Wednesday, 26 March 2014


As my final term at university comes to an end and the final wave of deadlines loom Shannon O’Malley’s sage advice has never been so apt. As I have developed this blog over the last few months I have been surprised how easily the literature of food is used to create a moral imperative for readers to follow or evaluate. What has surprised me most from my findings is I initially assumed I would only find evidence within literature from the Victorian era to the present day. However, as I have demonstrated throughout this blog, moral suggestions or criticisms can be found in literature throughout the ages. This suggests to me, and hopefully to you that the of moral imperatives within the literature of food is in fact a timeless trope of this genre of literature.

It also amazed me the diversity of issues raised within the texts, whether it is socio-political critique or behaviour we should consider adhering to. Nevertheless, there appears to be a strong correlation between the literature of food and wanting to improve society. This process of reform O’Malley perfectly explains to her readers in the blurb of her cookbook, as they are instructed to “laugh in the face of doom [and] face your fears mouth first”. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging and researching this independent project but will take a sabbatical for a month or so to work on the rest of my deadlines, but I will then resume uploading my thoughts on the moral messages that can be found within the literature of food.

But for now, I hope you have enjoyed digesting the social feast!

Works Cited:
O'Malley, Shannon. Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. London: Running Press , 2011. Print.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Politics of the Apocalypse

It is a slightly daunting task to discuss the coming of the end, but I shall try my hardest without conjuring doom. Nevertheless Shannon O’Malley engages within the concept of the apocalypse as she visually and verbally engages with the form of a cookbook to make it an exciting and politically charged text. Before each recipe O’Malley gives a brief satirical context to outline the aspect of society the aims to critique, which she supports with factual content.

The Risen South White Cake from an initial glance appears to be pretty bland. The ingredients include flour, sugar, eggs, fat, milk, baking powder and some vanilla extract: a basic sponge. What makes the cake unique and extremely comic is its method and presentation. While making the sponge readers are told to look out for a “pure and smooth (batter), just like the Aryan race” (42). O’Malley conflates the American South with terminology associated with Nazi Germany, evoking the ideology of eugenics and superiority. By including these connections the recipe becomes comic, as it becomes clear to readers that the cookbook is used by O’Malley to criticise the racist beliefs of both cultures, rather than a book for insightful culinary information.

Risen South White Cake - an inventive use of cinammon sticks!
The ideological joke is continued within the decoration, by using the only ingredients that could be used to flavour the cakes: two cinnamon sticks. Readers are instructed to make a crucifix, by tying “your cinnamon sticks together with twine and submerge into a cup of vegetable oil. If you really want to rock this one, take your cake out and ignite it on someone’s lawn” (42).

An alternative apocalypse is used for commentary of topical issues, such as the catastrophic Haiti earthquake in 2010. The design of the Seismic Haitian Mud Cake looks incredible, yet it is inedible. The recipe, containing just dirt, salt and vegetable shortening, critiques the self-righteous nature of first world nations only helping third world countries during natural disasters.

Seismic Haitian Mud Cake
The cake is used both as a literary and visual representation of the indifference to assist poor nations unless there is a natural disaster. O’Malley uses dark humour in her preface to the recipe by remarking “[y]ou never know how long it will take for a disaster to strike that will guilt the international community into finally bringing you a meal” (11). The link between food and guilt is particularly interesting, and in the wake of such a devastating event is particularly chilling. Following from this, the barren and dry structure of the cake as a result of being left “to dry under the scorching sun”(12) for 12 hours poignantly depicts the abandonment of these nations either before natural disasters as “[a]ll of a sudden, rich people everywhere flew to Haiti and got to be a part of something” (13).

The final recipe I will look at will be the Pharma Nation Nut Cake, which  identifies a problem of over-reliance of pharmaceuticals “[b]ecause  having feelings is symptomatic of a “disorder” and the only way to cure a disorder is to dose it with antidepressants, the entire population is sure to find happiness through one fatal, pharmaceutical, mouth-foaming seizure” (121). Once again readers are given a specific instruction for the decoration by covering the cake “with 1 cup of your favourite little helpers” (122). The satire in this recipe is fuelled on irony, as the problem O’Malley identifies is in fact perpetuated by making and consuming this cake.

