22 October 2020 – Food, the body and visual culture

Zoom Meeting: Book Now

22 October 2020, 5.30pm-7pm (UK Time)

Nancy Siegel, Towson University, MD: Feeding the Body Politic: Culinary Satire in the Reign of George III

Queen Charlotte frying sprats, George III toasting muffins or placing a fleet of ships in an oven about to be baked like gingerbread, the Prince of Wales gorging himself on the fortunes of Empire, William Pitt carving plum pudding with Napoleon, the American colonies represented as a kettle of fish, and of course the roast beef of England—visual metaphors and similes linking politics to consumption formed the basis for select satirists to create a distinct genre of prints which sparked debate, criticism, and dissent. From the mid-eighteenth through the early nineteenth century, these artists deployed a culinary vocabulary as their visual language to mock the royal family, nobility, and aristocrats. Whether the British Empire was referred to as a cake or a kettle of fish, the domestic language of food was easily understood by audiences with varied socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. My research posits that the iconography found in culinary print culture is more than merely humor-driven with its easily recognizable foodstuffs. While visually delightful and endlessly comedic, the comestibles employed to mock, deride, and ridicule members of the royal family and parliament expose subtexts that read as political and economic markers of trade and commerce. Their depictions of tea, gluttony or starvation, pork, beef, and bread whether butchered, consumed, or baked spoke to the conditions and events that ultimately dismantled the Empire: non-importation movements in the American colonies, food riots in London and the surrounding countryside, complex trade embargoes, protests over taxation, and ultimately revolution. To feed the body politic, literally and figuratively, was the means by which the British Empire would expand its control internationally but ultimately falter due to diplomatic conflict and economic hardship.

Rosalind Hayes, UCL: Eaters and the eaten: pork, parasites and slaughterhouse reform in British visual culture, 1880-1900 

When John Berger asked Why Look at Animals?, he argued that the nineteenth century witnessed the steady ‘marginalisation’ of nonhuman animals in public life, partly due to the widening distances between humans and the animals they ate. While Berger’s argument remains compelling, a more nuanced exploration is necessary to uncover the ways that ‘marginalisation’ was engendered. This includes recognising that, while animal slaughter rates increased in the UK and abroad, forms of non-mammalian life were known to thrive parasitically in Britain’s meat supply chain. Focusing on visual material such as prints, blueprints and photographs dating from 1880-1900, this paper delves into how slaughterhouse reform in Britain was shaped by concerns about the healthfulness and ethics of meat eating. In order to understand these concerns, it is necessary to consider how images were employed, and sometimes failed, to distinguish humans from nonhumans. Considering first anxieties over zoonotic parasitic disease, I complicate the definition of who precisely was the ‘food’. I then discuss the architecture of abattoirs and meat inspection within which animals’ ability to return the human gaze became restricted. To look at more-than-human-life, and follow the sightlines available to animals facing slaughter can tell us about the consequences of an increasingly global meat trade on the visual relationship between eaters and the eaten. It entails dealing with interspecies relationships on both a micro and macro scale. This question of scale is in turn important for examining how images convey – or undermine – human dominance over nonhuman life in the consumption of food.

All welcome – This event is free, but booking is required.

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