“Let’s Eat!” series on food culture begins with lecture on the refridgerator
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 17:09
The “Let’s Eat! The Material Culture of Food” series commenced Wednesday as Sandy Isenstadt, art history professor and associate director of the university’s Center for Material Culture Studies, gave the first lecture of the series, a presentation about the refrigerator.
According to Deborah Andrews, English professor and director of the Center for Material Culture Studies, the series will consist of 14 lectures and is designed in part to turn students on to the study of material culture.
Andrews says she was eager to choose Isenstadt as the first lecturer of the series because she wanted to start it off with a “bang.”
“The term ‘material culture’ does not resonate with undergraduates,” Andrews says. “The goal is to bring them in so they can think about the relationship between people and their things.”
The Center for Material Culture Studies’ “Let’s Eat!” series is the Center’s sixth lecture series, and food was this year’s chosen topic, due to the fact that it is everywhere from the kitchen table to social media, Andrews says.
Isenstadt says his research on American suburban homes inspired him to create a lecture on the refrigerator.
“I had simply noticed that products—like refrigerators—were consonant with high-end architectural discussions,” he says.
The refrigerator is a facet of food-related material culture in that it is often “commensurate” with the architecture of the home in which it lies, Isenstadt says.
“It’s surprising to think of an enclosed, finite box being related to a broad landscape view,” he says.
The refrigerator has historically been either emblematic of or hidden in the house in which it is located, Isenstadt says. He mentioned the Philip Johnson Glass House of New Canaan, Conn., a house renowned for its modern architecture, as a prominent example of a home in which the refrigerator is tucked away according to standards of high-end architecture.
If technology, such as the refrigerator in the Philip Johnson Glass House, does not conform with the architecture of the home, it is put in a less prominent part of the house, Isenstadt says.
The lecture also featured advertisements that relate food to gender roles and sexuality Isenstadt says.
One advertisement showed a mother unconsciously holding two parfaits garnished with cherries in front of her breasts. A young boy, presumably the woman’s child, is seen in the advertisement gazing at the two parfaits, a phenomenon Isenstadt dubs the “edible Oedipal.”
“Our relationship with food is not strictly utilitarian,” Isenstadt says.
Sophomore Sarah Morrissey says she enjoyed attending the lecture, as it gave her the opportunity to learn about something she would not normally study through her major.
“It’s interesting to learn about something that’s not in my field,” she says. “I really enjoyed learning about the evolution of a product that we always take for granted.”
The refrigerator is remarkable because of its engineering that was considered to be advanced when the machine was invented, as well as the way that advertising companies presented it, Morrissey says.
Andrews says the university has a reputable material culture studies program nationally, internationally and locally that has recently advanced outreach efforts to undergraduate students.
“One of the problems with undergraduate life, in general, is that so much time is spent on screens,” Andrews says. “It [material culture studies] allows us to have a new relationship with the objects in our life.”