Throughout all of these recipes, the evocation of laughter is used for a socially transformative effect. As readers are subjected to what the cookbook considers to be a cause of the apocalypse, they question the ways in which the issues raised by O'Malley can be prevented or resolved.
Works Cited:

O'Malley, Shannon. Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. London: Running Press , 2011. Print

Monday, 24 March 2014

Rationing: the propaganda within wartime food.

Often when we think of the Second World War images and rhetoric of conflict, politics, and mainland Europe flood our mind. Yet a similar discourse existed and thrived within Britain, as food was portrayed as the key to win the war. This is achieved by establishing and maintaining a patriotic force on the home front.  All of this food material can be found in the Imperial War Museum, which I visited a few weeks ago.
Please click the picture to see a bigger image!
The pamphlet ‘Christmas 1945’ was created by Army Catering Corps at the end of the war for meals expected to ‘emerge from the cookhouse’. The opening page, titled ‘OPERATION “CHRISTMAS”’, tied in with the image in the corner and immediately establishes a militarised tone. However this tone is juxtaposed against the actual goal of the pamphlet, which is to “recapture the pre-war spirit of Christmastide”. Although initially this juxtaposition against the celebratory and the indulgent nature of Christmas, the inclusion of the ‘[t]hinking units’ act as transitional phrase for soldiers to integrate into a more domestic sphere.
Please click the picture to see a bigger image!
During the war the Ministry of Food published a range of leaflets which included: jams and sweets, salads, soups, tomatoes and various recommended diets for children of all ages.  One of the main purposes of these leaflets was to inform the British public about alternative uses of food. However, woven into all of them is imagery that provokes paranoia, leading to a sense of patriotism. One leaflet that particularly stood out to me was the Ministry of Food’s leaflet ‘Carrots’ published in July 1943. Much like ‘Christmas 1945’, this leaflet is also saturated with military connotations.  This leaflet was published in the wake of radar technology which was used to shoot down enemy planes or ships,  the connection between carrots and helping us ‘see better in the blackout’ is particularly interesting. It actually refers to vitamin A which does help to maintain eyesight, yet does not lead to the superhuman ability of night-vision. Reading this in the archives caused me to chuckle to myself, as the myth about carrots helping you see in the dark was told to my sister when she was a child as encouragement to eat her vegetables! Although this probably was not taken so literally by merging the domestic triviality of carrots with the war effort imbues a sense of patriotism, as Britain is eating for victory.  

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The question of Victorian vegetarians

Today there are many types of dietary options, meaning a broader range of choice for the likes of pescatarians, vegans and vegetarians. It is the latter which appears to be most problematic for the Victorians, demonstrated in from the political periodical Punch. John Leech’s ‘Grand Show of Prize Vegetarians’ (1852) portrays the discussion and ultimate condemnation of the role of vegetarianism in Victorian society. The title of cartoon acts as a pastiche of the Great Exhibition of 1851, as Leech depicts an exhibition of vegetarians, who have been transformed into vegetables due to their diet.
Click the picture to see a bigger, more detailed image!

Next to most of the vegetarians are signs to indicate what their diet consists of in the absence of meat. One of the signs simply states ‘on potatoes only’, implying that diet is the fundamental cause for these shocking mutations. Carol J. Adams, provides a moral explanation for vegetarianism, stating “[v]egetarians identify a connection between a healthy diet and a diet that protects the moral relations between us and other animals” (146). Leech however clearly disputes this within his cartoon, indicated by the use of the word ‘fed’ in most of the signs. The effect of this verb creates a sense of irony, dehumanising the vegetarians inferring they are similar animals at a market as the ideology of vegetarianism is bathetically undermined.
Leech establishes the power dynamics between the omnivores and vegetarians through a stark visual opposition, using comic grotesque imagery.  The image conforms to Mikhail Bakhtin’s definition of the comic grotesque, with attributes including “exaggeration, hyperbolism [and] excessiveness” (303) all of which are present in the cartoon.  Applying this theory to the image it becomes clear Leech establishes the power dynamics between the omnivores and vegetarians through a stark visual opposition. As the vegetarians sprout leaves or roots that protrude the floorboards and even a sign the characters become more engrossed in the grotesque, as Bakhtin elaborates further on the construction of the grotesque as “a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created and builds and creates another body” (317). It is evident that Leech engages with these ideas to make a comic criticism of vegetarianism. 

