A Bite Sized Guide to Queering Consumption
By re-forming widely held assumptions about consumption, queering, by subverting the norm, offers novel and unique ways in which we can address the future of our food and shake the shackles of convention. Food, in its ubiquity, is diversity: cooking is the edible vernacular of a culture; the self-expression of a chef; the history of a people. By applying its powers of pluralism, food can be a conduit of change. However, contemporary food production relies on the intervention of chemical protection and artificial fertilisation, and necessitates the singularity of homogenous plantation systems. These structures are so entrenched as to seem integral to our subsistence; they have become the norm. How might the practice of queering serve to enlighten and radicalise these systems?
In this essay I explore the history and contexts if the word ‘queer’, and how it’s theory might be transvalued onto consumption. I will also lean on my artistic practice, which focuses on queering domesticity, to communicate my point. The home is built on codified notions of heteronormativity which suppress diversity. By challenging these widely held assumptions of what ‘normal’ is, I present possible alternative forms of consumption that encourage diversity.
I use the term ‘queer’ in it’s English context which fall under Eurocentric Western narratives. There exist a multitude of other cultural perceptions of sexual identity, much as there exist myriad forms of agriculture which do not rely on homogeneity. However, for this essay, I will focus on prevailing food systems that exist under the Western canon.
To better communicate my point, I will first explain the latin prefixes of homo- and hetero-, which mean the ‘same’, and ‘different’, respectively. A homosexual is someone ‘of the same sex’, whereas a heterosexual is someone ‘of a different sex’. Heterosexuality, though etymologically ‘different’, is the widely accepted cultural norm, ergo heteronormativity means ‘normal’. Conversely, homosexuality, though etymologically the ‘same’, represents otherness. This can get confusing when the prefixes appear on other terms, so bear with me. For instance, where ‘homogeneous’—homo-: ‘same; -geneous: ‘kind’—means ‘the same kind’, and refers to a lack of diversity, ‘heterogeneous’ means ‘a different kind’, and refers to diversity. This means that, ironically, a landscape that is ‘homogeneous’ lacks diversity, where a ‘heterogenous’ one is diverse. Confusing, I know. An added caveat is that homo- and heterosexuality are, of course, only two of myriad sexual identities—this is where ‘queer’ extends a hand; queer defines anything other than the heteronorm.
The term ‘queer’ comes from the Low German queer: ‘off-centre’; taken from the Old High German twerh: ‘oblique’, which in turn is rooted in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) terkw: ‘to twist’. The term ‘queer’ entered English parlance in the 16th century, meaning ‘strange’, ‘odd’, or ‘peculiar’. By the late 19th century queer had become a pejorative term for sexual deviance. A century later the term was picked up and reclaimed by queer activist groups and turned into a positive homophile term, and has since become an umbrella term for non-heterosexuals. By the 1990s queer theory became recognised in academia as a critical discourse against heteronormativity. This meant that ‘queering’ as an action, joined ‘queer’ as an identity. In their introduction to Queer Ecologies (2010), Catriona Sandilands and Bruce Erikson state “[q]ueer [...] is both noun and verb” (ibid: 5); it can be both being, and doing. Rooted in radicalism, queer theory is anti-assimilationist; it goes against the norm. Even more confusing is the notion that ‘queer’ can, paradoxically, be ‘queered’ by radically denormalising its’ normalisation. To contextualise the application of queer theory, it is important to understand that queering does not necessarily require being queer. Put simply, queering challenges heteronormativity.
To understand queer theory in the context of agriculture, I will use the example of a field. When this field is planted with one species, it is a monoculture, and thus homogeneous. Crops in a monoculture are genetically identical, in order to produce a standardised yield. Each plant in this field, then, is susceptible to the same blight, intolerant to the same weather extremes, and succumbs to the same pests. This necessitates the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to protect the crop, while relying on fertilisers to boost production. Monocropping is a form of growing that dominates contemporary agriculture, and so represents the heteronorm. A monocrop also strives for singularity, eschewing diversity; an apt metaphor, then, for heteronormativity. If that same field were instead to be intercropped (planted with different species), or to grow a population crop (genetically diverse plants of similar species), it would rely on diversity, which promotes tolerance to pests, disease, or adverse weather, as well as a diminished need to rely on chemical intervention. Both intercropping and population crops deviate from the norm, and are, ergo, ‘queer’. Let’s recap. The most efficient form of yield-driven agriculture is monoculture, a practice that relies heavily on the suppression of diverse ‘others’, in preference of a single, more desired ‘norm’. Other forms of agriculture that rely on diversity, though often yielding less, are more sustainable. You see where I’m going here.
The above explores food production, which starts in the agricultural sector. The following explores food consumption, which takes place principally in the home. This is where my artistic practice comes in. My current research into food focuses on domesticity. The domestic realm—home of consumption—is heterocentrically weaponised against diversity. As Stephen Vider writes in The Queerness of Home (2021), the home is “a site of social conservatism and cultural imperialism” (ibid: 10). ‘Home’—the final link in the food system; the stage of heteronormativity—is tangible with tension, providing rich source material when queering conventions. When talking about the queer home, Vider defines it “as a site of creative tension between integration and resistance” (ibid: 3) I explore this queer heterodox (hetero-: different, -dox: opinion) in my work The Baker’s Bedroom (2022). The piece takes the form of a domestic setting subverted with queer symbolism. Subtle yet assertive; an underlying otherness can be glimpsed through recognisable tropes of the heteronormative home: toile wallpaper; bread tins; picture frames; and posters. The centrepiece, Bent Bread (2022), is a sourdough made from numerous different low-intervention, locally grown grains and pulses, baked in wonky tins. By queering the home, my work endeavours to challenge heterocentric norms and, to a larger extent, heteronormative agricultural practices.
I use my work in this essay as an example of how I am fighting the damaging conventions of contemporary consumption through the act of queering. The fun thing about queerness is its unboundedness; the weird and wonderful come together under a vast rainbow (forgive me) of ideas and identities. In it’s unboundedness, queerness does not necessitate being queer, the act of queering can be done by anyone fighting the (hetero)norm.
I conclude this essay with an invitation to all, both queer and heterosexual, to find their own way of queering. Just as queerness is not a prerequisite for queering, heterosexuality is not tied to heteronormativity. However one might identify, their space can be used to queer the heteronormativity. It goes without saying that this invitation, though open, is not assimilationist. Enact queer as a verb, but do not inhibit queer as a noun; be radical but don’t take up space which is not yours.