Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food Fearless

Yesterday was the gap day between my last day of high school and my final exams, which meant that it was a day devoid of any formal plans, an occurrence otherwise known as the best kind of day ever. If you are a fan of technicality, and I suppose that I am, then I guess that it was also the first day of my summer vacation, since all academic obligations had been accounted for up until that point. I decided that this day was an excellent opportunity to heed my call of duty as a dedicated Seventeen reader by partaking in one of the activities mentioned on the magazine's "17 Things You Need to Do This Summer!" list. Number 15, engaging in a food-fearless taste test, seemed like something worth making a day out of. Then again, I may have just been excited by the fact that a magazine targeted towards women was actually encouraging me to eat something, a welcome foil to the usual dieting advice that ladymags are all too happy to push.
I had some errands to run in Philadelphia, so I ended up hopping a train to the city, where I figured I could be food-fearless more cheaply than I could here in the suburbs. Once you stray too far north of Philadelphia, the result tends to be such that financing a decent Indian meal requires a second mortgage on your home and the sale of an organ, infant, or both. Thus, its not often that I get to eat Indian food.

I arrived in the city around noon and pursued lunch at Reading Terminal Market, a public marketplace in center city Philadelphia that falls somewhere between Epcot and street vendor on the spectrum of authentic marketplaces. Don't get me wrong-- the taste and variety of food is fantastic-- but Reading Terminal is uncharacteristically pristine for Philadelphia, a trait that I find somewhat unsettling.

Anyhow, the food was pretty good at Nanee's Kitchen, the Indian counter at which I ended up dining. When I go to restaurants where I don't know what I like, I tend to ask what the house specialty is-- in this case it was the vegetarian plate. Some of the foods were sweet, some were spicy. I'm not a picky eater, but I seemed to have missed the part of eating Indian food that was supposed strike fear in my heart. Seventeen's food-fearless reccomendation was obviously praiseworthy in encouraging girls to try new things, especially things of the food variety, but it would have been nice to see the suggestion presented in a light that didn't cast a negative shadow of fear on eating or make the previous experiences of girls seem so limited. After all, some girls may have eaten Indian food before, or might actually, gasp, be Indian.

On a tangent note, I'm not the first to notice the bizarre conflation of emotion and morality with food. Desserts are frequently described as sinfully sweet. Chocolate is a guilty pleasure. Waiters tell you to "be bad" and go ahead and order dessert. I could have sworn I read a post on this over at Sociological Images, or maybe it was Jezebel, but I can't seem to find anything right now. I would like to link to this post if I can. Anyone know what I'm talking about?
Edit: Commenter LiberalElitist15 found the Jezebel article here. It's as great as I remembered.
For my day out, I accessorized my favorite (vintage) floaty dress, with a fun vintage sash belt, both inspired by Katy Perry. Unfortunately, my arm and Indian food platter are obscuring your view of the outfit. An article with pictures of this outfit will run eventually in the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I'll steal their pictures once that goes up.

Overall the day was pleasant, but not any more so than the day-to-day fun that I plan for myself.



  1. I think it is interesting what you mention about language being layered with negative stuff, but in disguise (sinfully sweet, guilty pleasure). I feel like those messages are the most dangerous since they are more subtle (but powerful). I find a lot of girls (and women) don't realize when they say certain negative things about their bodies..and the worse part is they don't even realize it. It becomes kinda automatic. Just goes to tell u how powerful writing is. Great post!

  2. Hmmmm, it's better then the normal crap that's in Seventeen, but it is presented stangely. Kind of like:

    *gasp* Oh, brave soul! You are eating non american food from the REST OF THE WORLD *faints*

  3. Susan Bordo writes about it:

  4. Great post Jamie.

    Here's the Jezebel article you mention:

  5. Great post... I am always up to trying new foods however the way Seventeen went about suggesting this idea was odd. I love the point you made about what some consider "ethnic foods" really is just normal food for others. Case in point, I grew up eating Israeli and Indian food, so for me at least I don't think them as ethnic or daring they are just the norm for me. :)

  6. That's really interesting about the conflation of emotion and morality of food, as you put it (couldn't think of any other way to say it myself!). I've never thought about it, but now that I do, it's so true. That's it! From now on I'll tell myself to be GOOD and have dessert. :) Anyway, thanks for opening my mind to something new! I'll be sure to check out the Jezebel article.