I think the intended audience is supposed to be appalled by these dietary choices, as readers are prompted to identify with the child in the centre, who points at the turnip boy. The effect of this stigmatises the ideology of choosing not to eat meat as vegetarians become a spectacle of satire. Failing that, they are supposed to be shocked by the grotesque imagery. This is reflected by the woman on the far-left of the frame, whose facial expression is that of disgust and horror. Leech appears to lace ambiguity within the cause of the woman’s disgust. He seems to be asking readers to decide if she simply shocked at the grotesque nature of the ‘Prize Vegetarians’, or the behaviours that have led to the ‘Grand Show’?






 Works Cited:

Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990. Print.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Massachussetts: Indiana University Press, 1984. Print.
Leech, J. “Grand Show of Prize Vegetarians” (1852). Punch Magazine < => Date accessed 13/02/2014
Spencer, Colin. The Heretics Feast: A History of Vegetarianism. London: Fourth Estate Limited, 1994. Print.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Macaroons and female autonomy (part 2)

I thought it would be incredibly difficult to discuss how the macaroon holds such socio-political power within Ibsen's A Doll's House without making it myself, which will be the basis of this entry. I am following Mary Berry’s recipe, which makes 10 macaroons:

For the macaroon shells:

· 125g/4oz ground almonds

· 200g/7oz icing sugar
All of the ingredients.

· 3 free-range egg whites

·2 tbsp caster sugar

·½ tsp cream of tartar

· A few droplets of red food colouring

For the chocolate filling:

· 200g/7oz dark chocolate, chopped

· 200ml/7fl oz double cream

· 1 tsp brandy

· 15g/½oz unsalted butter


·         Blend the ground almonds and icing sugar in a food processor until well combined. Set aside.

The consistency should look similar to a meringue!
·         Using an electric whisk, slowly whisk the egg whites in
       a large bowl at a low speed until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Slowly whisk in the cream of
      tartar and caster sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy, gradually increasing the speed of the whisk
       as the mixture stiffens.

·         Gently fold in the food colouring and blended ground almonds and icing sugar until the mixture resembles shaving foam.
·         Spoon the macaroon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm/½in round nozzle. Pipe 5cm/2in circles onto the baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. If a peak forms, wet your finger and smooth it down. Sharply tap the bottom of the tray to release any air bubbles from the macaroons, then set aside for 60 minutes (the macaroon shells are ready to go in the oven when they are no longer sticky to the touch).
·         Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160C/315F/Gas 2½.

·         Bake the macaroons in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Carefully peel away the greaseproof paper and set aside to cool completely.
 ·         Meanwhile, for the chocolate filling, heat the double cream and chocolate in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until smooth and well combined. Add the brandy and butter and stir until smooth, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.

·         Use the filling to sandwich the macaroons together then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Applying this back to Ibsen’s text the instructions alone shows the attention to detail and skill needed in order to make these successfully. I will put my hands up for possibly being the world’s worst when it comes to using a piping bag, as the misshapen shells in the pictures demonstrate. In saying that, although I followed the recipe word for word I somehow ended up with 14 macaroons! The small amount of food colouring I used made the macaroon a pastel pink, a colour stereotypically associated with femininity. While the shells were light, airy and sweet, the chocolate filling was incredibly rich and slightly bitter due to the dark chocolate. It was this juxtaposition of indulgent flavours that made it impossible to eat more than one per sitting 

Works Cited:
Berry, M. “Macaroons” (2014). BBC Website <>  Date accessed 01/03/14
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. Trans. Meyer, Michael. London: Metheun Drama, 1991.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Macaroons and female autonomy (part 1)

It is not often that we think of macaroons as anything more than delicate, small and sweet treats. It is even less likely that the connection between the two shells consisting largely of ground almonds sandwiched between a flavoured filling with feminism. However, for Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s prose drama A Doll’s House, the representation of the lightly baked confectionary acts as a symbol to challenge the marriage norms in the nineteenth century. First performed in 1879, the naturalistic problem play unearths the deceptions and consequent independence of Nora Helmer from her husband Torvald. Although there are only a few references to macaroons in the play, they become a poignant symbol for Nora’s defiance. Audiences are introduced to this sense of dishonesty at the start of the play, as one of the stage directions defines the conflict between Torvald and Nora, as she “takes from her pocket a bag containing macaroons and eats a couple. Then she tiptoes across and listens at her husband’s door” (23). Although initially this does not seem significant, Nora’s tiptoeing behind her husband’s back suggests to audiences that the Helmer household is not as simplistic as it may initially seem.

