Book Review: As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts

41KXBJHZkoL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts
Claire Stewart
Rowman and Littlefield, 2017

I checked out this book from the library expecting to read research on how weddings and wedding food are marketed in the U.S., with particular interest in the author’s promise to “shed light on the historical and contemporary significance of wedding food and explore patterns of conspicuous consumption linked to American wedding feasts in particular” (back cover). Not only does this book fail to go deeper in the discussion of wedding food and conspicuous consumption to delve into the connections between food, capitalism, social institutions, white supremacy, and the cisheteropatriarchy, As Long as We Both Shall Eat reads like the kind of essay you write at the last minute in high school (or college), when you’re trying to pass off citations of citations, adding endnotes to hit a quota, and trying to cram too much information into a paper without actually arguing your point. 

What the book had the potential to do well was to utilize 19th-  and 20th-century newspapers, bridal magazines, and tourism guides to examine how the contemporary wedding industry incorporates food into planning, food trends, and the role of food in weddings in general. The most important point Stewart makes in the book is how 19th and 20th century guides to weddings, marriage, and housekeeping attempted to “assimilate” immigrants into “American life.” This, in and of itself, would have made for an interesting, focused book exposing one problematic element of historic and contemporary wedding culture and could have been extrapolated to how mainstream wedding culture is sold and often denied marginalized folks. Instead, the chapters, which are organized by wedding-related events including proposals, wedding receptions, honeymoons, contain a number of subsections with tenuously connected paragraphs from which I often felt I had gleaned nothing.

The most egregious examples of As Long As We Both Shall Eat’s lack of nuance and cultural competency are Chapters 6-8, which cover the role of religion, region, and ethnicity in wedding practices, and parts of Ch. 13-14, particularly the sections on “LGBT weddings.” I had hoped that the book would cover the discrepancy between what major bridal magazines and advice columns sell and advertise to their “mainstream” audiences, presumably straight1 cisgender white able-bodied middle-class Christian (or culturally Christian) women, and how those who are marginalized in some way navigate their weddings through community knowledge, “speciality” publications, the Internet, etc. Instead, Stewart’s shallow-but-broad approach that lacks the nuance to discuss complex cultural matters and is the further compounded by the inconsistent and outdated language.

For instance, the willful ignorance or inconsistent use of the correct contemporary terminology for marginalized groups is something I’ve noticed in other popular food history studies, such as Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon. Notable examples include calling women “females” (45); not capitalizing Black, or using “blacks” (79); using “LGBT” when you actually mean only GGGG (more on this later); and terms like “Islamists,” which was a section header about different religions’ wedding food, instead of “Islam” or “Muslim Traditions.”

Side note: Food-writing publishers and editors, if you are reading: you can read and use information from Radical Copyeditor or the many free online guides to inclusive language, including some near and dear to my heart: GLAAD’s Bi Media Resource; Radical Copyeditor’s “On ‘Person-First’ Language,” and National Center for Transgender Equality’s “Understanding Nonbinary People: How to be Respectful and Supportive.”

“Chicken or Beef? Choice of Entrees”

In Ch. 6, which covers religious food traditions, Stewart tries to condense the following topics into 1-2 paragraphs per major religion or sect: the entire religion’s belief systems; the geographic cultures and subcultures associated with said religion; and the religion’s culinary practices, which often vary greatly by sect, geography, time period, socioeconomic status; and also how all of this relates to weddings and wedding food. This method only skims the surface, giving very little information about nuanced and diverse cultural practices, and doesn’t really often any practical information one might expect in an introduction to a certain subject. For example, in the section on Buddhist wedding traditions consists of a brief explanation of the five “right actions” and a throwaway sentence that “Buddhist eschew dogma, and their marriage rituals vary widely and can be interpreted liberally.” While that gives space to Buddhists in the U.S. who are from a vary of sects and backgrounds, the section also gives no real information about what Buddhist weddings or Buddhist wedding food might entail.

Also, let’s talk about this gem:

It is difficult to generalize the customs of any religion, and traditions vary widely among denominations, regions, and spiritual leaderships. Geography plays a large role, as does the prevalence of intermarriage between races and religions. The American diet has always been a patchwork of food traditions from multiple countries, and many of the food practices of immigrants have been adapted and now reside in the American mainstream” (73).

Including this doesn’t make the section inclusionary and doesn’t excuse lazy writing and editing. The chapters attempting to explain the diversity of religious and cultural wedding practices would have been better as an anthology of chapters about wedding meals written by people who actually participate in and study them, not a hodge-podge of insufficient, reductivist language that others basically everyone who isn’t a “white” Christian.