  7. went to reading terminal today.
    stuck with my tried and true delilahs soul cooking.
    can't go wrong with a huge fried chicken leg and the mac and cheese that oprah dubbed the best in the world for under ten bucks

  8. I'm assuming by this story that it is less common for Americans to eat foods from different cultures, like Indian? It's funny, as an Australian I am exposed to multicultural cuisine on a regular basis and entirely used to it. My suburb (I guess you guys would call it a city?) has 4 Thai restaurants, 2 Indian ones, one Japanese, one Chinese, one Brazilian, one Lebanese. They make up about 90% of the restaurants in our very small area!

    It's very common for my family to eat Thai one night of the week and Indian once or twice as well, both home cooked and takeout - tonight we're having an Indonesian Rendang curry. When out with friends it's very common to go get some Thai, Indian or Lebanese food together. It's cheap, delicious and everyone has eaten it so many times before that it is easy to just pick out a favourite.

    Just odd sometimes to see the differences in what is perceived as normal and how apparently you have to be 'fearless' to try out a little chickpea curry and dahl!

    Oh, and I thought it was worth chuckling at/being concerned about. Seventeen appears to be advocating skin damage in tip 17. Hmmm.

  9. Jamie, this blog is wonderful! I'm enjoying it so much. I read Seventeen religiously as a young teenager, but I don't remember ever actually taking the advice, so thanks for testing it for us. :-)Congratulations on your graduation!

    Madeline, I'm guessing that it's a geographical problem! Unless teens live in a pretty populated area in the U.S. they're pretty much going to have pizza and Taco Bell for restaurant choices. I grew up about 70 miles north of NYC and didn't eat Chinese food until I went to college and Indian food until after graduation. Of course, that was 10-14 years ago, and my old hometown now has a Chinese place, though it doesn't deliver! :-) My mom has her first Indian food three years ago.

  10. i stumbled across this blog when a friend pointed it out to me, and i find your project fascinating.
    i have linked to your blog through mine, so i hope you dont mind!

  11. I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio (about 30 miles SW of Cleveland) and ate multicultural food quite often. A lot of people in that area are of Polish and Hungarian origin, so there were a ton of restaurants with specialties from those two countries. I only had to go one town over (about a 10 minute drive) to get Indian food, other Asian food was everywhere (Thai, Japanese, etc.) For Lebanese and Brazilian food (as well as authentic Puerto Rican food and Mexican food), my family did have to make the 30 minute (or so) drive to Cleveland. The one kind of food that wasn't as common there was Ethiopian (I now live in D.C., where there is a wealth of amazing Ethiopian restaurants.) I guess what I'm getting at is that, in my experience, there are a decent number of multicultural food options in a lot of towns in the U.S. Rural areas are a different story, of course. But, the trade off is the fresh ingredients, free range meats, etc. that are more readily available in rural areas.

    Of course, as Casey said, this is all geographical, but don't paint the entire U.S. with such a wide brush, Madeleine.

  12. I think it's important to note that the tip says to try something different and merely offers Indian, Ethiopian, and Israeli as suggestions. It's not saying that those three types of cuisine are necessarily going to be different for everyone.

  13. I went to church once with my dad, his lady friend and her elderly mother. After church they were thinking of somewhere to go eat and we were close to a cheap all-you-can-eat Indian buffet that I love, so I suggested it.

    And the elderly mother says, "Indian food? Well all I can think of that they'd have there is corn! Maybe buffalo meat...".

    An 80 year old woman says this to me. It's like she's never even heard of the country of India. Or the term "Native Americans" either. In rural Texas, sometimes it's almost like people are TRYING to avoid exposure to new things. She grew up 90 miles from Dallas and somehow managed to avoid ever eating at any place that wasn't on the Interstate. Needless to say we ate at T.G.I. Friday's that day.

    I'd venture to guess Seventeen Magazine ships quite a few copies to sheltered suburbs and isolated farm towns. One magazine can't cater to every single 12 to 19 year old in the universe...that one tip just isn't for girls who have been lucky enough to have multicultural resources and exposure. Even a lot of people who are from big cities are set in their ways and live in their own little worlds and their daughters may appreciate a silly teenage rag encouraging them to get outside of their parents' box.

