Presenter: Elysse Bell

Elysse Bell is a fourth year English Honours and Visual Arts student at UBC. She spends most of her spare time pursuing overly ambitious cooking projects and dreaming about food.

Food as Rhetoric/Rhetoric as Food: The Persuasive Dimensions of Food in Literature

In my presentation, I will introduce two approaches that facilitate a broader conversation about food and literature. Through both literary and rhetorical analysis, I aim to demonstrate how there is a persuasive dimension involved in deciding what and how we eat, as well as how food itself can act as a persuasive force. By examining food through the language that is used about it and looking at literature through the lens of food, we can better understand the types and stakes of the choices we make in two central activities of our daily lives: reading and eating.

The first portion of my argument will introduce and explain a rhetorical approach to food, focusing on an informal conversation surrounding “superfoods” to demonstrate how food is subject to rhetoric. I will then take a reciprocal look at how food can be used as rhetoric in itself, tracing the motif of food in two 19th century novels: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. I will trace how metaphors about food are used to convey developing social relationships in North and South, as well as how dinner parties function as social mechanisms of persuasion in both novels. Overall, I hope to illustrate how the study of food can be an approach to literature, as well as how linguistic study can help us understand food.

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