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185 Chapter 10 Writing against Food-Based Aesthetics of Objectification The Work of Judith Ortiz Cofer Karen Cruz Women experience subjugation in a variety of ways, and one mode is the process of objectification. That women are objectified has been bandied about to such an extent that the notion,quite disconcertingly, seems to have lost some import. So many scholars recognized this truism that it was perceived perhaps to be too obvious and no longer worthy of scholarly investigation. However, I wish to interrogate how a specific type of objectification, food-related troping,1 functions in systems of representation. Food is a complex object for investigation, especially concerning the nearly infinite ways in which it appears in representations in popular culture,advertisements,and literary forms. Thus, reading with an eye for food reveals a great deal about culture, literature, and life. It is my firm contention that these complex attitudes regarding foodstuffs also function in systems of representation and that the social category of gender,though certainly fluid and contested , remains one of the means by which representations form a gender-based cultural practice. The patriarchal cultural tradition, specifically its system of representation that intimately associates women with comestibles, is a system of practices that frequently figures women metonymically and metaphorically as food. This results in a subsequent fetishizing that negates women’s status as fully human and reduces them to objects. This process of gendered fetishizing becomes even more pronounced when applied to women of color. One area that has and continues to make this association is, in fact, the advertising industry that makes 186 Producing and Reproducing Identities strong use of the aesthetics of objectification. Puerto Rican author Judith Ortiz Cofer,2 among others, is a writer whose work directly speaks back to the ways food has been used to objectify women.3 Ortiz Cofer deploys a focus on food as she addresses and reconfigures aspects of this patriarchal tradition of representation. Moreover, she attempts to instantiate a healthy relation between women and food that emerges in representational discourse that acknowledges women ’s humanity, including their desires. Some sexist and racist food-centered representations are all too familiar and deeply ingrained in the US cultural imaginary. Women scholars have begun to expose and analyze such representations. For example, Psyche A. Williams-Forson undermines the longstanding stereotype associatingAfricanAmericans with chicken.She examines conventional tropes, for instance the widely disseminated gendered image of the black mammy in the kitchen “happily” donning a headscarf , and then debunks them by historicizing the ways chicken has provided autonomy and self-expression in the lives of many black women. Indeed, the title of her book Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food and Power refers to the ways some African American women in Gordonsville, Virginia, who called themselves “waiter carriers,” would prepare and lift up trays of food for sale, including chicken, to the open windows of a passenger train.“Bella” Winston notes that her mother purchased their home “with chicken legs,”4 thereby illustrating the resourcefulness and independence of theseAfricanAmerican women,and the improvement of the material conditions of their lives achieved by the women’s knowledge of how to prepare and market delicious chicken.5 Williams-Forson’s work brings to the forefront the sociohistoric significance of this image that is forgotten when it is used as a stereotype to represent African American women.Salas andAbarca present a similar analysis in the final chapter of this collection,where they focus on the stereotypes the food industry creates to sell food. In When I Was Puerto Rican,Esmeralda Santiago challenges a different kind of stereotype that eroticizes women as fruit by juxtaposing such metonymic images with a food-centered memory. Today, I stand before a stack of dark green guavas, each perfectly round and hard, each $1.59. The one in my hand is tempt- Writing against Food-Based Aesthetics 187 ing. It smells faintly of late summer afternoons, and hopscotch under the mango tree. But this is autumn in New York and I am no longer a child . . . the guava joins its sisters under the harsh fluorescent lights of the exotic fruit display.6 Displaying the guavas as an “exotic fruit” contrasts sharply with the memory of youth that speaks to who she is. Santiago describes her method of eating a guava in this way: When you bite into a ripe guava, your teeth must grip the bumpy surface and sink into the thick edible skin without hitting the center...


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