The End of Deadlines, the Return of Blogging

They Say the Only Good Dissertation…

final page count: 340, not including bibliography--a pretty moderate length for American Studies 

…is a done dissertation. “They” can kind of be jerks sometimes, but even I admit, the document I submitted last month is more done than good. Still, it is good to be done.

I will probably put together a book proposal this Fall and if all goes well, the revised and expanded version may be ready in another 3-5 years. Why so long? Well, I’m planning on writing at least one more chapter—on magazines like Gourmet and Bon Apetit and the rise of The Food Network. Also, right now Chapter Two is just this horrible, unwieldy, 100-page lit review that I’m not sure what to do with yet. Also also, I’ll be teaching full time starting in the Fall and looking for a more permanent teaching gig or post-doc, so it’s not like I can work on it full time. And really, 3-5 years is just kind of how long it  takes for dissertations to be book-ready, at minimum. Folks with Proquest access/university libraries will be able to read the whole, not-good thing very soon. Abstract below the jump for anyone else who’s curious.

Dedicated to Mom & Dad

Frontispiece from "Michael Pollan or Michel Foucault?"

And Then I Assembled a Cookbook

Brian and I decided that the favor we wanted to give people at our wedding was a cookbook full of recipes from friends and family. We solicited recipes along with the RSVP cards, compiled them all into one big .pdf, and published it on

chicken fingers cookbook 041

We opted to do color printing because we included a couple dozen photos and it ended up being about 120 pages long, so each cookbook cost around $30. You could do it cheaper if you were happy with black & white images (that would have been less than $10 per book). Lulu also has special cookbook-specific formatting software with a handful of templates to choose from, but going that route will cost you $80+ per book.  

chicken fingers cookbook 044chicken fingers cookbook 049


And now, with all of those things and associated obligations dispensed with, I hope to get back to posting semi-regularly…at least until July 17, when I’m heading to France and not taking my computer.


Aspirational Eating: Class Anxiety and the Rise of Food in Popular Culture

by S. Margot Finn

Chair: Paul Allen Anderson

This dissertation focuses on four pillars in the popular discourse about food 1) sophistication, 2) thinness, 3) purity, and 4) cosmopolitanism. The collective emergence of these four pillars in mainstream U.S. culture in the 1980s is often referred to as the American “food revolution.” The prevailing explanation for the food revolution is a progressive narrative I refer to as the “culinary enlightenment thesis.” According to the culinary enlightenment thesis, the four pillars represent a unified gestalt that resulted from the inevitable forward march of progress in agricultural technologies, nutritional science, global trade, and liberal multiculturalism. I show that the four pillars are neither a unified gestalt nor a new phenomenon. Instead, they represent conflicting and competing ideals that were also mainstream preoccupations between 1880 and 1920. At the turn of the twentieth century, gourmet cooking, slimming diets, natural and “Pure Foods,” and international cuisines first became popular in the U.S. primarily among urban middle-class women, who served as national taste leaders.

Furthermore, I analyze how recent mass media discourses and texts, including representations of President Obama, the Grey Poupon Rolls Royce advertising campaign, NBC’s hit reality series “The Biggest Loser,” and critically-acclaimed films like Ratatouille (Pixar 2007) Sideways (Fox Searchlight 2004) construct, negotiate with, and reinforce the four pillars of “enlightened” eating. My central argument is that rather than representing a true enlightenment, the food revolution serves as a compensatory form of class mobility for the American middle class during periods of income stagnation and high inequality. Food has been used to define social classes since the emergence of capitalism, but “aspirational eating,” or the use of food as a means of performing and embodying the “good life” is a quintessentially middle-class practice that emerged in Anglo-American culture in the eighteenth century. Its relative importance in American popular culture reflects the changing nature of middle-class status anxieties. Since the 1980s, as middle class has struggled to maintain their material advantages over the lower classes, the cultural capital represented by food has become a central technology of creating class distinctions and one of the primary ways that many Americans have of aspiring to the “good life.”