Serious feast: Vancouver foodies in globalized consumer society

Diana Ambrozas
School of Communication, SFU
December, 2003
 

Abstract

Just three American magazines were devoted to food in 1973, while today the number has grown exponentially to over thirty. In this research project I tell the story of why this happened at this particular historical juncture. I am also interested in researching a particular locale. Specifically, this dissertation studies Vancouver foodies in the context of globalized consumer society. “Foodies” is a term used by the media and, grudgingly, by foodies themselves. It denotes people whose identity is partly formed by eating “good food” and by regularly consuming a range of products from cooking magazines to kitchen tools. On the basis of semi-structured interviews with twenty Vancouver area foodies as well as “tours” of their pantries and refrigerators, I discuss foodies’ cooking, shopping, eating and reading practices. I also discuss their kitchen fantasies. In addition I analyze a typical issue of two favourite food magazines: Saveur and Bon Appétit.

The primary research question, which organizes the dissertation, asks about the structure of this social group? Is it predominantly a lifestyle formation coming together through leisure pursuits and consumption choices? Is it a taste culture stemming from a certain class fraction? Is it a subculture with alternative values? Or is it simply a target market identified by media and advertisers?

Foodies tend to be cultural and social specialists who use cultural forms of distinction over socio-economic forms; in Bourdieu’s terms they use “ostentatious simplicity” instead of conspicuous consumption. For example, their consumption of exotic or expensive regional specialties, like pomegranate molasses and fleur de Camargue salt, displays their cultural capital. At the same time their consumption of local, artisanally-produced organic food symbolically resists industrial agribusiness and genetic modification (GM) technology. Core foodies, such as upscale restaurant chefs, are moreover explicitly critical of both and may also be politically active in the organic or slow food movements. Foodies use their support of alternative farming practices as another sign of “culinary capital.” Cultural distinction thus works to reproduce consumerist values as well as to resist them. I explore these tensions at the level of everyday lived experience.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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