Food confessions: disclosing the self through the performance of food

Lawson, Jenny (2009) Food confessions: disclosing the self through the performance of food. Journal of Media and Culture, 12 (5). ISSN 1441-2616

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At the end of the episode “Crowd Pleasers,” from her television series Nigella Feasts, we see British food writer and television cook Nigella Lawson in her nightgown opening her fridge in the dark. The fridge light reveals the remnant dishes of chili con carne that she prepared earlier on in the programme. She scoops up a dollop of soured cream and chili onto a spoon and shovels it into her mouth, nods approvingly and then picks up the entire chili dish. She eats another mouthful, utters a satisfied “umm” sound, closes the fridge door and walks away, taking the dish of chili with her.

This recurring scenario at the end of Nigella’s programmes is paradoxically constructed as a private moment to be witnessed by many viewers. It resembles acts of secret eating, personal food habits and offers a glimpse of the performed self, adding to Nigella’s persona. Throughout Nigella’s programmes there is a conscious tension between the private and public. This tension is confounded by Nigella’s acknowledgement of, and direct address to, the viewers, characterised by the knowing look she gives to the camera when she tastes her food, licks her fingers as she cooks, or reveals her secret chocolate stash in her store cupboard; the overt performance of supposedly surreptitious gestures. Through her look-back at the camera Nigella performs both sin and confession, communicating her guilty-pleasure as she self-consciously reveals this pleasure to the viewers.

At the start of her performance Table Occasions (2000), solo artist Bobby Baker explains that there are strict rules that she must follow, the most important being that she must not walk on the floor. Baker then hosts a dinner party (for imaginary guests), balancing on top of the table and chairs wearing high-heeled shoes. When the ‘meal’ is finished Baker breaks her rule; she gets down from the table and walks freely across the performance space, giving the audience a knowing look of mock-surprise, as if everyone was seduced into believing in the compulsory nature of her rule (Table Occasions).

In this performance Baker confesses her anxiety and discomfort in the act of playing the host. By breaking rules of common etiquette as well as her own abstract rules, she performatively constructs her “sins” and her “confessions.” Baker’s look-back at the audience reveals her self-conscious “confessing self.”

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D600 Food and Beverage studies
W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Helen Pattison
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2012 16:32
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2019 19:42

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