On Oct. 4, Dr. Alexandra Ketchum ’12—a Faculty Lecturer at the Institute of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at McGill University—gathered with a group of students in Allbritton Hall to deliver a talk titled, “Eating Her Words: The Relationship between the Production and Consumption of Feminist Food and Texts.”
Ketchum began her talk by outlining the focus of her studies, which center around places that serve “feminist” food and the history of feminist restaurants in the United States and Canada from the 1960s through the 1980s. The idea of how food can be feminist may seem peculiar, but Ketchum explained that a conglomerate of many different factors can make certain dishes and restaurants uniquely feminist. Also, this idea can be hard to define, and she detailed that she is not looking to use her research to label businesses as feminist.
“For the purpose of my work and in order to not be in a position of defining who can or can’t call themselves (or their endeavors) ‘feminist,’ feminist restaurants, cafes, and coffeehouses defined themselves as such in either their title, their promotional materials, or in their publications,” Ketchum wrote in an email to The Argus. “Apart from that definition, it can be more difficult to categorize these businesses…Creating a community space was important to many of the owners.”
So, there were a wide variety of restaurants that Ketchum could study. While there are many different ideologies within the feminist framework that have presented problems for certain owners, a main concern in Ketchum’s work is the reconciliation of feminist anti-capitalist principles within the restaurant scheme, which requires restaurants to turn a profit in order to stay afloat. Because of this, the owners of these feminist restaurants had to incorporate their ethics the best they could.
“The owners of feminist restaurants and cafes that incorporated class-consciousness into their business plans would often undermine their own principles while enacting them,” Ketchum wrote. “…[They] were compromising their feminist principles by underpaying themselves and relying on…‘emotional labour.’”
While studying the specifics of these restaurants and their structures, Ketchum created The Feminist Restaurant Project, a website that organizes and shows locations of feminist restaurants all across the country. The intention of the website, as Ketchum put it, is the result of years of research on these topics, and it has served different purposes for both the public and her studies.
“I am committed to accessible publishing practices. I think it is important that scholars make their work accessible to wider audiences,” Ketchum wrote. “I also incorporated it into my research methodology—people would look at the directory and tell me if they had been to or knew of other feminist restaurants not on the list.”
Ketchum’s methodology was varied, and she outlined the ways in which she collected information about a variety of restaurants over the course of many years at both Wesleyan and McGill.
“Utilizing business records, advertisements, feminist and lesbian periodicals, and dozens of interviews, I examine the way in which all feminist restaurants and cafes and coffee houses promoted women-owned and women-centered businesses and fostered non-capitalist and non-hierarchical practices and models,” Ketchum wrote.
Ketchum, now with over seven years of studying the feminist food industry, became interested in what she is now researching while at Wesleyan. She stated that her love for the topic came when she interacted with certain groups and places on and off campus.
“I was very involved in the farm and was the co-founder and house manager of Farm House for two years,” Ketchum wrote. “I also was a FGSS major and was/and still am fascinated by the intersections of gender, food, and labour. I wanted to examine these issues within their historical context to understand our present reality. Plus I went to Bloodroot Feminist Vegetarian Restaurant in Bridgeport, CT for the first time when I was at Wesleyan on the advice of my peers.”
The nature of her research showcases how she combined her learning in the classroom with the opportunities presented to her at Wesleyan and abroad, and she stated that she will continue studying locales that utilize feminism to promote activism and social justice.
Jordan Saliby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.