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Life-Changing Bacon: Transgression as Desire in American Tastes

Hosted by the Department of Anthropology and presented by Brad Weiss, professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary.

Apr 17, 2017
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM

Andrews Conference Room, 2203 SS&H

Pork fat is both vilified and embraced in diverse, contemporary American eating practices. I examine efforts by farmers, marketers, and restaurants to cultivate their customers’ taste for pork fat. In particular, I examine bacon – a ubiquitous food, one that is oversaturated with meanings of “excess” and “pleasure” – to show how new forms of bacon, and restaurant applications involving pork belly are offered as a way of “educating” a public about the virtues of this alternative food systems. The “fatty” qualities of these foods are the topic of much discussion, as fat exemplifies the tastes (as well as wider values) that pasture-raised, “local” pigs make possible. Consumers of "artisanal bacon" often learn conceive of their appreciation of the tastes of this "fatty" food as a way of affirming their commitments to a "local" food system. Drawing on Peircean framework concerned with qualisigns - the ways that concrete material properties, or qualities, signify in themselves wider forms of socio-cultural value - I approach these carnivorous commitments, not just as political economic critiques of industrially produced meat, but as critical evaluations of food that privilege the ambiguities that fat (and its many qualities) can signify in a wider socio-cultural context.

Brad Weiss is a professor of anthropology at William and Mary and author of The Making and Unmaking of the Haya Lived World (Chicago) and Hip Hop Barbershops in Tanzania (Duke).