Thursday, September 27

Kitchen to Classroom: Let Them Eat Bread!

Photo by Alfred T. Palmer, 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
A weekly dispatch from our postdoctoral fellow, Angela Jill Cooley. 

A key theme of foodways scholarship is the politics involved in what we eat. Often, this refers to everyday activities that allow a marginalized population to assert agency through food practices or a movement designed to improve lives by changing what we eat. But sometimes food enters into the traditional political process in unexpected ways.

In 1974, the Georgia legislature was set to vote on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would prohibit discrimination based on gender. With Phyllis Schlafly as its chairwoman, "Stop Taking our Privileges ERA," also known as STOP ERA, rose up in a national effort to block the amendment. STOP ERA argued that, among other issues, the proposed amendment would do away with protective legislation for women and subject them to the draft (this at a time when the Vietnam War was just coming to a close).

In “Organizing Breadmakers: Kathryn Dunaway and the Georgia STOP ERA Campaign,” Agnes Scott College professor (and University of Mississippi Southern Studies alumna) Robin Morris reveals how Georgia women used the gendered language of bread to defeat the federal ERA.

Morris explains that STOP ERA activists distributed loaves of bread labeled “From the breadmaker to the breadwinner” to Georgia legislators. This message reinforced the supposedly gender-appropriate roles involved in making bread. “The legislator as the ‘breadwinner,’ assumed to be male, made money,” Morris writes. “The ‘breadmaker,’ assumed to be female, stayed at home to convert that into something nourishing.” The "bread campaign" helped stop ratification of the ERA.

The irony of this initiative, according to Morris, is that Georgia’s self-identified “breadmakers” did not actually bake the bread they gave to lawmakers. Morris reveals that an Atlanta businessman, who ran the appropriately named “Mom’s Bakery,” donated the loaves. Yet, this duplicity reveals the strength of gendered rhetoric surrounding bread—no matter who baked it. It reminds us that the various and often-contested images of food are political and that controlling those images can affect who has power within society.

—Angela Jill Cooley 

To read more: 
Robin Morris, “Organizing Breadmakers: Kathryn Dunaway and the Georgia STOP ERA Campaign” in Entering the Fray: Gender, Politics, and Culture in the New South, ed. Jonathan Daniel Wells and Sheila R. Phipps (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2010).