“Jumping the Broom”

The strength of Ch. 7, is that it sticks a little more closely to one topic: marriage traditions among African Americans/Black Americans. The information on “The Negro Travelers’ Green Book,” a list of vetted gas stations, eateries, and motels that were safe for Black travelers to frequent (here, in the context of honeymoon travel), was an important inclusion (79). However, this chapter suffers the same problems as the others: tenuously linked paragraphs forced into sections that read like an outline with the formatting removed.

For example, the section “Changing Times?” features paragraph on Loving v Virginia and legalizing interracial marriage that is followed by one on Ebony magazine’s first bridal cover; the bridal issue is connected to an unnamed 1951 boycott in a department store in Baltimore.2 This paragraph is followed by one on LaDeva Davis’s cooking show (80-81). I wanted to know more about how, for example, Black-owned businesses advertise/d wedding services, food, and wedding planning. If you want to go much further in depth on the intersection of race, marriage, family, and food, I recommend Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, which, while not focused on weddings, is a very detailed and well researched account of how slavery and African Americans shaped American food culture.

“What Are You?: Regional Cuisine and Weddings”

The writing style of Ch. 8 is another grab-bag of loosely related paragraphs lumped together in a section that doesn’t paint a full picture of wedding culture in the U.S. Like the section that skims over “LGBT” weddings (more on this later), even when marginalized groups are excluded from mainstream wedding planning, not advertised to, or discriminated against, they still have our own cultural and food traditions. To highlight a few with which I’m more familiar, in the section on Japanese traditions and Japanese American weddings, Stewart includes information about Japanese immigration to the US and WWII concentration (“internment”) camps, but then turns the focus to contemporary weddings in Japan, not of people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. Although, speaking of Japan, other than discussing Fake the Cake, a company that makes display cakes for weddings, Stewart also nearly glosses over the contemporary wedding trend of having a “Western”-style wedding with a white rental dress, in a venue that looks like a chapel, and with a fake minister (94). Again, there is no information about the wedding traditions that actual Japanese Americans or Japanese people in Japan may have. The section on Korea is nearly identical, and the section on German Americans doesn’t even list any wedding traditions or food, except their being known for “raucous parties.”

I cannot overstate the importance of hiring writers and researchers who are actually part of these cultures to write about their history, culture, and traditions. Inclusivity is important, but for a research book from a major publisher, I expect a real commitment to diversity instead of the tokenism we see here.

LGBT Weddings: Panicked Guests, Daddy Dances, and Tofu Pups

Equally bad, and more on the nose for me because I am bisexual and nonbinary, was the section in Ch. 14 “The Business of Love” on “LGBT” weddings.

Current Mood: “Farmer Refuted.”

13HAMILTONMUSIC2-master675
Lin-Manuel Miranda, left foreground, as Alexander Hamilton and Thayne Jasperson as Samuel Seabury in the musical “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

First and foremost, if you aren’t actually going to discuss bi+ and trans people, you don’t get to use the acronym LGBT. This is as much a problem in the wedding and travel industry, who market “gay weddings,” “gay marriages,” “gay-friendly travel,” but Stewart had the choice to address that language gap or even correct it in her writing and did not.3 Remember, just because a couple might look “straight,” one or both members might be bi/pan/nonmonosexual or trans; and that goes for “same-sex” and queer couples, too, which is why we don’t erase people by referring to “straight”/“opposite-sex”/“traditional” marriage vs. “gay marriage”/“lesbian weddings” as cover-all terms.

Furthermore, Stewart completely ignores three key components of LGBTQ (BUT ACTUALLY ALL THE LETTERS) wedding history: first, that queer and trans couples have historically lived in committed relationships (“Boston Marriages,” for example) or even got married (such as Billy Tipton or Alan Hart, trans men who married cis women) prior to marriage equality; second, that commitment ceremonies were occasion for “wedding” food; and third, that people traveling to or living in areas with state-recognized civil unions or marriage equality, like Vermont, were places where couples may have had the same access to wedding clothing, venues, and catering that straight-appearing couples had.

From “RSVP to the LGBT,” one of many cutesy section titles that made me want to scream4:

By the 1990s, websites and guidebooks routinely featured gay-friendly venues, and kitschy same-sex wedding toppers are no longer novel. (167)

Citation needed. This is exactly the same kind of lazy “but now that marriage equality passed, homophobia is over, hooray!” writing that obfuscates the social and legal realities for queer couples, like when a queerphobic clerk refuses to issue you a marriage license, or when you get fired from your schoolfor marrying your partner. But wedding-cake toppers, y’all!

