Starving for Gender Equality: WAGS Brown Bag with Rocco Marinaccio

by Nicole Rodriguez, Asst. Production Editor

English professor and director of the liberal arts and science core curriculum at Manhattan College, Rocco Marinaccio, Ph.D., spoke at the most recent brown bag event, a series hosted by the college’s Women and Gender Studies (WAGS) program. Students and faculty members gathered at noon in Cornerstone on Wednesday, Feb. 19 to listen to Marinnacio present his current research.

The event began with a warm welcome and introduction given by history professor and coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies program Nefertiti Takla, Ph.D. followed by Marinaccio’s enlightening discussion.

Marinaccio works primarily in 19th through 21st century American literature and culture with an emphasis on urban studies, food studies and Italian-American culture. His talk entitled “Badass in the Kitchen: Gender, Sexual Identity and Food Waves in the Starve Series,” centered on his research of the comic book series Starve while exploring the toxic masculinity that exists within the culinary world today.

“Starve is a ten part graphic novel series from 2016-17, one of a growing genre of food comics, set largely in a vaguely futuristic often dystopian U.S. It relates the adventures of Gavin Cruikshank, a former restaurant chef and host creator of a tv show called Starve. The series opens as Gavin who fled the show, the U.S., his wife and his child three years earlier to perouse in Asia is brought back by the network to complete his contract with one more season of Starve,” said Marinaccio.

Marinaccio explained that the novel’s characters parallel real life chefs, such as Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey, by embodying the dominant, contemporary media representation of men who cook. He stated that this construction of the “bad boy celebrity chef” leads to repercussions within the professional culinary environment. He also noted that the restaurant industry has been amongst those most significantly in turmoil in the “Me Too” era according to key statistics he shed light on.

“Such details describe an industry primarily populated by men, especially in positions of authority,” said Marinaccio. “This disproportionate gender representation contrasts with the reality that historically and globally it is women who do the majority of the cooking. The striking difference between domestic and professional labor tells us, of course, that food work, especially in the West characteristically becomes economically compensated primarily when it is done by men, thereby creating professional kitchens as a largely male dominated space.”

Marinaccio recounted a time wherein restaurant chefs were not celebrities and when you would turn on the television to find Julia Child. At this time, most people only saw women cooking and therefore constructed food work as feminine. Restaurant kitchens largely dominated and almost exclusively run by men are stocked with men who feel the need to prove their masculinity celebrating a “locker room atmosphere” and “bro culture” as a result. Women in the kitchen are praised as “badass” for being able to coexist in a work environment exuding such toxic masculinity.

While Starve seeks to critique and replace this through digging deep into the current conversation about gender in the restaurant industry, Marinaccio recognizes there is still room for providing accurate narratives that lift up women and people of color in the kitchen.

“The brave new world of food comics built around women chefs who are not badasses and people of color building restaurants in their own communities is still out there waiting to be fully imagined and brought to the page,” said Marinaccio.

Senior English major Teresa Ramoni was in attendance and shared her thoughts on the lecture.

“I had Rocco for Roots English and for Contemporary American Lit so we talked a lot about food in the Contemporary American Lit class,” said Romani. “I am always interested to hear literary representations of food and how the way we make food relates to our identity in a way. I have seen so many of these shows with Anthony Bourdain and I was never thinking of the gender dimensions of them so this was really interesting to me for that reason. The book that he used seems to take these issues at hand in a cool way so I am glad I came.”

The Women and Gender Studies program’s next event is the WAGS Annual Lecture on Tuesday, March 3 at 3:30 p.m.