Sunday, November 15, 2020

Emily J. H. Contois's "Diners, Dudes, and Diets"

Emily J. H. Contois is Chapman Assistant Professor of Media Studies at The University of Tulsa. Her research explores the connections between food, the body, health, and identities in contemporary U.S. media and popular culture.

Contois applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Men’s diet programs promoted dude food: foods considered irrefutably masculine and decidedly anti-diet. Men’s diet programs emphasized the flavor, satisfaction, and quantity that dieting tends to curtail. … Alongside images of hot dogs, chicken wings, mac and cheese, ice cream sandwiches, and steak kabobs, Weight Watchers assured male dieters, “Seriously—no food is off-limits. You can eat anything you want. You’ll just learn to do it a whole lot smarter.” Diet programs assured men that their appetites need not be restrained in order to lose weight. They promoted and protected dude food—and by extension masculinity itself—from the feminine encroachment of dieting. With Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, or Jenny Craig, men did not need to fear the assumed gustatory dissatisfaction of “healthy” foods, framed as the opposite of tasty and hearty dude food.
Opening Diners, Dudes, and Diets to page 99 throws the reader into Chapter Four and the central thesis of my book, which shows how the food, marketing, and media industries deployed “the dude” to sell feminized food fare to men during the Great Recession era. Celebrating the slacker guy, the dude provided a way to engage men in food, but from such a cool and insincere distance that it didn’t impinge their overall masculinity. As this page shows, commercial diet programs like Weight Watchers did this, in part, by promoting not typical diet food, like salads or low-calorie shakes, but through the nutritional exaggeration and gendered status of dude food, a masculinized culinary genre that I define and explore in Chapter One. That also explains the book’s cover image: the iconic burger.

It’s also pretty perfect that page 99 takes readers to where this project first began for me personally. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the early 2000s diet industry that targeted women, work that I expanded for my MLA thesis in Gastronomy at Boston University, where I focused specifically on men and masculinities. When I started my PhD at Brown, I thought the entire book would be about dieting, but I ended up focusing on gender across the food mediascape, from restaurant menus and food advertising to Pinterest boards and Instagram posts and all that lies in between. Nevertheless, this chapter that includes page 99 was the first one I wrote. It now appears at the end of the book, culminating earlier chapters that explore cookbooks, Food Network star Guy Fieri, and diet sodas and yogurts, all specifically targeted to men since 2000. As the book documents, dude food abides—and in my case, the page 99 test works wonders!
Visit Emily Contois's website.

--Marshal Zeringue