115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Dying for Foie Gras: Murder, Politics, and Ethical Food Production

Heike Henderson, Boise State University

Analysis of a culinary mystery by German author Ella Danz, Geschmacksverwirrung (Taste Confusion, 2012), that focuses on animals’ rights, factory farming and ethical food production. I will discuss the suitability of culinary crime fiction to explore troubling issues within the world of food, and how these texts can prompt readers to examine their food choices.

Proposal: 

In recent years, culinary mysteries have enjoyed immense popularity in Germany. Marketed to both fans of detective fiction and food aficionados, they enjoy a large crossover appeal, which at least partially explains their commercial success. Ella Danz is the author of the Georg Angermüller mystery series (started in 2006, nine books so far) set in the Northern German Lübeck area. While this series did not start out as a culinary mystery series per se, it has developed into one of the most interesting manifestations of this subgenre. Especially in Danz’s most recent novels, cooking and other food-related issues have been taking up more and more room. In this presentation, I propose to focus on her novel Geschmacksverwirrung (Taste Confusion, 2012). This text centers on the death of a food critic who was force-fed foie gras. The culprit seems to be a militant animals’ rights group, and while investigating the crime, the detective confronts important issues like factory farming and ethical food production.

As Marianne Lien states in her introduction to The Politics of Food, “food has emerged as a political topic par excellence. Capable of connecting individual bodies to abstract communities and techno-scientific innovations to moral concerns, food has become a highly charged and contested field” (2004, p. 1). In Geschmacksverwirrung, Danz explores these dynamics, both the connections between bodies and communities, and the moral considerations surrounding the conditions of food production. Through the eyes of her investigator, readers learn about unethical practices that all too often stay hidden behind food labels advertising natural origins and traditional recipes. Dedicated to all who want to know what they eat (“Für alle, die wissen wollen, was sie essen,” 5), Geschmacksverwirrung exposes unsavory practices in food production and marketing.

Not everything is the way it seems, this truism of the genre applies to Danz’s text doubly: both in regard to the mystery itself and the politics of food. In my presentation, I will argue that this is one of the reasons why culinary mysteries are so well suited for exploring troubling issues within the world of food. Solving crimes requires skills that are transferable to discovering hidden truths concerning food (like the fact that truffled goose liver may contain large amounts of pork fat and only a tiny amount of truffles, or that factory animals never get to see the green grass and blue sky depicted on the packaging of food products). Culinary mysteries are also able to reach consumers that might be reluctant to face these issues otherwise. The pleasure of reading mysteries opens a gateway for readers, especially those who are interested in food and cooking, to delve into the politics of food. Culinary mysteries like Geschmacksverwirrung thus provide more than simple entertainment; they also deliver valuable information and make us reconsider the food we consume.

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