September 16, 2011
Whose political and economic interests are served by the ways people in the U.S. relate to their bodies, to others’ bodies, to eating and to food? This was the major question brought to the table in the fall of 2010 when Professor of Critical Media and Cultural Studies Lisa Tillmann designed and debuted a course called The Political Economy of Body and Food. One year later, that course and the experiences of the students in it have become the backdrop of an intriguing documentary film titled Off the Menu, which will premiere at this year’s Global Peace Film Festival (GPFF).
Tillmann says that the idea for the course and film has been percolating for more than 15 years. “When you look behind the curtain you see big pharmaceutical companies, the cosmetics industry, plastic surgery societies and big agra.” All of which, she said, have multi-billion-dollar interests in shaping the way we think about body image and food.
Throughout the course, students participated in high-level discussions about the course material, often reflecting deeply on topics like eating disorders and the pressure to undergo cosmetic surgery. For their contribution to the documentary project, most students spoke on camera with Tillmann interviewing, sharing their responses to the topics presented in the course. At the end of the course, Tillmann presented the class with a rough cut of the documentary.
The 45-minute short film, a more developed and polished version of the original screened on Wednesday, September 21 and Friday, September 23 at the GPFF. That the film is comprised of students sharing their perspectives, Tillmann believes, will make it more impactful for students than a purely academic, “talking head” analysis could be.
Whatever the film’s trajectory, Tillmann hopes it will spark reflection and conversation about how we relate to body and food. “We have to see the problem clearly,” she shared. “When we can locate the problem where it belongs—at the cultural level—then we can start addressing it. But as long as we view the problem as a series of individual deficiencies, then we are passive. Eating disorders, anti-fat prejudice, lack of access to safe, nutritious food: these are not individual problems. These are cultural problems that demand public policy solutions.”
By Kristen Manieri
Office of Marketing & Communications
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