Sidney W. Mintz has researched into the morality associated with sugar. He argues that from about the mid-seventeenth century onward, the consumption of sugar, at least in the West, appears to have been colored by moral judgements, both positive and negative” (67). I think by applying Mintz’ ideas of the moral associations of sugar to Ibsen’s play an audience can explore the underlying dialogue of between Nora and Torvald.  It is this duality that ultimately allows an audience to interrogate how femininity should be portrayed in society. From Torvald’s perspective, Nora’s consumption of macaroons suggests a lack of self-restraint. Gail Paster’s theory of the “leaky vessel” (25) could be used to explore Torvald’s logic, as Nora’s gluttonous consumption becomes what Paster describes as “excessive, hence either disturbing or shameful” (25). A masculine moral imperative is constructed, as Ibsen reveals fundamental anxiety surrounding the Victorian housewife, as they could ultimately bring shame to their home and husbands. 

The dialogue between Nora and Torvald in the first act defines gender dynamics in the play, as Torvald lectures Nora, “([wagging] his finger). Has my little sweet-tooth been indulging herself in town today, by any chance?” (27). His question lacks the maturity or respect a conversation expected between two responsible adults. Referring to Nora as “my little sweet-tooth” (27) Torvald refers to his wife using a term of endearment, yet it is incredibly patronising. Once again, the associations with sugar contain a negative connotation, as indulgence becomes synonymous with impulsive and reckless behaviour. Torvald’s stage direction to ‘wag his finger’ at Nora establishes the power dynamics of their relationship reminiscent to a teacher and student or parent and child, as Torvald ‘educates’ his wife how to appropriately behave.

One of the promotional pictures from The Space's production of Ibsen's play depicts the many constraints binding women.

           To contrast, Nora's desire and ultimate consumption of macaroons consolidates her autonomy. Later on in the play she lies to her friend Dr. Rank, revealing why she is prohibited by her husband from eating them while still justifying her reason for eating them:

Nora: Yes, I find it very amusing to think that we – I mean, Torvald – has obtained so much influence over so many people. (Takes the paper bag from her pocket.)
Rank: Macaroons! I say! I thought they were forbidden here.
Nora: Yes, well these are some Christine gave to me.
Mrs. Linde: What? I - ?
Nora: All right, all right, don’t get frightened. You weren’t to know Torvald has forbidden them. He’s afraid they’ll ruin my teeth. But dash it – for one - ! (40)

The hyphens used to split Nora’s first line in this passage acts as a corrective measure, as Nora conforms to abiding and supporting her husband, consequently becoming comic. This effect is heightened by irony, as Nora claims her husband has influence over “so many people” (40), yet she clearly is not including herself in that statement. The effect of these comic techniques distorts the passage that follows, undermining Torvald’s control over her. By once again indulging in the light, sweet confectionary Nora does not appear to be interested in maintaining her looks, an attribute of Nora’s that Torvald apparently polices. Her nonchalance can be read as an act of defiance as she deliberately sabotages her beauty, and thus eradicates what appears to be the main reason Torvald married her. Ibsen’s notes for A Doll’s House in 1878 further explores the pessimistic position of European women of  the late Victorian period, as he explains “[a] woman cannot be herself in contemporary society, it is an exclusively male society with laws drafted by men, and with counsel and judges who judge feminine conduct from the male point of view” (228). It appears that the image or physical staged prop of a macaroon acts as a catalyst for female autonomy against the backdrop of patriarchal control.

It surprised me how throughout the course of Ibsen’s play, a simple action such as sneakily eating a macaroon become a coded measure of domestic defiance.

Works Cited

Finney, Gail. "Ibsen and Feminism." Ed. McFarlane, James. The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 89-106.

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. Trans. Meyer, Michael. London: Metheun Drama, 1991.

Ibsen, Henrik. "Speeches and New Letters." Kildal, Arne. New York: Print, 1972.

Mintz, Sidney W. Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excusions into Eating, Culture and the Past. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. Print.

Paster, Gail. The Body Embarrassed. New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. Print. 

Image coursesy of The Indpendent (2014)