Dr. Counihan discusses gender and food activism

Anna Jones

On Oct. 25, Dr. Carole Counihan spoke to more than 50 students and faculty in the Willard Smith Library. Her message to the audience was that “food touches everything.” Food is the central item that connects everyone in all different parts of the world, making it something that should be enjoyed as well as protected. She explained that the way to do this is through “food activism,” advancing social and economic justice through food practices, and creating healthy, fair labor conditions as well as fair prices for consumers.

The leading front in food activism today is an organization called Slow Food. It focuses on getting people to slow down and enjoy their food, to make food healthier and to make food practices fairer for everyone involved.

As Counihan discussed Slow Food, her focus shifted to gender in food activism. She pointed out that there are more women working behind the scenes in food activism, yet more men take much of the credit. For example, while at a Slow Food conference, almost the entire board was made up of men, despite the fact that women do most of the actual work.

Although Slow Food has succeeded largely in Italy, with many schools having their own gardens to grow fruits and vegetables, it still faces opposition in other places. Counihan noted that taste versus price is a big issue. If people commit to wanting better tasting food, she said, they’d be willing to pay a little extra. The taste of food is meaningful and emotional, so it’s extremely important to the eating experience.

To conclude her talk, Counihan said that being “honest about your food” is the most important thing in food activism. As long as people are honest about where everything is coming from, food will be better made and people will be able to sit down and enjoy it more.

“This was a topic I’d never considered before, and I believe that more attention should be paid to the Slow Food industry in the United States,” Morgan Houchins ’16 said.

“Everything Dr. Counihan said was relatable to all people on our campus,” Sarah Antonacci ’16 said. “The lengths that some people take to obtain their food and get to know their food are incredible and respectable.”

Counihan is a food anthropologist and professor emeritus at Millersville University. She’s authored several books such as “Around the Tuscan Table: Food, Family, and Gender in Twentieth Century Florence” and “The Anthropology of Food and Body: Gender, Meaning, and Power.” She is editor of “Food in the USA: A Reader” and, with Penny Van Esterik, “Food and Culture: A Reader.” She’s also editor-in-chief of the journal “Food and Foodways.”

Counihan studied abroad in Italy directly following college and became fascinated with the differences between Italian and American food consumption. She returned to Italy many years later to intensely study these differences.

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