In 2002 the  New York Times made history with its decision to include gay weddings in its “Style” section. (167)

Fun fact: The New York Times also routinely erases bisexuals in their reporting on supposedly “LGBT” issues, or, as they like to put it, “gay and trans” issues. The decision to include “gay and lesbian” civil unions and commitment ceremonies also erased bisexuals. It’s not like other mainstream supposedly/formerly “liberal” news has gotten any better. In 2014, The Washington Post ran a completely absurd piece about whether straight wedding guests could expect to see a drag show at a same-sex wedding, which I feel like is asking if I can expect to see a battle reenactment at the next straight wedding I attend. Even better is the line about whether same-sex weddings have the “daddy dance,” which I deeply regret to inform you is WaPo’s term for a father-daughter dance, not a dance-off with leather daddies or any other daddy varietals.

In 2015, the Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal in all states. (167)

Missing from this paragraph is the discussion of the activists who for fought for legal recognition of their relationships and the complex role of the AIDS crisis in marriage equality, both in the sense of being legally able to make medical decisions for a sick or dying partner and in the creation of a homonormative narrative of “marriage stops promiscuity and HIV.”  (It’s also hard to find articles on that include the role of bisexual activists and about bisexual victims of AIDS, but we’re here, we’re queer, and we contribute.) Additionally, the queer community also has had internal debates about the relative importance of allocating resources to legalizing marriage equality when some felt addressing trans rights, AIDS research, or homelessness were more important. On an individual level, queer folks might support marriage equality but decide not to legally marry. At the risk of oversimplification, one line of thought is that marriage and/or weddings are an irrevocably heteronormative institution that holds up social norms that must be fixed  or abolished to be truly inclusive (for example: universal healthcare so that marriage and employment are not the only means to getting healthcare, or including recognition for poly relationships). Another line of thought is that marriage equality is important for granting equal access to legal protections, for example, in divorce and child custody as well as in retirement and social security benefits, being able to care for a sick or dying partner, etc. Another related line of thinking is that weddings can be a means to openly celebrate queer love. It’s also important to keep in mind that because the right has been denied to many queer folks for so long, marriage is not always considered the same right of passage to adulthood that it is in the straight world. Furthermore, bi+ and trans folks who were able marry a partner due to their relative legal genders often feel conflicted about marrying when others cannot or feel erased.

When we are socialized that marriage is the automatic next step in the relationship escalator, we often cannot see it has as the complicated and deeply personal and legal matter that it is. But don’t worry, we aren’t going to discuss any of that in this book!

Vendors such as EnGAYgedWeddings.com and GaycationMagazine sponsored the enormous 2015 LBGT Expo [sic – I’m all for putting the B and T first but this is actually a typo] in New York City. Met Life, too, was a sponsor, promising to “bring different points of view to your financial plan,” as were Uber and Delta Airlines.  (167)

One thing that Stewart seems to extrapolate from her section on the Green Book and Black travelers is that new laws don’t mean immediate social change–just look at voter suppression; yet the same treatment isn’t extended to her discussion of the LGBTQ community. While Stewart attempts to discuss how national marriage equality changed the wedding industry’s courtship of “same-sex” couples, she entirely misses the tension between weddings, capitalism, exploitation, and queer folks. Delta and Macy’s, who joined the “LBGT” Expo in Sacramento in 2016, used the event to advertise themselves as safe, inclusive companies who will treat LGBTQ customers well. On one hand, reaching out to the LGBTQ community and openly saying that a company welcomes LGBTQ customers shows us where to “vote with our dollars,” so to speak, but that “commitment” to equality is often undermined by both unfair working conditions, especially for employees at the minimum wage level, as well as a willingness to court affluent white gay and lesbian couples but not anyone else. When have you ever seen a “trans-friendly honeymoon guide” or a “bisexual wedding venue”?

In 2013, the refusal of bakers in Oregon to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple made headlines. Court systems across the country are handling cases involving business owners who, citing religious beliefs, resist the increasing tide of gay marriage. (168)

THE MARRIAGE EQUALITY TIDE’S COMING IN, FOLKS.

Image from The Last Unicorn - a gif of a tidal wave of unicorns
via GIPHY

First, the court case is called Klein, dba Sweet Cakes by Melissa, v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Second, here’s an article about the severe impact the case has had on the couple’s mental health, living situation, and finances. Third, THIS HAS BEEN HAPPENING. This is not a new thing!

Stewart then launches into a paragraph on Gay Days at Disney World and the Florida Family Association spoke out against Gay Days, frightened of same-sex couples “promoting their lifestyle” at a theme park with children present. I think Stewart included this to show that bigots have protested queer inclusion at a popular wedding and honeymoon venue, but I can’t say for sure because because the paragraph suddenly ends with the quote, as if the subject didn’t merit any sort of further discussion.

