PhD Candidate Merin Oleschuk on the Contradictions of Maternal Foodwork

Merin OleschukPhD Candidate Merin Oleschuk recently co-authored a piece on maternal foodwork with Professors Kate Cairns and Josée Johnston that was featured on the Gender & Society blog. The Gender & Society blog posts pieces for a general audience that align with the mandate of the Gender and Society journal.  This blog post examines the careful “balancing act” that mothers perform when deciding what to feed their children according to societal expectations. Using the conceptual figures of the “McDonalds Mom” and the “Organic Mom”, the authors illustrate how mothers are penalized for both healthy and unhealthy choices, and how  different social contexts can perpetuate these undesirable labels or hinder mothers from reaching the acceptable balance. Merin is currently completing her dissertation on how social inequalities shape food and the practices surrounding it.

We have posted an excerpt of the blog post below.

Calibrating Extremes: The Balancing Act of Maternal Foodwork

By Kate Cairns, Josée Johnston and Merin Oleschuk

When it comes to feeding children, mothers today must avoid the appearance of caring too little, or too much. Either extreme garners social stigma, although the penalties are far from equal.

Theresa describes how becoming a mother brought heightened significance to her food decisions. “I really tried to avoid the junk,” she says, hosting a focus group of friends in her Toronto apartment. A mixed-race single mother raising three kids on social assistance, Theresa says the scarcity of time and money makes putting regular healthy meals on the table difficult. But occasionally her efforts pay off. She recalls with pride the time her five-year-old son “went to a birthday party at McDonald’s, came home and threw up because he just wasn’t used to that food.” For Theresa, her son’s intolerance for fast food was evidence of her devoted feeding work.

The specter of the “McDonalds Mom”

When we conducted interviews and focus groups with Toronto women, many mothers described ongoing efforts to feed their kids nutritious meals, while avoiding processed “junk.” In doing so, these women distanced their own feeding practices from an imagined “bad” mother who makes “bad” food choices. Carol (white, producer) admits that she sometimes scrutinizes other grocery carts with a “judgmental eye” when she sees “really awful stuff going down the conveyer belt with kids there.” Tara (a white single-mother who was unable to work due to chronic pain) expressed frustration that her son’s healthy lunches would inevitably be traded for junk because his friends were sent to school with “all this crap.”

As mothers in our study distanced themselves from an unhealthy “Other” who made poor food choices, we were surprised how frequently McDonald’s entered the conversation. McDonald’s seemed to function as a trope symbolizing “easy” meals, “unhealthy” choices, and “bad” mothering more generally. Gail (white, acupuncturist) contrasted her vision of healthy home cooking with a “stereotypical image of someone stopping at McDonald’s to get food for their kids.” Marissa (Black, project manager) confessed that as “busy people we do need to do fast food,” but clarified that “my kids will tell you that does not mean McDonald’s.” Lucia (Latina, social worker) said she and her son “talk about what’s junk and you know, McDonald’s and all that kind of food” in an effort to teach him “what’s healthy, what’s not healthy.”

Again and again, mothers distanced themselves from the figure of the “McDonald’s Mom,” a stigmatized “Other” they used to defend their own feeding practices. While this defense may seem judgmental, we suggest mothers’ efforts to establish this distance reflect the intense pressures they experience feeding their children…

Read the full blog post here.

Professors Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann featured in UTM News

Professors Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann were recently featured in an article on the UTM News Page. The article highlights their research about the food preferences of lower socioeconomic status populations. The findings of their study was published in The Journal of Consumer Culture in July 2017. Professor Johnston is a Full Professor and Professor Baumann is an Associate Professor of Sociology, both with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus.

We have included an excerpt of the news article below.

What’s for Dinner? New study reveals how low-income diners choose what’s on their plate

Friday, October 27, 2017 – 12:44pm
Blake Eligh

A study from U of T Mississauga is shedding new light on the complex relationship between food, culture and poverty. The study by Professor Josée Johnston and Associate Professor Shyon Baumann of the Department of Sociology investigates how and why people in low socioeconomic households make the food choices they do, and features surprising results about how low-income diners view healthy eating.

Baumann and Johnston previously reported on how diners in higher socioeconomic brackets make food choices. “But relatively little attention has been paid to the taste preferences of those in lower socioeconomic groups,” Johnston says. “We had never systematically looked at low-income consumers to assess how they valued food.”

