The foods we read and the words we eat : four approaches to the language of food in fiction and nonfiction.

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Dunne, Sara
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Middle Tennessee State University
Food is a common element in both fiction and nonfiction, and critical theory is the best way to understand food as a literary element. Food and critical theory have a long history together, and this study applies structuralism, feminism, the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, and classical rhetoric to analyze classical and modern fiction and the nonfiction genre of menu writing.
Chapter Two focuses on the structuralist theories of the French critic Roland Barthes, whose keen interest in both food and language eventually leads him to assert that food is a language itself which can be decoded through the principles of linguistics and those of binary coding.
Chapter Three demonstrates Barthes' theories as applied to the satires of the Roman writer Juvenal. In Juvenal's satires, food signifies power; furthermore, the genre of satire is based in the language of food.
Chapter Four applies Barthes' structuralist theories to Bobbie Ann Mason's recent novel In Country. The language of fast food, traditional Southern "slow" food, and some miscellaneous other foods is decoded, using Barthes' theories.
Chapter Five discusses the recent feminist theories of Nancy Gray, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray. Their theories, opposed to structuralism, are applied to a recent genre, "recipe fiction," in which fictional narrative and referential discourse are combined.
The theories of Mikhail Bakhtin as they apply to Fannie Flagg's novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, to Petronius' Satyricon, and to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby are the focus of Chapter Six. Bakhtin's two major themes of dialogism and the carnivalesque decode the food references in these three works.
Finally, classical rhetoric is the tool best suited to analyzing the power transactions in restaurant menu writing. Quintilian and Cicero help us to "read" the words we may eat in this form of persuasive discourse.
We eat and speak with the same physical organ, the mouth, so that food and words are intimately connected as parts of human experience. Structuralism, feminism, dialogism, and classical rhetoric help us understand the words we "eat" and the foods we "read.".