The wedding industry delights in the prospect of ever more consumers, acknowledging that same-sex couples want ice sculptures and sumptuous buffets, too. (168)

Let me fix that for you: “now that it’s sort of cool to be inclusive of the Good Gays since we HAVE to, the wedding industry wants to sell the LG….btq community the same sort of displays of conspicuous consumerism, just like ‘straight’ folks!”

The actual next sentence, no lead-up removed:

And the Gay Chapel of Las Vegas is unconventional not in its commitment to same-sex marriages but in offering a Grim Reaper ceremony in a graveyard. (168)

  1. It is LITERALLY called the Gay Chapel. What did you expect?
  2. What exactly are you implying about same-sex marriages? Are they unconventional? (Note: you can be LGBTQ and still be quite conventional, especially if you have privilege due to your race, economic situation, gender identity.)
  3. I’m not going to lie, this sounds kind of appealing AND a good way to scandalize your problematic relatives.

Like any religious, ethnic, or other group, the LGBT community may have special challenges and concerns to consider when planning weddings and honeymoons. (168)

Oh, like not being murdered or refused service? Well, gee, I didn’t even think of that! And you’re looking for the word marginalized.

And LGBT couples may or may not elect to have their weddings defined by their membership in that particular demographic group.(168)

What does that even mean? IS THE DRAG SHOW CANCELLED?

A same-sex couple may wish to have an entirely traditional wedding, undistinguishable [sic] from a heterosexual wedding, perhaps particularly because this right was denied to them for so long. (168)

I think what Stewart means by “traditional” is having a wedding that has the formalities, costumes, and events typical of and expected in one’s culture(s); in this case, a “mainstream” white wedding. And yes, there are couples where queerdom is not the priority in their lives or their wedding celebrations. The phrase “having a traditional wedding, indistinguishable from a heterosexual wedding” is so close to the straight proverb “so who’s the man and who’s the woman in your relationship?”, which grossly misinterprets queer gender expressions, particularly the history of butches and femmes, as well nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals, etc. As a queer who has been to many a wedding, if the couple is straight-passing because one or both of them is bi or trans, there may be significant pressure to play it “straight” in front of the relatives. Since straight-passing queer folks are not even mentioned and there is no content in this book about queer identities outside of “same sex” marriage, I’m going to pretend this is clearly a reference to Albert (Nathan Lane) in The Bird Cage trying to do Republican WASP wife drag:

Nathan Lane Birdcage
Source: Logo

We haven’t even talked about the food yet. And we won’t, unless ice sculptures are a food group now.

In 2003 the venerable Brides magazine made its first foray into the topic of same-sex marriage in a short piece answering a query about how to behave as as a guest at a same-sex wedding. (169)

WILL THERE BE A DADDY DANCE?

Just as the periodical did not take sides during the Vietnam era, here, too, readers’ involvement was credited as that of an onlooker, so as not to scandalize some readers by seeming to endorse untoward behavior. (169)

This charmer of a sentence is a reference to a section on Brides Magazine’s inclusion of wedding planning tips for military couples without seeming to endorse or condemn the war (16-17). Comparing a war (with a complex set of social and economic reasons why and how one might enlist/be drafted or object to/avoid a draft), in which people actually died, to being LGBTQ+ and having a commitment ceremony/wedding is outrageous.

The magazine was not assuming its readers were gay but was admitting they may have friends who were. (169)

Another straight proverb: “I have a gay friend!” Even this is phoning it in for a book that is literally just 200 pages of phoning it in. Here’s a link to an overview of gay writer David Toussaint’s “Outward Bound” for Brides. Yes, it was written for straight people, and urges them “not to panic” if invited to a “gay wedding.”

Some might even say that the LGBT marriage market is not all that groundbreaking. The wedding industry has always courted the newest group willing to lay down its cash, adapting and pulling the etiquette experts along with it. [citation: Otnes and Pleck, Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Weddings, 2003, p. 37] (169)

A fact-checking note: Otnes and Pleck,  p. 37, contains no such statement or sentiment.

To put the prior quote and the following one in context, I’m going to jump back for a second to Ch. 13 “Honeymoons and Food,” under the subsection “Same Sex”:

The legalization of same-sex marriage has opened a new revenue stream for tourism professionals, and gay-specific wedding expos, guidebooks, and websites can ensure couples that vendors welcome their business. (153)

I mentioned this before, but Stewart has mentioned exactly once the perils of trying to wedding-plan while visibly queer, and that was in the sentence about their Klein lawsuit. Just because marriage equality is legal doesn’t mean that queer couples are suddenly free of bigotry in their personal or public lives, nor does it mean that passing critical legislation has automatically changed our culture’s casual queerphobia (like this book), abject queerphobia (like refusing to bake a cake), or the violent queerphobia that literally kills people (like the four Black queer women murdered in one week in 2018 or the increase in deadly hate crimes in 2017).

