American Studies

Adrienne Johnson - Consumer Society & Contemporary American Culture

The Departmental Citation Winner for 2009, Adrienne recently completed her PhD in the Modern Thought and Literature program at Stanford. Titled Diet and the Disease of Civilization, 1977-2008, Adrienne’s dissertation analyzes how instructional texts diet books, nutrition policy, medical research have measured civilization by the human costs of social progress. Other academic publications include articles on competitive eating, Paleo diet mythologies, dude ranches, locavorism, and grocery store couponing. She also writes for popular, non-academic audiences in BuzzFeed Food and Gastronomica.

Area of Concentration Courses

Sociology 180: American Society
Anthropology 162: American Folklore
Geography 181: Urban Field Study
American Studies C112B: American Cultural Landscapes, 1900 to the Present
History of Art 192AC: American Folk Art
American Studies 250: Graduate Research Seminar in American Studies


Talking with Their Mouths Full: Competitive Eating and the Cultural Meaning of American Bodies

Adrienne Johnson’s honors thesis is an examination of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in an eating contest. While competitive eating today traces its roots back to early American pie-eating contests, the current level of prize money and professionalism point not to a flippant exercise in public ridicule, but to a performance of great cultural meaning. Using the three distinct scholarly approaches of history, anthropology, and gender studies, Adrienne’s research uncovers the tensions of American assimilation, consumerism, and patriarchy. The performative body of the competitive eater is just one of the many texts this research has drawn upon; a series of interviews with competitive eaters, fat activists, and audience members have offered personal understanding while the scholarship of theorists and anthropologists like Mikhail Bakhtin have grounded the research into the academic literature of cultural performance.

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