A peek at a weekly grocery bill doesn’t provide a full picture about what people would actually like to be eating, she says. “We argue that low-socioeconomic-status respondents demonstrate aesthetic preferences that are distinctly different from that of high socioeconomic status cultural consumption.”

“Our study moves beyond daily economic constraints to look at food ideals—what they describe as desirable and how they justify their preferences,” Baumann says.

Read the full article here.

PhD students Alexandra Rodney, Sarah Cappeliez, Merin Oleschuk & Professor Josée Johnston examine ideals of feminine domesticity in food blogs

Sarah CappeliezMerin Oleschuk

 

Sociology PhD students, Alexandra Rodney, Sarah Cappeliez, Merin Oleschuk, with Associate Professor Josée Johnston have recently published an article in the international multidisciplinary academic journal, Food, Culture & Society. The paper titled “The Online Domestic Goddess: An Analysis of Food Blog Femininities“, analyzes how idealized notions of femininity are demonstrated in blog posts written by female food bloggers.

We have posted the citation and abstract below. The full article is available on the Taylor & Francis Online Database.

Rodney, A., Cappeliez, S., Oleschuk, M., & Johnston, J. (2017). The online domestic goddess: An analysis of food blog femininities. Food, Culture & Society, 20(4), 685-707. doi:10.1080/15528014.2017.1357954

Scholars have explored how female food celebrities represent a realm of fantasy and desire, embodying attractive “domestic goddesses” who showcase the wonder and seduction of home-cooked meals. These studies have largely focused on television personalities and have overlooked the food blogosophere, a highly popular, digital realm of food media dominated by women. The blogosphere has its own prominent food personalities and occupies a central role as a source of information and inspiration for home cooks. This paper investigates how idealized food femininities manifest on popular food blogs by examining 426 blog posts written by twenty-two award-winning, female food bloggers. These bloggers forward a vision of idealized feminine domesticity that is glamorously seductive and rooted in the “real” life of everyday home cooks. This article illuminates food blogs’ paradoxical combination of idealization and mundanity. It argues that the online domestic goddess exemplifies women’s need to balance multiple, seemingly contradictory ideals: she must embody domestic success, while avoiding associations of perfectionism, excessive control, or laziness. This study of female bloggers nuances scholarly understanding of the domestic goddess fantasy by revealing the deep tensions in women’s food blogs, particularly the challenge of crafting a credible and appealing feminine voice in a postfeminist context.

Read the full article here.

 

Professors Judith Taylor and Josée Johnston consider Hugh Hefner’s cultural impact

Judith TaylorProfessors Judith Taylor and Josée Johnston recently published an article in The Conversation discussing the late Hugh Hefner’s influence on beauty, sexuality, and the objectification of women in the media. Professor Taylor is a faculty member in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies and teaches at the St. George campus. Professor Johnston is a faculty member in Sociology at the UTM campus. Both have done collaborative research on gender, beauty norms and popular culture. We have posted a short excerpt of the longer piece here.

Hugh Hefner’s legacy: Narrow visions of sex and beauty

With the death of Hugh Hefner, the architect of the Playboy empire, comes tributes and stories of his life. One wonders about his origin story, the price of his mansion and why he loved to wear pajamas. Hefner’s death gives us reason to revisit the debate about whether Playboy made room for sexual expression and free speech — or whether it ushered in a pitiful era of objectification of women with still-lingering effects.

What can we say about Hefner’s impact on sexual culture? Did his empire broaden the sexual landscape in the U.S. and abroad? As researchers who look at popular culture, gender and women’s sense of value and sexual selfhood, we assert that Hefner’s effects have been detrimental.

Most centrally, Hefner defined sexuality solely as men’s desire, in which women aim to achieve physical attractiveness as a life project. In this definition, women can consider themselves sexually successful if, and only if, they are desirable to men (or “f*ckable”, as noted by female comedians like Amy Schumer, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Playboy culture advocated objectification rather than reciprocity, without democratizing heterosexuality and asking men to cultivate, earn and fail at desirability, as women do.

Read the full article here.

U of T at the ASA

This year, 22 faculty members and 25 graduate students from Sociology at the University of Toronto are presenting papers at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociology Association in Montreal. In addition to the people presenting papers, a number of our community are also participating as session organizers, discussants or journal editorial panel members. The meetings happen between August 12th and August 15th. We have listed the papers we’re presenting below in the order of their occurrence, with student presenters shown in italics. Note that some of the papers have unlisted co-authors from other universities. Please refer to the ASA Program for complete information.

