It is not a decision with which her husband agrees.

Mr Saatchi, 64, is adamant that the children should be allowed to inherit the couple's wealth - and the subject causes more than a little discord between them, according to Miss Lawson.

Mr Saatchi has one daughter, 12-year-old Phoebe from his first marriage.

Miss Lawson, 48, has two children, 13-year-old daughter Cosima and son Bruno, 11, from her marriage to the late journalist John Diamond.

Asked what she hoped the children would learn from her, Miss Lawson told the magazine My Weekly: "To know that I am working and that you have to work in order to earn money.

"I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money.

"I argue with my husband Charles, because he believes that you should be able to leave money to your children.

"I think we'll have to agree to disagree."

Miss Lawson has not said what she would rather do with the couple's fortune, although she has worked closely with cancer charities after her mother, sister and first husband died of the disease.

Scroll down for more...

Doting mother: Nigella poses with son Bruno (right) Mimi Diamond (centre) and Mr Saatchi's daughter from a previous marriage, Phoebe (left)

The daughter of Nigel Lawson and Vanessa Salmon, a socialite and heiress to the Lyons Corner House empire, Miss Lawson married Mr Saatchi soon after her first husband died.

She moved into his Belgravia mansion shortly afterwards.

In 1998, she became a household name with the publication of her first cookery book How To Eat.

At loggerheads: Nigella's husband Charles Saatchi disagrees with her view that their children should not receive a large inheritance

Since then she has sold more than three million books, including How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

Her most recent cookery show, Nigella Express, drew up to 3.2million viewers an episode.

However, while other celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver learned their trade in restaurant kitchens, Miss Lawson took a more glamorous route.

She attended Oxford University, although, by her own admission-she failed at school, and was made a deputy editor at the Sunday Times newspaper at 26.

She then became a freelance writer and food critic.

She is no stranger to the luxury lifestyle. She favours Vivienne Westwood dresses, Taittinger champagne and celebrity beauticians.

In 1995, Miss Lawson was sacked from presenting a show on Talk Radio for being at odds with the show's "common touch" after revealing she employed people to do her shopping.

Mr Saatchi is one of the country's richest men. He and his brother Maurice set up their first advertising company in 1976, then set up the marketing company, M&C Saatchi in 1995.

It is believed that Charles is worth at least £100million. The brothers are said to be worth £231million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, which includes Charles's multi-million pound modern art collection.

Miss Lawson is thought to be worth about £15million

Gotham City Insider said...

Yeah, I saw that too and I, uh, decided not to write about it because that sucks. Haha! We'll call it "selective journalism". Whatever, when she's old and sans teeth and her kids are spoon feeding her apple sauce I bet she'll change her buxom mind.