  14. I stumbled upon your project blog here last night during some random, 2am web surfing and have really enjoyed everything I've been reading. When I was in high school, I religiously read Cosmopolitan and Seventeen (and a number of others, including my favorite, "Jane"). I was the complete opposite of everything in those mags - awkward and reticent rather than popular and outgoing, 4'10" and curvy rather than average height and lithe - but I still loved reading those. As a teen, I had nada self-esteem and I've often wondered if those magazines contributed to that (by giving me images and ideals I could never hope to live up to) or if they were a welcome respite (and ray of hope for improvement) from my preconceived notions of lagging self-worth.

    Whatever the case, they were a staple of my tween, teen, and young adult years and shaped my earliest realizations of self-awareness for better or for worse. I would imagine it is the same for other young women my age and younger, all the way down to today's teens like yourself. (I'm 32, in case you were wondering.)

    You're so correct that it is, in some ways, a dying culture for teen girls (and not just because print media is less popular these days) - though in some ways the whole fake-plastic-perfection in glossy mags that told us we could/should be this or that in my day is even more prevalent today and, also, available in many more forms of media. I find it delightful that someone your age is interested in such a project and offer sincere kudos to you for following through with it (and thank you for sharing it online with us old school mag-readers for whom you are bringing back a lot of fun memories!)

  15. A future article about you in the Inquirer? Congrats!

  16. I'm so glad I found this blog! Next time you go to Philly in search of mean cuisine, skip the Terminal and go down 8th Street to Chinatown. You can get a bowl of soup that will serve the double purpose of a seaweed wrap for your pores.

  17. HEY i just found this blog from Sal at and I immediately read through the whole thing from the beginning because I think this is genius and you are a genius and instead of commented on every single post like I wanted to, I figured I would save you the trouble of receiving the many email notifications and just post one comment :) As someone who used to read Seventeen Magazine back in the day (I still received them in the mail just a year ago....I'm 19....), I love you for doing this. Seventeen is ridiculous and definitely catered toward a certain type of person, while way-too-consciously trying to be diverse and whatnot. However, I'm still girly and I love fashion and I love boys and baking and whatnot and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy my Seventeen-reading years. I like that you are pretty unbiased - there are good things and there are bad things, and I like that you're just pointing them out/encouraging really great discussino. wrap this up with some sort of conclusive statement, I can't wait to read more of this blog! :)

  18. Hey Jamie! Let me just say, this project is awesome. I used to read Seventeen all the time..but I'm closer to 19 now and they stopped publishing it locally :(

    It's nice to see you gave the pigtails another try! I can never get those to look appropriate hahaha. I'm not sure about the Indian food(the most I eat is rotti) but man, Ethiopian sounds funky. What IS Ethiopian food anyway?

    Keep the posts coming & good luck!

  19. I find that you seem to pick out specific words and really read into them.
    "but it would have been nice to see the suggestion presented in a light that didn't cast a negative shadow of fear on eating or make the previous experiences of girls seem so limited. After all, some girls may have eaten Indian food before, or might actually, gasp, be Indian."

    The didn't only suggest Indian food, they offered a couple ideas not in an effort to say "hey white kid, don't be scared, eat Indian food" but say "hey girls (target demo of the magazine) try something you've never had before".

    I keep coming back because I find some of your graphs and other ideas interesting. I just think you are trying to take words that they say and turn them in a negative way.

  20. Hey! I just stumbled upon your blog via a link on College Fashion, and I LOVE IT! This is so great. I spent most of my years in high school buying Seventeen (although I much preferred YM and Ellegirl, which both sadly went out of print...) and would always end up rolling my eyes at the tips they gave. My favourite was a flirting tip - apparently, to get a guy to notice you, you should stand alone in a corner of the room at a social gathering, and stare right at the object of your affection. This, supposedly, would make him love you. You know, instead of making him think you were, oh, I don't know, a stalker/crazy/weird.

    Keep up the great work, and feel free to check out my blog, which focusses upon reading and writing!

  21. Jamie! I found your blog via Pop Candy on What a wonderful idea for blog project. Are you really just a recent high school grad? This isn't some "Never Been Kissed" Drew Barrymore kind of fake-out, is it? Gosh, when I was graduating (10 years ago)I was busy doing absolutely NOTHING productive. Even today, I wish that I was as half as intelligent/witty/creative/inspiring as you are. Look at me...I'm gushing over you and I don't even know you! (hope it doesn't freak you out.) You're going places, girl. Keep up the good work.

