This page provides updates on my new research project Feeding the Senses: Narrating Food across Media

Feeding the Senses extends cognitive ecocritical analysis to a range of media beyond literature and film, and with its focus on food it turns to a subject that is extremely relevant to a range of cultural discourses in the contemporary world, ranging from health, hedonism and beauty to issues of justice, animal rights and sustainability. At the same time our relationship to food is extremely personal. Food concerns everyone everywhere, and we all tend to have emotionally fraught relationships to the things we put inside our bodies on a daily basis. From existential fear to the greatest delight, food cues strong emotions not only in the act of eating (or not eating), but also during our consumption of images and narratives in a wide range of media, including film and television formats of all kinds, photography and visual art, literature, food blogs, music, and even computer games.

The project explores the very different and yet related ways in which such depictions and narrativization of food engage audiences on the sensual and emotional level. It is also interested in the intriguing moments when food – the way it looks, smells, tastes and gives sustenance to a body – is translated from one medium into another in a complex act of sensory transposition. Because food has such strong sensual properties it is a particular interesting subject for a consideration of processes of liberated embodied simulation (Gallese and Wojciehowski, 2011) in the human brain during reading, listening and watching. The aim of the project is to demonstrate that a cognitive ecocritical approach can give us fascinating insights not only into the moments of pain and shame we might experience during the watching of a documentary focusing on animal slaughter or food-related environmental destruction, and the pleasure we feel while watching cooking shows. It also helps us understand why an imaginary culinary experience can change drastically as it gets transposed from one medium to another.

Associated talks and presentations:

March 5-8, 2020

“From Cognitive Narratology to Empirical Ecocriticism: The Case of Alice Walker’s ‘Am I Blue?’”
Invited presentation, Contemporary Narratology Panels at the 2020 Narrative Conference

New Orleans, USA

September 10, 2019
“From the Species Level to Personal Causality:  Thinking about Food in the Anthropocene”

Invited talk at the “Anthropocene (Post)Humanities” Symposium at the Bavarian Academy of Science

Munich, Germany

May 17, 2019
“Von Müll und Menschen: Narrative Strategien in Valentin Thurn’s Taste the Waste

Invited talk at the interdisciplinary conference  “Political Goals and Aesthetic Strategies of Environmental Documentaries“ at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF) at the University of Bielefeld

Bielefeld, Germany

September 27, 2018
“Back to the Roots: Race, Space, and Community in Urban Farming Documentaries”
Paper at the 8th Biennial Conference of the European Association of Literature, Culture, and Environment (EASLCE) at the University of Würzburg

Würzburg Germany

June 14-30, 2018
“How We Feel about (Not) Eating Animals: Ecomedia, Emotion, and Vegan Studies”
Plenary lecture at “A Clockwork Green: Ecomedia in the Anthropocene — A Nearly Carbon Neutral Virtual Symposium

Sponsored by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) and the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

April 4, 2018
Street Food: Environment, Place, and Protest in Urban Farming Documentaries”
Paper at the 32nd Annual Conference of the European Association for American Studies (EAAS) and the British Association for American Studies (BAAS)

London, UK

November 10, 2017
“Food, Art, and the Senses”
Invited talk at the preparatory workshop for the special exhibition “Kosmos Kaffee” at the Deutsche Museum (to open in spring 2019)

Munich, Germany

Associated publications:

Narrating Human and Animal Oppression: Strategic Empathy and Intersectionalism in Alice Walker’s “Am I Blue?” (with Wojciech Małecki and Małgorzata Dobrowolska)

Alice Walker’s essay “Am I Blue?’ has been claimed as an important intervention by social justice groups and animal rights activists alike, but in 1994, the California School Board also banned the essay for being “anti-meat-eating.” The study combines a narratological analysis of the text with the results of several experiments that tested the essay’s impact on actual readers’ attitudes toward animal welfare in general and toward horses, specifically. In addition, the study pays attention to the essay’s metaphorical dimension, which does not shy away from making what Marjorie Spiegel has called the “dreaded comparison”: an acknowledgement of the similarities between the enslavement of black people and the enslavement of animals. This combination of textual, contextual, and experimental modes of investigation demonstrates that the attitudinal impact of Walker’s essay is in fact far more complex and context-dependent than has been previously claimed.

Forthcoming in a thematic cluster of articles on “Empirical Ecocriticism” in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Enviornment, guest edited by Wojciech Małecki, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Alexa Weik von Mossner.

Feeling Bad? Veganism, Climate Change, and the Rhetoric of Cowspiracy

Veganism is a deeply emotional affair and so are the cultural texts that advocate it. The essay takes a closer look at Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s Cowspiracy, a bold documentary that has been remarkably successful (and controversial) in making viewers uncomfortable about the relationship between the consumption of animal products and another issue they tend to feel bad about: climate change. The film uncovers a truth that many people are still unaware of: the fact that our personal food choices have an impact on the climate.  The essay discusses Cowspiracy‘s  impact on viewers in light of scholarship on the “rhetorical form” of documentary film (Bordwell and Thompson 2001) as well as relevant literature on vegan advocacy, climate change communication, and climate veganism.

Forthcoming in Hanganu-Bresch, Cristina (ed.). Veg(etari)an Arguments in Culture, History, and Practice: The V Word. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Screening Veganism: The Production, Rhetoric, and Reception of Vegan Advocacy Films

The essay looks at how vegan advocacy films get conceived, financed, produced, distributed and promoted, from no-budget productions to crowd-funding campaigns and the involvement of Hollywood celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Moreover, it explores how such films tap into other discourses such as speciesism, animal rights, diet, climate change, and celebrity culture to bolster their arguments for adopting a vegan diet and/or lifestyle. In this context, the essay will also explore some of the narrative strategies employed in these films. Through these different routes of analysis, the essay gives insight in how (and by whom) vegan advocacy films get produced and what narrative strategies they consider most effective in order to reach their goals.

Forthcoming in The Routledge Handbook of Vegan Studies, edited by Laura Wright. New York and London: Routledge.

How We Feel about (Not) Eating Animals: Vegan Studies and Cognitive Ecocriticism

The essay aims to draw connections between two emerging research fields within the environ­mental humanities: vegan studies and cognitive ecocriticism. It suggests that a cognitive ecocritical approach drawing on the insights of affective neuroscience and cognitive ethology can complement the cultural studies side of vegan studies by turning our attention to the ways in which texts and films invite us to feel about animals, food, and the relationship between the two. It is particularly interested in the transformative potential of a range of negative and positive emotions that are cued by texts that critically investigate our relationship with food.

Published in Wright, Laura (ed.) 2019. Through a Vegan Studies Lens: Textual Ethics and Lived Activism. Reno: University of Nevada Press