Join us in Jonas 110 for this week's Geek Speak; these events are free and open to the public.
Panic! At the Meat Department. Food Scares as Moral Panics
Dr. Trenton Ellis
Food is paradoxically a life-giving nutritious necessity and a potential vehicle for death. Whether by allergen, adulteration, contamination, or diet-related disease, food can kill you slowly or perhaps rather abruptly. Normally, these facts are lingering far from our minds as we satisfy our appetites. Occasionally, this normalcy is disrupted by a fleeting moment of collective fear. Collective anxiety over food is the distinguishing characteristic of a food scare. Food scares are periods of time during which a large number of people are all sensitized to potential dangers of a food item. These blips of mass culinary terror are distinguished by their sources, whether from an immediate illness or death (food poisoning) or potential for harm through exposure (e.g. health risks). The risks showcased in a food scare are not translated in a political vacuum. Various competing actors have interests in framing perceived risk of the questioned food. The ultimate goal of the actors’ frame work is to establish their narrative as the dominant narrative. Thus food scares are also subjective projects, or social constructs. Our shared dietary distress is a manufactured experience.
Through this gustatory Geek Speak, Dr. Trenton Ellis, Assistant Professor of Human Services and Sociology, examines food scares through the concept of moral panic. Dr. Ellis uses the case of the 2012 “Pink Slime” or “lean finely-textured beef” food scare to explore the social construction of food scares, especially how different actors assemble and work to control public perception of the food item embodying a scare. This Geek Speak coincides with Dr. Ellis’ personal mission to demonstrate our shared experiences and encourage people to use sociology to play with their food. Whether you’re a vegan, pro-GMO, beet enthusiast, or a meat-gobbling, free-ranging, bacon aficionado, this Geek Speak should satisfy your hungry mind!