Food media shapes our understanding of the world

Graduate Student Spotlight: Andrew Kleinke

PhD student in Literature and Cultural Theory

I’ve spent my time at UWM exploring how the processes of globalization have completely transformed what Americans eat. Multinational corporations have granted American consumers greater access to new cuisines, while improvements in digital media technologies have allowed people from around the world to share their meals instantaneously. Magazines like Bon Appétit and Food & Wine, two of the most prominent food media outlets in the United States, encourage readers to celebrate this abundance by eating and cooking a wide array of foods from immigrant communities. But instead of democratizing food production and consumption, the globalization of food and the discourse surrounding it have mostly served the interests of agricultural industries and transnational media corporations.

My dissertation looks at a range of food-focused novels, travelogues, memoirs, and even TV shows. I argue that these texts push back against globalization’s simplistic narratives of abundance. The first chapter examines culinary memoirs to analyze how immigrant and diasporic communities reproduce specific dishes to maintain active connections to their homelands, critiquing nationalistic calls to assimilate and forget. Later chapters explore the function of major media figures, such as Anthony Bourdain, who serve as cultural translators and intermediaries to American audiences. My work ultimately encourages American consumers to engage more closely with the historical dimensions of our nation’s agricultural and dining practices.