Consuming cultures: the cultinary poetics of Francophone women's literature

Skidmore, Melissa Elliott
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Anthropologists, sociologists and students of culture study food, eating and cuisine because they can provide insight into gender, power and even economic relations that structure a society. The way that people react to, think about and write about this most basic form of consumption can be very revealing. In a society where many different cultural traditions come together, one of the most basic ways that a group can identify and celebrate its own culture is through cooking and eating. In my dissertation, I extend this examination of food to the written word to show that a fictional character’s relationship to food can reveal his or her hidden fears and desires, and that an author's description of food and eating can serve to express the values of a particular society. Although the study of food as a cultural marker is not new, the relationship between food and specifically women has only recently viii begun to be explored. This is surprising because, as Rosalind Coward says in her 1985 book Female Desires: How they are Sold, Bought and Packaged, "How food is consumed and prepared has crucial implications for women in this society, because it expresses deeply held ideologies of provision and dependency."(109) Specifically, women write about food because of their involvement in the acts of nurturing and the way that it is symbolic of their relationships with the people that they nurture. My dissertation explores the topics of food and eating in the novels written by Francophone women in the late 20th century. In limiting my scope to Francophone novels I have identified a common counter-current of struggle for a separate and valuable cultural identity from the dominant French national identity. I focus on the works of women living and writing in three distinct regions, multicultural Paris, West Africa, and the Caribbean. I examine the novels, Comment cuisiner son mari à l’africaine by Calixthe Beyala, Ce Pays Dont Je Meurs by Fawzia Zouari, Une Chanson Ecarlate, by Mariama Bâ, Cendres et Braises by Ken Bugul, Pluie et Vent sur Télumée Miracle by Simone Schwarz-Bart’s and Papillon dans la cité by Gisèle Pineau. My dissertation shows how food and cooking are used as cultural markers, and provide an activity that binds the characters together and separates them from the dominant French culture. In addition to being a cultural indicator in these novels, I assert that food is symbolic of social clout. Within a specific cultural group and even ix within a certain family, food and the preparation of food endow women with power and prestige.