The Construction of an Elite Middle-Class: Foodie Discourse in Bon Appétit Magazine
Mapes, Gwynne Erin
Hamilton, Heidi E
As Johnston and Baumann (2010) note, "Most everyday food choices both reflect and reproduce societal power divisions of economic and cultural capital" (128); in this sense, food practices can be seen as markers of social class and social identity. This paper speaks to how these concepts manifest themselves in the foodie community, as seen in the writing of Adam Rapoport, the editor-in-chief of the food/lifestyle magazine Bon Appétit. By building on work from the fields of Critical Discourse Analysis, Sociology, Linguistics, and Food Studies, the current study examines how the juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary food (and life) experiences works to normalize elite foodie status. Using a combined qualitative and quantitative methodology, I analyze the editor's discourse in a sample of 44-columns (May 2011 - December 2014), demonstrating how the linguistic patterns seem to establish the construction of an elite middle-class.My analysis is composed of three parts: first, I address the general construction of an elite foodie identity by examining Rapoport's language use across his "Editor's Letter" columns, and highlighting how he uses markers of upper-class practices (within the categories of particularity, excess, and socializing) while simultaneously indexing middle-class life (within the categories of simplicity, informality, and locality). I delve more specifically into these themes in the subsequent sections: in the second, I trace the frequencies of parenthetical asides and scare quotes in "Editor's Letter", revealing how multivoicing is a tactic by which Rapoport connects to his audience, and likewise navigates social class boundaries. Third, I determine the types of negation terms the editor employs in his writing, focusing on "no", "not", and "never", and argue that they are used to draw lines of distinction between valued and valueless practices that appear to index both ordinary and extraordinary experiences.Ultimately, I suggest that Rapoport's linguistic choices across the sample reflect an overall normalization of social privilege: by equating an upper-class experience with a middle-class one, the editor implies that a foodie lifestyle is classless, and universally attainable. In so doing, his discourse is reflective of larger issues in society, and of the class hierarchies existing in the US today. Thus, this study illustrates how everyday practices of consumption are implicitly connected to power, ideology, and social practice.