Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021

Working for Pleasure: Three Cultivations of Meaning and Taste on American Farm

Opinion paper

By Dr. Caitlin B. Morgan & Dr. Katy Overstreet, University of Vermont & Aarhus University

To eat for the planet, we need to reconsider the concept of what gives pleasure in the first place. 

Concepts of food and pleasure often revolve around taste, preference, and the fulfillment of cravings, aligning more with a hedonistic understanding of wellbeing. By contrast, concepts of food and sustainability often revolve around restriction, change, and limiting access to one’s preferences. If touching on wellbeing, such ideas are more likely to be eudemonic wellbeing, emphasizing basic needs and community needs rather than individual pleasure. 

In this commentary, we argue that such dualisms between pleasure and sustainability are overly simplistic and detrimental. We ask how we can instead lean into meaning - which encompasses difficulty as well as ease - as a key facet of our feelings of enjoyment. 

Following themes of pleasure, meaning, and work, we explore this question through the lenses of milk, motherhood, and farmwork. First, we discuss meaning as pleasure and also as pain, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on an agroecological farm in New York State. In this example, pleasure and pain do not negate one another; the sometimes-burdensome efforts of traditional cultivation and preparation enhance the meaning and the pleasure of the food consumed. Second, we consider motherhood as a metaphor for meaning and work. Motherhood is sometimes but not always pleasurable. It offers an illustration of that which we value highly and is about the giving of self to others’ life and preferences. Could this lesson be incorporated into our ideas about eating? Finally, we reflect on milk as a material emblem of our food production decisions. We offer the example of dairy farms’ adaptations for cows and calves and how human caretaking can help adapt to values-based food chains.     

Through these examples, we will complicate the idea of pleasure as something that can incorporate both immediate sensory delight as well as the social and environmental labor and caretaking that underlie it.