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Food Authorities: The Burger Foundation and the Sources of Expertise

by Ethan Tussey

by Eric LeMay for IN MEDIA RES

As eaters, we’re bombarded by information about food: what’s good for us, what’s not, what’s the right amount, what’s too much or too little.  Because that the FDA suspended all of its regular safety inspections because of the recent government shutdown, we’re now hearing about what foods might make us sick.  Food experts, institutes, and organizations abound, and the daily newspapers and nightly news regularly digest their studies and spit out attention-grabbing headlines: “Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce,” “The Instagram Diet: Looking at Pictures of Food Curbs Appetite, Study Finds,” “Yale Study Asks Whether Gender Dictates Food Choices.”  We’re constantly hearing about the latest findings.  We may note, almost in passing, that these findings are associated with places such as Standford and Yale, but we don’t spend much time thinking about the nature and structure of this authority.  We’re more interested in whether gawking at food pics online can help us loose five pounds.

This focus shifts with a visit to The Burger Foundation.*  Here the problem isn’t one of food production, health, or behavior, at least not according to the typical views taken by experts.  No, the problem is routine.  The way we interact with hamburgers has become too predictable.  “Not very exciting, same every time,” says The Foundation’s creator, dancer and performance artist Michelle Ellsworth.  The Foundation, she explains, is "dedicated to the reevaluation of the relationship between hamburgers and humans."  She and the other “experts” at the Foundation are engaged in “studying, evaluating, and evolving, this relationship.”  This undertaking involves a number of witty, vibrant, burger-inspired performance pieces, from burger rituals to burger transformations.  These pieces, while showing all that artists can do with a patty and a bun, also raise the question of how food foundations, institutes, and other organizations work.  This, after all, is no foundation we’d find at Stanford or Yale.  The Burger Foundation may imitate those authoritative sources, but it doesn’t give us the sort of content we’ve come expect from them.  Instead, it skewers and exposes and delightfully defamiliarizes our relationship not only to burgers, but also to food experts and the information we get from them, headline after headline.

*Note: As of the date of this posting, the link to The Burger Foundation is broken; this link opens to an article about it that includes more video.

The Burger Foundation

Michelle Elsworth on the Burger Foundation

from Michelle Ellsworth's Introduction to The Burger Foundation (2013)
Creator: Alimentum Online
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey