Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Michael X. Delli Carpini


Food is mobilized as a site of political communication. The framing of food as politically relevant is possible because food is deeply rooted in a particular cultural context; because food is symbolic of its culinary community, therefore, it can be deployed as a form of strategic messaging. For that reason food has played a role in political campaigning since the earliest American elections. However major changes to the conditions under which politics is undertaken have altered the messages sent through food. Specifically, the emergence of image-based campaigning and a taste-based notion of elitism has created an environment in which food politics is designed to demonstrate a political figure's connection to, or disconnection from, middle class American culture. This qualitative study investigates three sites--diner politics, food faux pas, and the regulation of food--where food and politics intersect. Data for this analysis consists of textual analysis of over 400 articles published in newspapers and magazines; semi-structured interviews with public health advocates, political officials, and strategists; and candidate speeches and peripheral campaign materials. Analysis of these data demonstrates that political strategists deploy food tastes commonly associated with down-home culinary culture--namely tastes for diners, bars, and local restaurants--as a way to present their candidate as in touch with average Americans. Conversely, food faux pas committed by presidential candidates are treated by their opponents and the press as evidence of the erring candidate's elite food tastes. But food tastes do not carry the same symbolic weight in legislative contexts as they do in campaign contexts. This is because food tastes invoke little symbolism for legislators. Even so, proposed food policy legislation can nonetheless be framed by the press as a site of symbolic conflict if and when oppositional voices adopt the "food police" narrative. In sum, the mobilization of food's symbolic value is motivated by the desire to frame political figures according to their food tastes. This is the case because such a narrative maps onto the increasing role of personal tastes in the cultural organizing of the American public.

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