There’s also a difference between the wedding-related companies who are owned, run, and staffed by LGBTQ folks (as well as in other marginalized communities)  who want to work with their own communities and wedding corporations that may or may not be truly inclusive in their hiring, management, pay, healthcare, and other company policies but who want to tap into a market they perceive as having the means to pay. Diversity, pluralism, and equity training and hiring in a company is only as good as the people working for the company and their interpretation of the law. What I wish Stewart had said was this: The Wedding Industry is makes money by preying on people’s fears: it claims to bestow social legitimacy on relationships, tugs on the heart-strings of families by promising family togetherness and approval, and is something most of us were taught, if not directly then by mainstream social osmosis,5 that is the very pinnacle of romantic love. And if that dream can be literally sold to LGBTQ+ folks and our families, companies who may have once refused them now want to take their money.

So what about queer wedding food? You can actually learn more about wlw (women-loving women) weddings from Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel’s serial comic that spans two decades of a group of lesbian and bi women’s lives. In 1990, characters Clarice Clifford and Toni Ortiz have a commitment ceremony (episodes 85-88). That’s right, queer couples didn’t just start throwing receptions in 2015 after the Supreme Court ruled to federally legalize same-sex marriage! Food is a huge part of the characters’ lives, and many of the characters are vegetarian or involved in food justice. Toni and Clarice hold their commitment ceremony in their backyard with a barbecue, at which they serve baba ganoush and tofu pups (pp. 54-57).

IMG_4695
Image from The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (p. 54) depicting Toni and Clarice’s wedding, a backyard barbecue with Tofupups and an attendee pouring baba ganoush out of a 5-gallon tub. Also notable: Tanya telling the couple, “I just wanna say I love you both like sisters. Maybe that’s why I give you so much shit about being yuppie sellouts and why I sincerely hope that in your wedded bliss you don’t abandon the sturggle of radical lesbians of color against the imperialist patriarchy!” and Jezanna saying, “Well, I am hard-pressed to think of a more radical act than two courageous women challenging the powers that be by publicly celebrating their lesbian relationship. Here’s to your golden anniversary!”

If you want to read more about the history of commitment ceremonies, this piece is a good introduction to why and why not couples had ceremonies or got married in Canada, but the interviewees are 80% white and the researchers doesn’t seem to think bisexuals exist. (Plot twist, we do, and those of us in homogamous relationships have also dealt with whether or not to have a ceremony or to marry.) In Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Weddings (2003), Otnes and Pleck also have a succinct section on “Gay and Lesbian Ceremonies” outlining the LG (but also BTQ) community’s complex feelings about weddings and commitment ceremonies prior to national marriage equality in the U.S. (231-237).

In summary, As Long As We Both Shall Eat is poorly researched (despite the long list of references), badly edited, and raises more questions than it answers. The sections on non-Christian religions and wedding traditions “around the world” are comically and troublingly shallow, and the sections on LGBT weddings are not only insulting, they don’t even cover food. However you feel about weddings and wedding culture, you’re unlikely to glean anything of use from this book except an anecdote and a bibliography to start your own research. Stewart, I hope you fired your editor, and good luck on your future research.

Notes

  1. Not heterogamous or straight-appearing, in this case, because the assumption is that a bride and groom must always be straight, even if one or both of them is bisexual, pansexual, nonmonosexual, or otherwise queer.
  2. This is based on section from Otnes and Pleck’s Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of a Lavish Wedding, which suggests that racism regarding weddings just suddenly ended in the 1960s after Black brides were allowed to try on gowns, which is odd given the latter book’s better research and focus on the complexities of communities of color being sold the “white wedding” while simultaneously being excluded from the means of obtaining it.
  3. Instead of “gay marriage,” try “marriage equality”! “Same-sex marriage” can also erase different-gender queer couples who might not have been able to marry due to transphobic laws (for example, not being able to change your gender on legal documents), nonbinary couples, et al.
  4. “Get Me to the —— on Time” (73), “Looks Like You Maid It?” ( 80), “Yes, We Used to Have no Bananas” (83), “RSVP to the LGBT (167).”
  5. Obviously this may vary based on the culture and origin of your family, but in the sense of white cishet mainstream media and culture, the white wedding is Key.
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