Saturday, August 12th

Bill Magee, Optimistic Positivity and Pessimistic Negativity Among American Adults: Effects of Birth-Cohort, Age, Gender, and Race

Jaime Nikolaou, Teen Pregnancy and Doula Care: A Space for Feminist Praxis?

Andrew Nevin, Technological Tethering, Cohort Effects, and the Work-Family Interface

Andreea Mogosanu, Historical Change in Gender Differences in Mastery: The Role of Education and Employment

Ioana Sendroiu and Laura Upenieks, Gender ‘In Practice’: Rethinking the Use of Male Practice Players in NCAA Women’s Basketball

Emine Fidan Elcioglu, The State Effect at the Border: Avoiding Totalizing Theories of Political Power in Migration Studies

Paul Pritchard, A Bifurcated Welcome? Examining the Willingness to Include Seasonal Agricultural Workers in the Host Community

Yukiko Tanaka, Managing Risk, Pursuing Opportunities: Immigration, Citizenship, and Security in Canada

Gordon Brett, Feminist Theory and Embodied Cognition: Bridging the Disciplinary Gap

Mitch McGivor, Inequality in Higher Education: Student Debt, Social Background, and Labour Market Outcomes

Sarah Cappeliez, Wine Nerds and Pleasure-seekers: Understanding Wine Taste Formation and Practice

Katelin Albert, Negotiating State Policy in the Improvised Classroom: An Ethnographic Inquiry into Sexual Health Classrooms

Marie-Lise Drappon-Bisson, Tactical Reproduction in the Pro-Choice Movement in Northern Ireland: Alliance for Choice’s Path Towards Successful Tactics

Milos Brocic, Cultivating Conviction or Negotiating Nuance? Assessing the Impact of Associations on Ideological Polarization

Omar Faruque, Neoliberal Development, Privatizing Nature, and Subaltern Resistance in Bangladesh

Sunday, August 13th

Dan Silver, The Political Order of the City: Neighborhoods and Voting in Toronto, 1997-2014

Andreea Mogosanu and Laura Upenieks, Social Change and the Evolution of Gender Differences in Depression: An Age-Cohort Consideration

Markus Schafer, Religious Attendance Heterogamy and Partnership Quality in Later Life

Atsushi Narisada, Buffering-Resource or Status-Disconfirmation? How Socioeconomic Status Shapes the Relationship between Perceived Under-Reward and Distress

Josee Johnston, On (not) Knowing Where Your Food Comes From: Children, Meat, and Ethical Eating

Ann Mullen, Labored Meanings: Contemporary Artists and the Process and Problems of Producing Artistic Meaning

Lawrence Williams, Dilemmas: Where No Schema Has Gone Before

Patricia Landolt, How Does Multicultural Canada’s Ethnicizing Imperative Shape Latin American Political Incorporation?

Merin Oleschuk, Consuming the Family Meal: News Media Constructions of Home Cooking and Health

Sarah Shah, The Context of Birth Country Gender Inequality on Mental Health Outcomes of Intimate Partner Violence

Louise Birsell-Bauer, Precarious Professionals: Gender Relations in the Academic Profession and the Feminization of Employment Norms

Geoff Wodtke, Regression-based Adjustment for Time-varying Confounders

Monday, August 14th

Markus Schafer, The Role of Health in Late Life Social Inclusion and Exclusion

Kim Pernell, Institutionalized Meaning and Policymaking: Revisiting the Causes of American Financial Deregulation

Cynthia Guzman, Revisiting the Feminist Theory of the State

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Policing Race, Moral Panic and the Growth of Black Prisoners in Canada

David Pettinicchio, Beyond Employment Inequality: Wealth Disparities by Disability Status in Canada and the United States

Yangsook Kim, Good Care in the Elderly Care Sector of South Korea: Gendered Immigration and Ethnic Boundaries

Ioana Sendroiu and Ron Levi, Legality and Exclusion: Discrimination, Legal Cynicism and System Avoidance across the European Roma Experience

Lawrence Williams, Bounded Reflexivity: How Expectations Shape Careers

Irene Boeckmann, Contested Hegemony: Fatherhood Wage Effects across Two U.S. Birth Cohorts

Jennifer Chun and Cynthia Cranford, Becoming Homecare Workers: Chinese Immigrant Women in California’s Oakland Chinatown

Katelin Albert and Steve G. Hoffman, Undone Science and Canadian Health Research

Ronit Dinovitzer, The New Place of Corporate Law Firms in the Structuring of Elite Legal Careers

Melissa Milkie and Scott Schieman, Who Helps with the Homework? Inequity in Parenting Responsibilities and Relationship Quality among Employed Parents

Matthew Parbst, The Impact of Public Opinion on Policy in Cross-National Perspective

Tony Zhang, The Princelings in China: How Do They Benefit from their Red Parents?