  22. Hi! I too, like the reader two comments above me, stumbled upon your blog thanks to, and I literally read through all of your archived posts in one straight sitting. Not only is this a very insightful concept, but your writing is also refreshingly witty and eloquent! I used to read CosmoGirl, which sadly went out of print a few years ago. It was still very normal-teen centric, but it also had more depth than Seventeen did. One thing that irks me about Seventeen is that it is so PICTURE-oriented. Flipping through a glossy magazine with photos of trendy outfits and complicated hairstyles is certainly relaxing, but it doesn't offer much mental stimulation. Cosmogirl had a lot more text in the form of feature stories, including a column that interviewed successful women like Hillary Clinton and Ariana Huffington asking them for tips they would give to ambitious young women.

    In short, I want to praise this thoughtful and entertaining project of yours. I was even more excited when I read your little biography blurb in the sidebar and found out that you are going to UChicago next year, because I'm headed there this fall too!

  23. Indian Garden, Lower Makefield. In the Giant shopping center. Go for the lunch buffet, 7 days a week, now that school is out. $8.95. A nice variety of dishes, salads, appetizers and dessert. Naan bread at the table too. Look for Prem, the owner. My favorite restaurant.

  24. Your project is phenomenal; please continue to shake things up at University of Chicago!

    I noticed one of the suggestions was, "Send a care package to a soldier abroad." This seems like a suggestion with some serious political undertones that I doubt are intentional on behalf of the magazine, but should have been axed at the editor's table. As a "Seventeener," but child of two European parents, during the days of 9/11 and the subsequent military actions, I found it difficult to watch many of my peers become swept up in national pride without fully examining the context of America's actions. This sort of "call to action" seems to be encouraging that sort of behavior.

    Regardless of whatever a reader's political opinion on the matter may be, it would be nice if the magazine would not suggest readers to act without educating themselves first. There are many wonderful, charitable ways to get "the warm and fuzzies," and if you can read a magazine, then you can read up on an issue, form an opinion, and take action with an organization that fits your personal beliefs.

    Keep up the good work!

  25. I think that in the US, the availability, price and ease of access to multicultural cuisine can vary greatly. In other anglophone countries like Australia and the UK, I believe it's quite different (reading some of the comments above.) I live in the UK myself and eat Indian, Chinese, West African, Lebanese etc. food all the time, it's not considered "weird."

  26. Hey, love your blog. It's incredible how intelligent and educated you are for a recent high school graduate. When I was in high school in central PA I had no idea what Sociology was. Now, I'm pursuing my PhD in Sociology. Anyway, check out Jean Kilbourne's work. I saw her speak about cigarette advertising in undergrad and have watched several of her documentaries about advertising and women in various classes. She often points out how advertisers equate food to being good/bad, emotions, etc. Her films are listed here:

    Good luck in college! Keep writing!

  27. i am a chinese,i am know this website right now ,but this is amazing.i will read it everyday.

  28. The thing that amazes me about foods, especially in mainstream media, is exactly what they consider 'exotic'. Maybe because I live in NYC, and Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, and pretty much everything I could ever want is at my fingertips, but the 'daring' food suggestions always make me go 'Really? Didn't I have that last week?'

    Though it must be a little different if you don't live near a metropolitan area.

    Now, Andrew Zimmer - THATS a man who's food fearless.

  29. Don't know if you're familiar with any fat acceptance/size acceptance blogs, but a number of them occasionally write about the (incorrect) conflation of food and morality. I personally recommend The Rotund or Kate Harding.

  30. I must disagree with your critisim on the "Be food fearless tip." I think it is very common for people to stick to the same kinds of foods when they go out to eat and I think the message seventeen is trying to send is to be more open to trying foods from different cultures. What's wrong with that? Oh right, NOTHING!!! I know from my experiences that me and my friends get in to the habit of going to the same restaurants and ordering the same things(I'm die hard french fries kind of girl) and I think there is nothing wrong with saying that it is good to experience foods from different cultures.

    I do commend you on critically expoloring and analyzing the magazine. I think you are brilliant.

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