In college, a Xeroxed copy of this graph (click image to enlarge) hung on our refrigerator, so taken were my housemates and I with Pierre Bourdieu’s assessment of food in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1979). Food-specific coverage takes up just 23 pages of the 604-page tome, but it was the early 1990s and sex and gender and studies of the body were all the rage, so passages like “[t]astes in food also depend on the idea each class has of the body and of the effects of food on the body, that is, on its strength, health, and beauty… It follows that the body is the most indisputable materialization of class taste” blew us away, just as the notion that our love of Ethiopian food and yogurt said as much about our class, education, and social status as it did about our taste buds unnerved us.
I’ve long thought a chronological and geographic update is in order. When I finally pulled the well-thumbed copy of the book from the shelf and turned to page 186, I was struck again by the elegance of such complex information displayed so simply. Parts of the chart hold true 30-plus years later and a continent away (raw and recherché food can still be seen as the purview of those with more cultural than economic capital), and yet other elements have completely flip-flopped. Charcuterie, listed as a choice of those without economic or cultural capital, has, if nothing else, become recherché.
So here is a new take on Bourdieu’s “The food space” chart. It has none of the deep sociological research that spawned the original behind it, and questions of women’s free time and status, as well as rates of food and cultural consumption, have been left off. I have embraced and re-positioned some of Bourdieu’s original categories and items, but also added some specific to 21st-century America. What I found rather glorious was how, when I thought through any single food item (i.e. yogurt), it couldn’t really be placed in one specific location. Rather, specific versions of it would belong in different places. Such are the choices and range of our foodstuffs. Such is the ever-widening world of human taste.
(illustration by Leigh Wells, http://leighwells.com)
I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with where some item has been situated, and even more people will think something essential has been left off. This graph is but a starting point. What would you include?