Rania Salem, Structural Accommodations of Classic Patriarchy: Women and Workplace Gender Segregation in Qatar

Tuesday, August 15th

Patricia Louie and Blair Wheaton, Revisiting the Black-White Paradox in Mental Disorder in Three Cohorts of Black and White Americans

Jenna Valleriani, Breaking the law for the greater good? Core-stigmatized Organizations and Medical Cannabis Dispensaries in Canada

Martin Lukk, What Kind of Writing is Sociology? Literary Form and Theoretical Integration in the Human Sciences

Jerry Flores, Gender on the Run: Wanted Latinas in a southern California Barrio

Jean-Francois Nault, Determinants of Linguistic Retention: The Case of Ontario’s Francophone Official-Language Minorities

Luisa Farah Schwartzmann, Color Violence, Deadly Geographies and the Meanings of “Race” in Brazil

Jonathan Koltai and Scott Schieman, Financial Strain, Mastery, and Psychological Distress: A Comment on Spuriousness in the Stress Process

 

 

 

Sociology of Meat

SSHRCThrough much of human history, meat has enjoyed an exceptionally prominent position in our diet. It is both an important source of protein and a cultural product with deep significance. Nonetheless, current and projected levels of meat consumption over the next several decades promise to overtax the food distribution system, push agriculture to more and greater reliance on industrial meat production practices, and exhaust valuable environmental resources.

Professor Josée Johnston and Professor Shyon Baumann have recently begun a new research project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, to study the ideas, beliefs and practices around meat consumption in North America.

They have noted that concerns around industrial-raised meat have coincided with something of a renaissance of meat as a cultural product. Even as tainted meat scandals shock consumers and firms work to allay public fears, meat plays a dominant role on upscale food menus, and butchery skills continue to confer status for chefs and home-cooks alike. Nor has the overall consumption of meat declined.

To study these trends, Johnston, Baumann and their students are scouring contemporary and historic news stories and advertisements related to the meat industry, conducting consumer focus groups, and interviewing meat producers. Despite the growing body of evidence that North American meat consumption is a social and ecological problem, meat carries powerful meanings about class, gender, ethics and taste. In some cases, meat is connected to national identity, and to masculinity.

By understanding how meat consumption is framed in public discourses, this research will help us better understand the social contexts that shape consumer choices about the meat they eat.

Down with ‘Foodies’? on BBC World

josee johnstonProfessor Josée Johnston was recently interviewed for “The Food Chain,” a program on BBC World Service on an episode about food and social class. Professor Johnston and her co-author Professor Shyon Baumann published a book on Foodies in 2010 (second edition released in 2015). In the interview, Professor Johnston discusses the definition and meanings attached to the “foodie” identity. Professor Johnston is currently working with Dr. Baumann to research the place of meat in the today’s cultural landscape.

From the BBC website:

Down with ‘Foodies’?

Is being cool a sign of culinary class? In the autumn of 2015 the Cereal Killer café in East London was attacked by protestors. They viewed it as a symbol of rapid gentrification – arguing that the cafe- which serves cereal from around the world- exemplified the rising inequality in the UK’s capital. It led to some basic questions about running a food business. And the tensions between what’s trendy, what’s traditional and what’s affordable when it comes to eating out.

But a larger discussion, about conspicuous consumerism and the so- called ‘foodie movement’ looms. In this programme from London, Sarah Stolarz explores the intersections of city living, being upwardly mobile and the pursuit of the next best meal. We look at food trends and their irresistible appeal when it comes to social media- although it turns out, no one actually likes to be called a ‘foodie’. Is access to new and varied food becoming more democratic, or are social media sites glossing over the surface of the culinary class wars? And what does that have to do with the price of pineapples?

Listen to the program. Professor Johnston’s portion of the program begins at minute 6:30.