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University hosts conference on gender and foodways

Anna Boarini | Sunday, January 29, 2012

Food and gender everywhere, but never a bite to link … or is there?

The conference, “Food Networks: Gender and Foodways,” hosted by the Notre Dame gender studies program, explored the link between food and gender this past weekend.

Pamela Wojcik, director of the Gender Studies Program, said the conference allowed for a dialogue that focused on a popular topic. 

“I started thinking about food just because it is clearly a dominant topic in the culture,” she said. “We’re talking about food at levels and ways across the board … Newt Gingrich is [attacking] Obama as the food stamp president … Michelle Obama is launching anti-obesity campaigns [and] everyone is excessively watching the Food Network. There is just so much stuff right now.”

In addition, the conference allowed Wojcik to accomplish one of her goals for the Gender Studies Program.

“One of my projects running gender studies is to … make gender studies more truly gender studies and not women’s studies,” she said. “Internally, I’ve been trying to work on it to bring in more issues of masculinity, queerness, trying to get more departments involved and to emphasize the interdisciplinary qualities of gender studies.”

She said if food and gender could be combined, it would produce an interesting interdisciplinary dialogue.

Betsy Cornwell, a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) student in creative writing, served as the chair of the panel, “Appetite: Creative Writers on Food, Gender and Self.”

“I actually heard about the conference because I was taking a class with Pam Wojcik, and she asked me one day if [I] or any of the other MFA students ever wrote about food and gender,” she said. “And [those themes are] pretty much all I write about.”

Cornwell and two other MFA students, Seth Oelbaum and Carina Finn, each read some of their work and hosted a roundtable discussion about the themes of food, gender and self that is present in their work at the conference.

“[Our disciplines are] all really, really different, so it was a great sample,” Cornwell said.

Kimberly Roland, a double major in Political Science and Humanistic Studies at Saint Mary’s College, presented as an undergraduate representative.

Her presentation, “Women, Minorities, and Food Activism: The Story of How One Women’s College Across the Street Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Real Food,” was an interactive presentation about the Real Food Challenge active at Saint Mary’s College and the work Roland has done as a Midwest Regional Field Organizer of the Challenge.

“Real Food Challenge leverages the power of youth and universities to create a healthy, fair and green food system, ” she said. “Our primary campaign is to shift
$1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and towards local, community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food
sources ¾what we call “real food” ¾by 2020. 
The term “real food” represents a commitment to the multifaceted nature of this movement.”

Roland said that food and gender are related to each other on many levels, and she wanted to represent this in her presentation.

“My presentation … included discussion about the role of food in the everyday life of college women from issues of body image, eating disorders, allergies and humane treatment of animals,” she said. “Food is something that connects and impacts all of us. So for me, it is crucial to address the injustice in the food system, especially oppression of minorities and women.”